Cabins de luxe and glory holes – Lyttelton-Wellington ferries



The public rooms
are spacious and well designed with attractive murals for decoration. A
comfortable cafeteria is provided and a dining saloon caters for passengers
desirous of a more satisfying meal, perhaps after a long day’s driving from some
distant part of the country.

New Zealand Marine News, 1972

Reporting the arrival of the Rangatira in 1972, New Zealand Marine News thought that ‘one gains the impression of
being on a large overseas liner, with the spacious vestibule and purser’s
bureau forward, not overlooking the shop, well stocked with a multitude of
items’. The ship’s cabins featured showers, toilets, basins and everything else
needed for a comfortable night’s accommodation.

The same could not be said of the
early ferries, especially the hand-me-downs. The purpose-built Maori of 1907 was a big leap forward,
but description of the cabins was limited to ‘well endowed with spring
mattresses and superior bed coverings’ – no showers, toilets or electric
sockets here! The Wahine‘s first-class passengers occupied single-, twin- or
four-berth cabins; in addition there were several ‘cabins de luxe fitted with
wide berths, handsome wardrobes, baths etc.’.

The first-class accommodation was good
by the standards of the day, but the early ferries became rather crowded at peak holiday periods when the notorious Union
Steam Ship Company shake-downs (collapsible beds) were placed in public spaces to accommodate the
overflow of short-changed passengers.

In the old days, the regulars had their
favourite ships and favourite cabins. At Lyttelton those in the know took
their places by the doors early to get the best seats on the ‘boat train’ that
would take them to Christchurch railway station for a leisurely
cooked breakfast.

Accommodation was organised along class lines. In the first Rangatira, for example, first-class passengers were accommodated amidships, far away from the noise of
the bow or the screws. Second-class passengers were aft. On the first Wahine the area just over the screws,
where male passengers travelling cheaply crowded into large cabins, was known
as the ‘Glory Hole’. Fights and other disorderly behaviour weren’t uncommon.

As time went on, the proportion of single
and double cabins increased. By the time the Rangatira entered service in 1931 there was a reading lamp for
every berth, and each

cabin had a hand basin with hot and cold running water.

After the Second World War the Hinemoa introduced one-class accommodation, ending the old problem of people
fighting over entering via the A (high status) and B (less so) gangways.
Even so, some people travelled in floating dormitories. The Maori of 1953 accommodated her 970
passengers in two de luxe cabins holding four passengers, six two-berth cabins with their own showers
and lavatories, 39 ‘ordinary’ one-berth cabins, 235 two-berth, 31 three-berth,
75 four-berth and four 12-berth cabins.

The second Wahine
(1966) had one-, two-, four- and 12-berth cabins. Most passengers had to use communal showers
and toilets, although the new ship did offer wash basins and electric razor
points in cabins. The company described the general lounge as a
place where ‘cool blues and greens mingle with brown, gold and terracotta to
provide comfort and relaxation with a background of pleasing contemporary

By the time of the second Rangatira‘s arrival in 1972, the dormitories had been reduced to
eight-berth cabins. To while away the time, passengers had ‘a stylish cocktail
bar, a cafeteria, a restaurant and a cinema’. By then, the Union Steam Ship Company was in
joint Australian and New
Zealand ownership and Australian Sir Peter
Abeles had reduced the service to a single-ship operation, laying up the Maori. Even so, Abeles talked about
the Rangatira changing from a ‘bus
service’ to an international tourism magnet: he ‘hoped that bands would play on
the wharf to farewell and greet the ship, Maori concert parties would perform
on board and passengers would be able to invite friends aboard for dinner, two
hours before the ship sailed’. Needless to say, none of this happened.

How to cite this page

‘Cabins de luxe and glory holes’, URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012


Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply