The Lyttelton to Wellington ferry was an important step in holidays to Auckland. As a boy, the start of the annual trek to Auckland and Stanmore Bay involved a trip through the Lyttelton Tunnel to the ferry. The Lyttelton Tunnel was an exciting entrée to the adventure – so modern and glistening – and you had to pay the toll which made it very special.
Driving aboard the ferry was just awesome (actually I confess it still feels just as good on the Cook Strait Ferry), and the ferry was an adventure to behold. I remember one particular trip we had a large cabin for all nine of us with various alcoves and maybe even a bedroom or two. And early morning being awoken by the tea ladies – large I recall in white uniforms – with trolleys of tea and plain milk biscuits. A cup of milk with a biscuit on the side for me.
As a youngster I never quite understood how we went to bed and woke up in Wellington. But you knew you were getting close because you could hear the men removing the chains and ropes that held the cars in place. And the high-rises of Wellington! It was great.
I remembered ships called Maori, Rangatira and Wahine. In researching for this blog I discovered that there were two ships each of those names plus one called Hinemoa that serviced the route over the years. The first Wahine was shipwrecked in 1951 carrying troops to the Korean War.
On 10 April 1968 we were huddled around the radio in the lounge in Prebbleton listening to the devastation as tropical cyclone Giselle hit a southerly front, creating the weather conditions that shipwrecked the Wahine. We had planned to travel on the ferry the same day as the ill-fated Wahine (although not on the Wahine) but had changed the booking to travel the next day, 10 April. It was a very serious feeling that day in the lounge listening to the news, which for us concluded in Mum and Dad deciding we weren’t travelling north that day. We travelled a couple of days later, presumably past the wreck of the Wahine, although I have no recollection of that. The seriousness of the disaster was not clear to me as a young boy.
Tragically, fifty-one people died that day and two more later, from injuries they suffered. They were folk just like us, on their own adventures. Lessons were learned and changes made to how ships are built and operated. The New Zealand Court of Inquiry found that errors of judgment had been made, but that the weather was difficult and dangerous. No-one was held personally accountable.
The service stopped in 1974. It was a great shame although the Interislander Service was great too, and still is.
The story isn’t complete for me without reference to the reasons for our travels north – visiting Grandma (and before he died in 1967, Grandpa too) – and all the Auckland relatives on Mum’s side.
I’ve no idea how Grandma coped with all of us in her flat in Sandringham although the bach at Stanmore Bay was probably easier for her. She gets the last word as the great Wahine of those adventures, standing by her front door as we backed out “Lovely to see you come, and lovely to see you go“.
Only years later did I understand.