With its strong tidal currents and changeable weather, the 26km stretch of water is known as one of the world’s most challenging long distance swims.
According to the oral traditions of local Maori, the first woman to swim across the strait was Hine Poupou, who made it from Kapiti Island to Dürville Island with the help of a dolphin.
In modern times, the strait was first swum by Barrie Devenport in 1962. Lynne Cox was the first woman to swim it, in 1975.
To put this incredible display of endurance in perspective, consider that 26km equates to about 1040 lengths of a 25m pool. But your local pool is kept at a balmy temperature, with little devices to keep turbulence from other lanes spoiling the smooth water of your own.
Swimming 1040 lengths of your local pool, with its comfort-controlled conditions, would be way beyond most people. When you add bitingly cold water, open ocean swells, unpredictable currents, wind, giant sea creatures and commercial shipping, the feat quickly takes on epic proportions.
The most prolific swimmer of the strait is Philip Rush, who has crossed eight times, including two double crossings. That’s right – Philip has twice swum to the other side only to turn around and swim all the way back! In this YouTube interview, Philip talks about sharks circling his swimmers in the middle of the Cook Strait and how he prevents the unspeakable from happening. He speaks about how the courage of athletes meets up with the beauty and mystery of the Cook Strait dolphins who often surround and protect the human swimmers from aggressive sharks.
These days Philip chooses to cross Cook Strait in a more leisurely fashion on Bluebridge – or in a support boat alongside one of the hardy souls that travel from all over the world to swim Cook Strait under his guidance. It was a great privilege to have Philip front our very first Bluebridge television commercial back in the day.
The youngest person to swim between the North and South islands was a very plucky 11 year-old from India, Aditya Raut. The oldest was American Tom Hecker who stroked his way into the record books aged 60.
Crossing times are largely determined by the strong and unpredictable currents that churn through the strait. But even when you factor in tail winds and favourable currents, the fastest time set by Casey Glover in 1998 is draw-droppingly quick.
The 21 year-old from Lower Hutt was attempting his first crossing when he smashed 27 minutes off the record. He made landfall at Marlborough Sounds’ Perano Head just 4 hours, 37 minutes and 56 seconds after diving off Wellington’s west coast.
In case you’re wondering, a Bluebridge ferry will get you to the other side in a breezy 3.5 hours!