John Harding’s black Volkswagen SUV on a part-empty deck aboard Kaiarahi – at a time when tourists are still stranded in Picton.
Wellingtonian John Harding had been on holiday to Kaiteriteri, in the South Island’s Tasman District, with his wife and dog.
But less than 24 hours before they were due to board a ferry home, they had their sailing on Kaitaki cancelled after the vessel suffered a gearbox failure.
Faced with the costs of abandoning his car in Blenheim and flying him and his dog home, Harding drove to Picton that evening to try his luck.
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“There was no queue at the booking office and I was immediately offered a place on the 7.30am Wednesday sailing of the Kaiarahi. I was told that ‘space had become available’.
“We were so lucky to get home.”
Harding boarded the ferry in his black Volkswagen SUV and said he was the last car to embark. Once the doors closed behind him, he was on a vehicle deck with metres of space for empty vehicles.
”It was stunning to see room for at least 30 cars just laying empty.
Interislander’s Kaitaki ferry had a rough start to 2023, with engineering faults putting it out of commission. In January, while carrying hundreds of passengers, it lost all power and drifted towards rocks.
Interislander executive general manager Walter Rushbrook said in a statement that the ferry company tried to allocate all the space available on the ferries and tried to ensure that the ships were full when they sailed.
“At times freight or passengers who have been booked on a sailing cancel at very short notice or do not arrive for that sailing.
Rushbrook said previously Interislander had sometimes been able to put additional freight or passengers on an emptier sailing but now it was not taking any standby passengers in order “to ensure an orderly and fair process”.
“We cannot hold ships indefinitely to ensure they are full because of timetabling requirements, so sometimes there is no option but to sail with some empty space.”
Cook Strait ferries have been a focal point for travel disruption, with delays and cancellations stranding passengers on the wrong island and sometimes forcing them to abandon their vehicles to fly home.
Starting with Kaitaki’s power failure in late January, the ferries have faced problem after problem. At one point Aratere was the only functioning passenger ferry between the two islands.
Harding is not the only one to have experienced contradictory communication from Interislander either. Priscilla Allan’s 91-year-old father was on a road trip from Invercargill to Auckland when his sailing was canned on March 7.
Having already delayed his sailing, she said her father was very fortunate to eventually find a space on a 6.30pm sailing on Kaiarahi.
“He was supposed to stay with friends in Wellington and while it’s not ideal for him to turn up to their house late in the evening, at least he’s across and able to get home.”
Rushbrook said the ferry company was doing everything it could to accommodate passengers by putting on additional sailings and increasing capacity.
“Our priority is to ensure those passengers booked on Kaitaki can get onto other sailings.”