Lyttelton-Wellington ferries

Page 8 – In strife and war

Prior to the tragic sinking of the Wahine in 1968, the inter-island service ran remarkably smoothly and safely. The only major incidents occurred in February 1936, when the first Rangatira struck rocks near the entrance to Wellington Harbour; in June 1936, when the first Wahine hit Pipitea Wharf in thick fog; in December 1940, when the Rangatira ran aground off Pigeon Bay, Banks Peninsula; and in December 1942, when the Wahine ran down the minesweeper HMNZS South Sea in Wellington Harbour. No lives were lost in any of these accidents.

The Lyttelton–Wellington ferries were such a vital link for travellers that they were given priority whenever strikes or lockouts paralysed the wharves. During the great waterfront strike of 1913 the government and Union Steam Ship Company were determined to keep the ferries running because they were a crucial part of the national mail system.

Wars disrupted the service. In 1915 the British government requisitioned the Wahine for use as a troop ship and later as a minelayer. The ship impressed British observers with its manoeuvrability and sowed over 11,000 mines in the North Sea during the war. Fortunately, the old Mararoa was still available to plug the gap back home.

During the Second World War both the Wahine and Rangatira served as troop ships in the South Pacific, forcing the old Maori out of retirement. During that conflict, Admiralty regulations required the ferries to run during daylight hours for safety reasons.

The Wahine went to war for the third – and last – time in 1951. Chartered by the New Zealand government to carry K Force troops to Korea, the ship ran aground on Masela Island in the Arafura Sea, north of Australia. Everyone on board was rescued, but the vessel was a total loss.

How to cite this page

'In strife and war', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012