Hopeful Cook Strait ferry passengers are reporting huge wait times and anxiety as New Zealanders scramble to make it home before the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Hamilton resident Alison Murray had lined up since 4am this morning and was initially told she would not be able to get across today because she didn't have a ticket.

She and her family eventually made it onto a ferry, but many others were turned away.

"Full to the brim with passengers but it's unbelievably quiet. Everyone is distancing themselves, not moving around a lot. Very eerie feeling," she said of the journey.


Murray had never seen anything like it in her life and said she couldn't believe how large the queues were.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday that New Zealand was at Covid-19 alert level 3 and alert level 4 would come in on Wednesday night for four weeks.

The announcement triggered today's rush to get back before the lockdown begins.

In a statement, police said they were providing traffic support in Picton as an influx of people who don't have tickets for this morning's crossings had caused congestion and delays.

Police have asked anyone not booked on a ferry crossing today to not show up at the terminal.

All schools are now closed for everyone except the children of identified essential workers, who will have until midnight on Wednesday to make arrangements.

Hopeful passenger Raureti Te Amo told the Herald there were more than 200 campervans lining up and hundreds of cars as well.

"They were parked up from the start of the main road into Picton right to the BlueBridge terminal."

He said people seemed panicked and weren't practising social distancing.


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KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said it appreciated it was a stressful time for people but it was asking New Zealanders to remain calm.

"We are urging Interislander passengers to be patient as we work through the significant increase in people, including students, wanting to take our ferries to make their way home for the level 4 self-isolation period."

He said KiwiRail was applying social distancing principles in accordance with the requirements of a level 3 alert status and its ships were operating at capacity.

"KiwiRail is actively working with police and other stakeholders to look at options to assist people to get home before self-isolation comes into effect."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website
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