Aratere's graduated return to service
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Interislander - Cook Strait Ferries


Aratere is now in its 24th year of operating on the Cook Strait route after replacing Aratika in 1999. 

Untitled design 48 Aratere Sounds Interislander Aratere Dolphins dancing at the bow RP272

The history of Aratere

The arrival of Aratere coincided with the explosion in campervan traffic and the advent of cut-price airfares. Aratere was purpose-built by Spanish ship-builders in 1998 and it came with all the latest technology onboard. It even did away with traditional mooring ropes. Mooring Systems, a New Zealand company, had developed an innovative vacuum system known as the "Ironsailor" that automatically connect up to the ship.

But to say Aratere's introduction to the Cook Strait route was challenging was an understatement. The ship lost power on several occassions in Wellington Harbour and was left drifting. There was an incident with a trawler in 2003. In 2005 it did an unscheduled 360 degrees turn in the harbour.

In March 2006 Aratere set off from Wellington on a particulary stormy day. The ship rolled heavily several times during the crossing. It took seven and half hours to reach Picton and several cars and trucks were damaged. Five rail wagons toppled. There was an investigation and new heavy weather protocols were introduced.

In November 2013 Aratere lost a propeller in Cook Strait - we receive regular reminders of this event on social media.

In April 2022, it came back from dry dock in Sydney and when needed can step up and do three sailings a day to ensure passengers and freight get to their destination.

Aratere's Extension

Ferry capacity has been increased in the past but the extension of the Aratere at a Singapore shipyard was one of the most ambitious projects in the history of Interislander.

The ship went to Singapore’s Sembawang Shipworks in late April 2011 for an extension that took six months to complete and added 30 per cent to the ship’s capacity.

New Zealanders and Interislander staff followed the progress on a special Facebook site. They were able to see Aratere cut in half and a new 30-metre mid-body inserted. While the ship was in Singapore, a new bow and new stern were fitted, improvements made to the propulsion system as well as improvements to the passenger accommodation. The refit allowed Aratere to not only carry 250 additional passengers but also more trucks and rail wagons.

Increasing capacity by adding a new section to ship isn’t uncommon around the world, but is was a first for the inter-island service. In 1976, the two-year-old freight ferry Aratika went to a Hong Kong ship-builder for a conversion to enable the ferry to carry passengers.

Captain Bob Nixon was Master during the return voyage. He recalled the Aratere looked different after being “stretched”. You stand at one end of the cargo deck and look to the other – they do look quite long. It makes a quite a difference and it takes a lot longer to walk down there now.

Check out the video on Aratere's travels below↓




Aratere Statistics:

  • Meaning of the name: Quick Path
  • Built: Hijos de J.Barreras S.A, Gijon, Spain
  • Specs: 12,595 gross tonnes, 150 metres long
  • Carrying capacity: 400 Passengers /1005 lane metres freight / 425 metres rail freight
  • Crew: 31

After the extension in 2011:

  • Specs: 17,816 gross tonnes, 183.69 metres long
  • Carrying capacity: 650 Passengers /30 trucks or 230 cars / 28 rail wagons

Tell us your Interislander story

Most Kiwis have a memory of a trip on the Interislander or maybe you or your whanau worked on the ferries. We are keen to hear your stories. We will add each to the ship pages so they reflect the connections people have to each of the ferries. Photos are greatfully received as well.

You can email us your story at