Skip to main content

Lyttelton-Wellington ferries

Page 2 – Key dates

Below are some significant dates in the history of the Union Steam Ship Company's Lyttelton–Wellington ferry service:

  • 1895 Penguin (749 tons) commenced dedicated service between Wellington and Lyttelton
  • 1896 Penguin increased service frequency to three times a week
  • 1897 Rotomahana (1727 tons) replaced the Penguin
  • 1898 Parliamentary inquiry held into Lyttelton–Wellington service
  • 1899 Second ship added during the summer season
  • 1900 Daily summer service began, except for Sundays
  • 1905 Daily all-year-round service began, except for Sundays
  • 1907 Maori (3399 tons), the first purpose-built Lyttelton–Wellington ferry, was delivered
  • 1913 Wahine (4436 tons) entered service
  • 1931 Rangatira (6152 tons) entered service
  • 1934 Steamer Express Service brand introduced
  • 1939 Rangatira set a speed record of 8 hours 8 minutes between Lyttelton and Wellington, averaging 21.4 knots
  • 1947 Hinemoa (6911 tons) entered service
  • 1951 15 August: Wahine wrecked in the Arafura Sea while transporting troops to Korean War
  • 1953 new Maori (8303 tons) entered service
  • 1965 Rangatira laid up; Maori converted to roll-on roll-off configuration (first sailing 16 December)
  • 1966 Hinemoa laid up; second Wahine (8948 tons) entered service
  • 1968 10 April: Wahine sank in Wellington Harbour, drowning 51 people
  • 1972 second Rangatira (9387 tons) entered service; Maori laid up
  • 1974 Union Steam Ship Company withdrew from the Lyttelton–Wellington service; Rangatira chartered to the Ministry of Transport, Maori sold
  • 1976 15 September: Rangatira withdrawn from service
  • 2005 Alexander the Great (the former Rangatira) scrapped in Türkiye

What's in a name?

Between 1907 and 1976 the Lyttelton–Wellington route was served by two ships named Maori, two named Wahine and two named Rangatira, plus a solitary Hinemoa. These became household names within New Zealand, but how were they chosen? The Maori recycled the name of an original member of the Union Steam Ship Company's fleet of 1875. Her consort of 1913 took the name Wahine (woman) to partner the (assumed male) Maori. The next ship, the Rangatira, was their ‘chief'. The Hinemoa was the ‘daughter' of the ferry family, and in a sense, she was since she used the Rangatira's hull plans to speed construction.

How to cite this page

Key dates, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated