Cruise & Ferry Review - Spring/Summer 2024

90 INTERVIEW Serving the strait Will Dady of StraitNZ gives Simon Johnson an insight into why New Zealand’s Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries is prioritising both efficiency and the customer experience The Cook Strait divides the North and South Islands of New Zealand, making it an essential throughfare for travellers and goods across the country. Delivering reliable and efficient ferry services across what can be an unpredictable stretch of water is a challenging task. State-backed operator Interislander has been doing so since 1962. Yet in 1992, Jim Barker, the owner of a road freight company, saw an opportunity to found a competitor service and established Strait Shipping, now StraitNZ. “The Barker family was frustrated at the service and rates they were receiving for moving their livestock between the North and South Islands,” says Will Dady, chief commercial officer of StraitNZ. “Next thing you know, the family bought and began operating its own ship on the Cook Strait. The business was focused on freight for the first 10 years but formed Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries in 2002 to take passengers across the strait. Since then, Bluebridge has gone from strength to strength and there’s a real sense of loyalty that exists in our customer base because of our origins.” Bluebridge now offers eight sailings a day, departing from Picton on the South Island and New Zealand’s capital Wellington on the North Island. The operator takes hundreds of thousands of passengers on the three-and-a-half-hour voyage across Cook Strait each year, as well as thousands of tonnes of freight and livestock. The company expanded its fleet by acquiring ro-pax ferry Connemara from Stena RoRo in 2023. Connemara is now Bluebridge’s largest and fastest ship, with its extra capacity proving to be a major benefit for the company’s operations. “The arrival of Connemara has been critical for us,” says Dady. “We have such significant freight volumes that, in the past, our lane metres would be exhausted by freight. That meant that even though theoretically a ship could take 330 passengers, realistically, you’d only be able to take 200 because most of the lane metres were filled with freight and it’s difficult to find 150 walk-on passengers. With Connemara we have a lot more lane metres to play with, which means we can take the freight volumes we need to while