Cook Strait rail ferries

Page 1 – Introduction

Few ships had as much impact on New Zealand history as the GMV Aramoana, the road/rail ferry that entered service between Wellington and Picton in 1962. The letters ‘GMV’ stood for ‘government motor vessel’, and this ship was the poster child of the Railways Department’s new Cook Strait ferry service.

Its influence was immediate. In its last year of service, the Union Steam Ship Company's old Wellington–Picton ferry Tamahine had carried 60,000 passengers, 11,000 cars and 14,000 tonnes of cargo. In the first year, the Aramoana carried 207,000 passengers, 46,000 cars and 181,000 tonnes of cargo. Since the 1960s five other Cook Strait ferries have carried the 'Ara' prefix: Aranui, Arahanga, Aratika, Arahura and Aratere. These ships – and more recent competitors – have formed a 'floating bridge', linking the North and South islands' road and rail networks into a truly national transport system.

On a fine, calm day ‘Cruising on The Interislander’ can be like a luxury Mediterranean cruise, but Cook Strait can also be one of the world's roughest stretches of water. Often, the ferry experience is less The Love Boat and more the 'chuck bucket'. Dodgy food, wildcat strikes, breakdowns and speedy 'vomit comets' have also been part of the colourful Cook Strait ferry story.

How to cite this page

'Cook Strait rail ferries', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 12-Jun-2023