Kiwikorrels: Ferry derailed

kiwikorrelsFerry derailed

New Zealand exists of two main islands, very imaginatively called the North- and the South Island. Divided by the Cook Strait, a rough and windy waterway of thirty to one hundred kilometres wide. People wanting to go from one island to the other could use a small plane. But the majority of the people rely on the ferry.



It takes the ferry more than three hours to sail from Wellington to Picton. The reason being that the distance between both harbours is more than 90 kilometres. But in exchange you will enjoy more than one hour travelling through the Sounds, one of the most beautiful areas on this world. Plus the large bay of Wellington with beautiful panoramas.


You would think that the ferry wouldn’t be expensive. Not just passengers, but also transport trucks often have to go from one island to the other and vice versa of course. It is important for the country that this natural barrier shouldn’t be a social and financial handicap. 

Train and boat

But obviously the government doesn’t share those thoughts. The ferry is controlled by KiwiRail – the train too goes on the ferry. KiwiRail is a government enterprise that has to make some profit with its trains and boats. That is not easy in this sparsely inhibited country. Therefore train transport in New Zealand is in a sorry state. Economising all over. Not profitable stretches are being stopped radically. The rolling material and the rails mostly date from the start of last century and every year they die off a bit further 

nice picture


From that point of view the ferry across Cook Strait is a potential money earner. Hardly any competitors. So the prices rise sharply. A ticket for a basic pedestrian without luggage is very pricey. One easily pays $75 for a one way ticket. By adding a car it easily comes to $250. A couple with three children – like us – pays $528 for a return to Wellington. Plus the car it comes to $992. The unsuspecting tourist and his campervan loses a large chunk of his holiday money by paying for this boat trip.

Far away journey, heavy price

It is clear that travelling between the islands is an expensive venture, a trip you will think twice about. Because of this less passengers use it. We know people on the South Island who have never been to the North Island. Too expensive.

And then the Law of the Large Amounts will come into force: the fewer passengers, the more expensive the trip. The higher the price is, the fewer passengers. The ferry operates on this last course.

Safety and customer friendly

And the continual technical and even safety problems come on top of these cutbacks. In 2011, both engines of the completely revised Aratere stopped. The boat has been taken out of service for an awful long time. Too dangerous.

And you cannot call the ferry-line customer friendly either.


Recently the Kaitaki (the largest of the three ships, moored somewhat unfortunate in Picton. The dock was damaged in a way that the boat could not be moored up according to the rules. What now? The 260 passengers had experienced some stormy hours already. Many a person would have loved to leave the boat. Amongst them were many people who had signed up for the St Claire Vineyard half marathon the next day – many had trained months for this event. Others had urgent appointments in Christchurch or had to be there in time for their intercontinental flight connection. Another one had small children who did not feel very well.

Rough weather

Turned completely around

Unfortunetaly they could not leave the boat. For hours they did not know what was happening. They did not even try to get the passengers, without transport, of the boat on to smaller boats. After a delay of three hours in Picton the captain decided to return to Wellington; in spite of a heavy storm of wind gusts of up to 100km/h. After nearly ten hours the sick and tired passengers were at the same spot they started this trip. Accidents did not occur during the trip.


The exhausted passengers were furious. They missed trains and planes, an entire day wasted in stormy weather on the water, waiting for hours a few metres away from their destination, then again the stormy trip back to where they came from. Turns you crazy. Finally KiwiRail offered its apologies for the inconvenience. 


Oh well, it was not their fault. The travellers had until 17 June to book without having to pay again. If they did not use that offer, they would receive $100 discount for another trip in 2014 (!) – if they still wanted too go, of course.

Essential meals during the long trip and ditto entertainment had to be paid by the passengers too, of course.

Possible telephone costs, claims and lost time? Bad luck, people. Better luck next time.

This is how a KiwiRail ferry goes off the rails.

New route?

New route?

To shorten the trip, plans have been made to sail from Wellington to Clifford Bay instead of Picton. That shortens the trip from Wellington to Christchurch a bit. Not even that much. It brings the second largest town in New Zealand closer to the capital Wellington. 

But it is a long and uncomfortable trip over unprotected and dangerous water.

On top of that, more than 100,000 people will be placed on the sideline with much longer travelling times. People from places like Blenheim, Havelock, Nelson and Motueka have to travel much longer to get to the North Island. Not to mention the West Coast. That would be the death of the flourishing tourist town of Picton. A new sheltered harbour has to be built and long and expensive trains - and roads have to be built. They will go through with this silly plan, for sure. 


The Dutch version of this article is published in the July-August 2013 edition of Holland Focus.
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