On top of my bookshelf is a model of an old Auckland car ferry similar to the one pictured above. Before the harbour bridge was put in, the only way to reach the northern suburbs was to take one of these, or drive around via Riverhead, a journey of 50km (30 miles). My father grew up on the shore of the north side, with these ferries involved in many aspects of daily life.
Double-ended passenger ferries took care of the pedestrian commuters, shown here on the city side in front of the Ferry Building. Similar vessels were still in use in the 80's, and I remember well their noise and smoke. They took about three times as long to make the crossing as the modern catamarans used today.
The bridge was completed in 1959 with four lanes, which quickly became insufficient and was doubled ten years later. There was no central barrier until 1990! Since its opening, the central lanes have changed direction twice a day to accommodate commuting cityward in the morning and homeward in the evening. This was originally achieved with signal lights only, but now there is a movable barrier.
Today, ferry commuting is still popular among those who live near wharves on the north side of the harbour, and there are also new routes that connect the western and eastern reaches. Waiheke Island is only a half hour distant by ferry too, and the population there is nearing 9,000. I often take time to sit by the wharves and it is not uncommon to see 10 ferries coming or going in 10 minutes. Life in New Zealand revolves around the sea, even as an option for getting to work...and it certainly makes for a very inspiring commute.