Lyttelton-Wellington ferries

Page 5 – Cabins de luxe and glory holes

The public rooms are spacious and well designed with attractive murals for decoration. A comfortable cafeteria is provided and a dining saloon caters for passengers desirous of a more satisfying meal, perhaps after a long day's driving from some distant part of the country.

New Zealand Marine News, 1972

Reporting the arrival of the Rangatira in 1972, New Zealand Marine News thought that ‘one gains the impression of being on a large overseas liner, with the spacious vestibule and purser's bureau forward, not overlooking the shop, well stocked with a multitude of items'. The ship's cabins featured showers, toilets, basins and everything else needed for a comfortable night's accommodation.

The same could not be said of the early ferries, especially the hand-me-downs. The purpose-built Maori of 1907 was a big leap forward, but description of the cabins was limited to ‘well endowed with spring mattresses and superior bed coverings' – no showers, toilets or electric sockets here! The Wahine's first-class passengers occupied single-, twin- or four-berth cabins; in addition there were several ‘cabins de luxe fitted with wide berths, handsome wardrobes, baths etc.'.

The first-class accommodation was good by the standards of the day, but the early ferries became rather crowded at peak holiday periods when the notorious Union Steam Ship Company shake-downs (collapsible beds) were placed in public spaces to accommodate the overflow of short-changed passengers.

In the old days, the regulars had their favourite ships and favourite cabins. At Lyttelton those in the know took their places by the doors early to get the best seats on the ‘boat train' that would take them to Christchurch railway station for a leisurely cooked breakfast.

Accommodation was organised along class lines. In the first Rangatira, for example, first-class passengers were accommodated amidships, far away from the noise of the bow or the screws. Second-class passengers were aft. On the first Wahine the area just over the screws, where male passengers travelling cheaply crowded into large cabins, was known as the ‘Glory Hole'. Fights and other disorderly behaviour weren't uncommon.

As time went on, the proportion of single and double cabins increased. By the time the Rangatira entered service in 1931 there was a reading lamp for every berth, and each cabin had a hand basin with hot and cold running water.

After the Second World War the Hinemoa introduced one-class accommodation, ending the old problem of people fighting over entering via the A (high status) and B (less so) gangways. Even so, some people travelled in floating dormitories. The Maori of 1953 accommodated her 970 passengers in two de luxe cabins holding four passengers, six two-berth cabins with their own showers and lavatories, 39 ‘ordinary' one-berth cabins, 235 two-berth, 31 three-berth, 75 four-berth and four 12-berth cabins.

The second Wahine (1966) had one-, two-, four- and 12-berth cabins. Most passengers had to use communal showers and toilets, although the new ship did offer wash basins and electric razor points in cabins. The company described the general lounge as a place where ‘cool blues and greens mingle with brown, gold and terracotta to provide comfort and relaxation with a background of pleasing contemporary elegance'.

By the time of the second Rangatira's arrival in 1972, the dormitories had been reduced to eight-berth cabins. To while away the time, passengers had ‘a stylish cocktail bar, a cafeteria, a restaurant and a cinema'. By then, the Union Steam Ship Company was in joint Australian and New Zealand ownership and Australian Sir Peter Abeles had reduced the service to a single-ship operation, laying up the Maori. Even so, Abeles talked about the Rangatira changing from a ‘bus service' to an international tourism magnet: he ‘hoped that bands would play on the wharf to farewell and greet the ship, Maori concert parties would perform on board and passengers would be able to invite friends aboard for dinner, two hours before the ship sailed'. Needless to say, none of this happened.

How to cite this page

'Cabins de luxe and glory holes', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012