Sunday, May 6, 2012

Crossing Cook Strait


This country is split into two islands by a  bumpy(more-often-than-not), tempestuous (quite often) stretch of water named after Captain James Cook. The British explorer completed the first circumnavigation of the country, and mapped it with few errors, in 1769 - 70.

If you want to take a car from one island to another, the only way is to travel on one of the ferries which ply the Strait 8 or 10 times each day. The trip takes only 3 hours, and if you are lucky the middle bit, when you are actually out in the open sea, will be smooth and gentle; you may be escorted by pods of dolphins...

Early one morning in April, early winter sunshine. In my car, queued on
 the Wellington wharves, I wait for the ferry to arrive.

One family decides to fill in the time usefully... the kids actually catch some small fish!

Here she comes - it's the Arahura, the oldest one in the fleet, but I'm 
glad to see her

 For the first hour or so, we move steadily out through the 
volcanic ribs which encircle Wellington harbour:

Then it's goodbye to the North Island

 About an hour later, we begin to wind through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds 
to Picton, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound

 Safely there...

... but it hasn't always been so. Cook Strait is, according to Wikipedia, 
"one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world."
 The worst disaster which has happened on its waters was the sinking of the ferry Wahine. It was caught in a ferocious storm and struck a reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, in winds gusting to 160 km/h.


Fifty-three people drowned that night, including 3 children; 
the other 670 passengers and crew survived by getting off 
into the 4 usable lifeboats, or by launching themselves in 
lifejackets into the turbulent waters of the harbour. 

The current swept most of them across towards the western 
side of the harbour, where a small fleet of fishing boats, 
private motorboats and surf-lifesaving boats found them and 
lifted them aboard, taking them to the shore and to safety. 

My mother was one of the latter group. She had been travelling 
with an elderly family friend of ours; he was drowned.

Image from here

~ Martin Bauxbaum


  1. Such close links to a tragedy. Awful.
    I, unfortunately, do not do rough seas well. I loved the tour you took us on. Such beauty.
    Thank you.

  2. Glad your mother survived.

    Lovely tour. I'm not one for sea going travel, I can get sea sick in the bath. Don't like air travel either so I tend to stay in the UK.

  3. Wow. Is there anyplace in NZ that is NOT stunningly beautiful?

    As for water, I think straits might have some of the worst in the world. I've been on many a boat in my life, from small sailboats (with 6 people aboard) in the Caribbean to large ferries in various places, and the WORST water I've ever experienced was a "calm" day crossing the English Channel. It's the only time I've ever been sea sick -- and that includes being in a 24-foot pleasure boat and getting tossed by 5-foot waves (various times on a lake where my family used to camp).
    Glad you had nice weather for your journey. Lovely photos you got.

  4. Glad your mom was safe, Alexia.

    "Dreaming of calm, open seas"

  5. Ok, I have to admit I had no idea your country was two separate islands. I, of course, had to check it out on Google Maps. Beautiful pictures! The more of your pictures I see the more I feel the need to make it down there some day, looks gorgeous.
    I remember crossing the English Channel in a ferry when I was a kid. It was so choppy that waves were crashing over the bow. My little brother and my father were running around loving it, while the rest of the family sat in the lounge trying to hold onto breakfast. Hopefully your trip was a little more enjoyable.

  6. Thank you all.
    I have crossed Cook Strait many times, and I have only experienced one really bad crossing - many people were very ill. Luckily, I was not; I guess I'm fortunate to be quite a good sailor.

    EC, Martin, thunder: thank you for the comments about my mother. It was one of the worst days of my life; at home in Christchurch we heard on the morning news that the ship was in trouble, later that it was sinking. It wasn't until 10.00 pm that I heard that she was safe.

    Max: you're welcome any time!

    Lisa: of course, there are parts which aren't so lovely. But one thing that always astounds visitors is the amazing variety of landscapes which are packed into such a small country.



It's great when you leave a note!