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This website is developed from the site originally conceived developed & maintained by Marcus Castell and associates. Opinions are those of the various authors of the articles, and are not those of the NZ National Maritime Museum unless specifically noted. Information in this site has been updated to 2002 and will be progressively updated as resources allow. More information on historic ships (etc) is contained in the MARITIME INDEX website

in service since 1983

The current Arahura is the second inter-island ferry to bear the name.  Her fore-runner was a 1,600 ton, twin screw steam ship, built in 1905 for the Union Steam Ship company for their Wellington to Greymouth via Nelson and Westport service.  In 1925 she was acquired by the Anchor Line and carried 221 passengers on their Wellington - Nelson service for twenty five years.  Partly dismantled at Wellington, she was sunk in Cook Strait by RNZAF Mosquito bombers as target practice on the 24th of January, 1952.

Arahura means "Pathway to Dawn" in the Maori language; yard number 245 was built at the Aalborg Vaerft A/S shipyard, Denmark.  Nearly two years of planning and negotiating preceded the signing of the contract in January, 1982, allowing some 21 months for the construction of the vessel, to meet her delivery date.  The 51 mile crossing of Cook Strait is one of the most difficult ferry routes in the world and much research went into producing a design which would operate satisfactorily in the strong winds experienced in the area, and the heavy swells and wave motions induced by its position in the Pacific Ocean.  In addition, tests were made at the Danish Marine Institute to ensure that the increased speed desired for this vessel, above that obtained by existing ferries on the route, would not produce waves which would be a nuisance to nearby beaches.  Arahura's service speed of 19 knots allows the crossing to be made in 3 hours and cuts 20 minutes off the earlier timetable.


Simulations of the vessel entering Picton Harbour, where gusting wind conditions are experienced, were mounted together with a whole range of manoeuvres, before deciding on the final hull form which, incidentally, incorporates that once standard feature of all merchant ships, 'tumble-home', introduced here to allow the vessel to heel up to 7 degrees whilst at the berth loading trains, without fouling the superstructure.  To improve passenger comfort, stabilising fins were fitted and steering is assisted by the provision of twin rudders and two 800kw bow thrusters.

The principal dimensions of Arahura are as follows - LOA 148.30m; LBP 137.00 m; Breadth Moulded 20.25m; Depth Moulded (Upper Deck) 11 .80m. Load draught is 5.47m with a corresponding dead-weight of 2,500 tonnes and an actual payload of 1,600 tonnes.  Arahura is designed to load and discharge rail wagons and road vehicles simultaneously over the stern using shore-based double link spans, access to the Train Deck being by way of a double-leaf stern door which folds up under the Road Vehicle Deck.  Because of the heavy weather experienced in the Cook Strait, the cargo decks were designed with special hook-up points on every frame for wagon tie-down and vehicle lashing gear.  The problems of heel during loading and unloading were countered by fitting three sets of heeling tanks, each with two 1,750 cubic metres per hour pumps, one discharging from port to starboard and the other in the opposite direction, with a microprocessor operated pumping system designed by the shipbuilder controlling the heel compensation.

All cargo handling is carried out over the stern as there is no great advantage in having a drive-through arrangement for a rail ferry.  The idea of a bow door was, in any case, rejected for Cook Strait operation, although this does present problems with the carriage of road vehicles and a turning area had to be provided at the forward end of the Road Vehicle Deck.  In all, 60 rail wagons can be carried on the Rail Deck, which is timber sheathed and could accommodate 132 private cars, and 27 lorries or 100 private cars can be carried on the Vehicle Deck.

There are two main passenger decks, these are A (Boat) Deck and B (Passenger) Deck.  The facilities on A Deck include the Pelorus Lounge, one of the ship's two bars. Nearby is a video theatre which shows videos of interest to tourists.  The Watch House Theatre is on the opposite side of the deck and for a nominal fee passengers can watch a first release film.  Forward of the engine room casing is the truck drivers' lounge, a video game parlour called the Space Alley and the most simple of the three food outlets on board, the Kauri shop, which sells items such as hamburgers, fish and chips and general snacks.  The most forward public area on the deck is the U-shaped Queen Charlotte Lounge which offers panoramic views over the bow of the ship.  Inside the U-section of this room is the Ship's Cove, which is a quiet room for those who want to read or snooze their way to their destination.

On B Deck is the second, and larger, of the two bars, Barrett's Bar, with its intriguing pillars representing the Maori gods of water, sea and sky.  The main entry foyer is alongside with the purser's office, whilst on the port side of the engine room casing are the luggage lockers, nursery, parents' lounge and the Dolphin Playroom.  On the starboard side is the Pot of Gold fruit machine room and a shop well stocked with travel needs and souvenirs.  The two main eating areas are also on this deck, the up-market carvery called the Captain's Table on the port side and the Red Rock Cafe, which has some quite zany sketches drawn by local artist Tom Scott decorating its walls.  The standard of food aboard the vessel is very good and the prices are reasonable.  Two other small rooms are on B Deck.  One is the Endeavour Room, which is a 22-seat boardroom for business meetings, equipped with overhead projector and video machine.

All 71 officers and crew, with the exception of 2 boys, have single cabins, spread over a number of decks in the forward part of the ship, with lounges and TV rooms provided for leisure activity.  Two large training rooms are positioned on the lower deck for use by the crew with equipment including a scale model of the vessel's engine room installation, built by the shipbuilder during the design of the vessel, and now to be used for demonstration purposes.

The wheelhouse has two control positions surrounded by consoles containing all navigation aids.

Diesel-electric propulsion was selected for the Arahura in order to give the high degree of reliability and flexibility necessary to operate the service, whilst the machinery was laid out and segregated so that, in the event of damage or breakdown, the vessel could reach port on reduced power.  She is a twin screw ship with each shaft deriving its power from two 3,800kw GEC generators driven, via flexible couplings, by Wartsila type 12V32 diesel engines, each producing 4,095kw at 750 rpm.  These, in turn, provide power for the two 6,700kw propulsion motors which drive the controllable pitch propellers at 214 rpm.  The entire machinery installation in the vessel, including propulsion, electrical power, heeling and ballast systems is operated from a machinery control room with a 14 metre long control console, arranged in 'horseshoe' fashion, housing all controls and mimic diagrams.

On the 21st of May, 1999 passengers watched in horror as a rescue drill went horribly wrong, leaving one man dead and three others injured.  A 19-year-old man, understood to be a trainee officer, was killed during the routine exercise when a lifeboat dropped about ten metres into the water as the Tranz Rail ferry headed into Picton around 12.30pm.

An inspection in November, 1999 found the ship to be in a well maintained, seaworthy condition, but there was concern about the condition of saltwater pipes and some deck joints.  She is expected to remain in service for another eight to twelve years.  Arahura can take wide-bodied rail wagons, but only in certain positions.  And, though not as bad as the Arahanga, she has trouble with high trucks.  In addition, her turning circle could be better.  And, for stability reasons, the ship can't operate with a full rail deck of heavy wagons and a full road deck at the same time.  The vessel has a huge passenger capacity, but doesn't have sufficient seating for peak times.

September 2004 - her livery appears to have been changed in drydock in Brisbane last month (Aug 2004), prior to her arrival in Hobart for a $4m accommodation refurbishment/upgrade. Majorly, her funnel colours have changed and feature the fern and the hull logo has been altered to interislander with a stylized diving dolphin
together with the fern leaf.

ARAHURA in Hobart August 2004 - M Triplett


Thanks to author Marcus Castell. 9/2004 addition - Mike Triplett

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