Hordes of stranded passengers have had to make Picton their temporary home as tourists struggling with rebookings amid major ferry disruptions.
Both Interislander and rival operator Bluebridge have been hit with breakdowns and engine problems in recent weeks.
Interislanders’ largest ferry – the Kaitaki – is out of action for at least two weeks after a gearbox fault, which was identified less than 24 hours after it began sailing again for the first time in five weeks.
Two new rail-enabled ferries are due to enter service in 2025 and 2026, which Interislander says will be “game changers in terms of reliability, carbon efficiency, comfort and on-board passenger services”.
The small seaside town of Picton is at capacity and local moteliers Caryn and Noddy Robertson, who run the Harbour View Motel, told AM on Tuesday the ferry debacle is a nightmare for tourists.
“A lot of frustration, especially on the tourist side. Tourists are booking through travel agents overseas, they’re getting here, finding ferries cancelled and not understanding how to fix things,” Noddy told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.
“We’re doing a lot of helping out with people cancelling car rentals, as the ferries will take certain walk-ons, so it has been extremely difficult and stressful.”
Despite their motel being fully booked, the ferry disruptions are causing a headache for the Robertsons as they’re turning customers away.
“This time of the year we’re full every night, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a matter of managing the cancellations to fit the right people in, so we’re trying to get as many people through and no empty rooms,” Noddy said.
The ferry disruptions could potentially put tourists off coming to Picton but Caryn has faith it won’t have any long-term impacts on the town.
“I think New Zealand is always a beautiful destination to come to. It’s a safe place to come to and I don’t think we’ll ever lose that,” Caryn told AM.
“Coming down to the South Island, a lot of tourists find it so much different to the north with the great big Southern Alps down the spine and they always say just how stunning it is.”
Calls are starting to grow for an independent inquiry into the state of our ferries.
The Country’s executive producer Rowena Duncum told AM Early it’s a major issue for rural communities, especially with moving day coming up.
“This will just compound obviously, the beginning of June we start to see moving day where the dairy farms are changing over a lot of herds, entire dairy herds are moved from the north to the south and vice versa. So they’ll really want to make sure in the next three months this issue is addressed once and for all,” Duncum told AM Early.
In a statement to Newshub, the Interislander said other ships are being put on to support extra sailings while a technician is flown in from the Netherlands to inspect the gearbox on the Kaitaki.
Interislander said it acknowledges and apologises for the inconvenience caused to passengers and its freight customers.
“It’s really disappointing for our crew as we take real pride in the service we deliver. We are contacting all the affected passengers and will do all we can to ensure they are re-allocated to other sailings with as little disruption as possible,” Interislander Executive General Manager Walter Rushbrook said in a statement.
Watch the full interview with Caryn and Noddy Roberton in the video above.