Gale-force winds trap Interislander ferry passengers in 12-hour trip from Wellington to Picton

Hundreds of passengers travelling from Wellington will have spent at least the equivalent time of a flight to Los Angeles by the time their ferry arrives in Picton due to gale-force winds.

The Interislander ferry Kaitiaki departed from the capital at 9am today with 570 passengers aboard, and was due to arrive at 12.30 this afternoon, but as of 7pm still hadn’t managed to berth because of high winds.

General manager Walter Rushbrook said strong southeast gales were causing delays for Cook Strait ferries trying to berth, with winds gusting in excess of 40 knots (74km/h) down Picton harbour.

Part of the Picton terminal has also been damaged by the unusually high winds.

“We are waiting for a lull in the weather to be able to berth safely,” Rushbrook said.

“The weather is forecast to ease later this evening, but exactly when is unpredictable.”

A passenger on board the Kaitiaki said the captain announced over the speaker they were hoping to attempt a berth at 9pm.

Earlier he said just as the ferry was due to arrive it turned around to cruise around the sounds waiting for the winds to calm down.

Rushbrook said Picton tugs were in position to assist with berthing if necessary.

“Passengers have been kept advised of the delays and passengers have been offered complimentary food and beverages,” he said.

The delays have also affected later sailings, with two return services cancelled due to the weather.

“We are contacting all affected customers, and are targeting to clear the backlog of passengers and vehicles within 24-hours,” Rushbrook said.

“We apologise for the inconvenience, however the safety of our passengers and crew must be our number one priority.”

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