Interislander is a road and rail ferry service across New Zealand’s Cook Strait, between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island. It is owned and operated by state-owned rail operator KiwiRail. Three roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessels operate the 50 nautical miles (93 km; 58 mi) route, taking between three and three-and-a-half hours to complete the crossing.
Interislander was started in August 1962 by KiwiRail’s predecessor, the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR). The service primarily provided a RORO rail link between its North and South Island networks, allowing NZR to compete directly with coastal shipping companies for inter-island freight. It also provided the first RORO road link between the two islands, which saw the Interislander compete with, and then completely replace, the Union Company’s Wellington–Lyttelton ferry service. Today, the service is still well patronised despite competition on the Wellington–Picton sea route with Bluebridge and from airlines, carrying around one million passengers and 230,000 vehicles per year on 5,500 sailings.
In 2017, Interislander became part of The Great Journeys of New Zealand, a new new tourism brand created by KiwiRail to unite their four scenic passenger services: Interislander, Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific, TranzAlpine.
The Lynx was the Interislander’s fast ferry service across Cook Strait. Pressured by Christchurch businessman Brooke McKenzie and his ill-fated Sea Shuttles NZ fast ferry service, the Interisland Line chartered the HSC Condor 10 to operate a fast service across the strait for the 1994/95 summer. The „Vomit Comet“, as it was sometimes dubbed, was an initial success, taking half the time of the regular Interislander ferries. Condor 10 returned to serve as The Lynx every summer until 1999, when it was replaced by the HSC Condor Vitesse for the 1999/2000 summer. A year-round service was started in 2000 with HSC Normandie Express, which was replaced in 2003 by HSC Incat 046.
The Lynx was cancelled in 2005 due to large losses. The fast ferries use copious amounts of fuel and their jet streams caused environmental damage. In 1994, speed restrictions were imposed in Wellington harbour to reduce wash and protect ships berthed at Aotea Quay, and in May 2000 an 18-knot speed limit was imposed on all ships in the Marlborough Sounds after residents complained of shoreline damage caused by the ferries. By 2002, The Lynx took 2 hours 15 minutes to complete its journey. This was only a 45-minute advantage over the Arahura and Aratere, which had the advantage of being able to operate in swells above The Lynx’s limit of 4.0 metres, which were common in Cook Strait and frequently caused cancellations.
The Interislander operates three roll-on roll-off ferries: Aratere, Kaiarahi and Kaitaki. Aratere is a rail ferry, carrying rail wagons on the lower vehicle deck and road vehicles on the upper vehicle deck. Kaitaki and Kaiarahi do not have rail capacity, and carry road vehicles across two decks.
The ship names are all in Māori, and translate to „Quick path“ (Aratere), leader (Kaiarahi) and „Challenger“ (Kaitaki).