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Ferry travel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand:What you need to know

Although flying is arguably more convenient we would urge you to choose a water crossing simply because the scenery is so rewarding - and is often described as a holiday highlight! So to keep you informed, we’ve put together a snapshot of essential information on the Cook Strait ferry crossing.

Interislander ferry leaving Picton

Crossing the Cook Strait

How do I get across the Cook Strait?
There are only two ferry companies that operate the crossing - the Interislander and Bluebridge. There is little discernible difference between the two with the exception that the Interislander has bigger boats - meaning there is less chance of a cancellation due to bad weather.

If you're traveling with us, you'll be booked onto the Interislander. The boats depart from either Wellington, the southernmost point of the North Island, or Picton - the top of the South.

How long will it take?
The trip is three hours, but it can take a little longer depending on the weather. Often a larger sea swell or stronger winds result in a slower (but more exciting) journey.

What will I see?
Beginning the trip in Wellington you’ll catch a glimpse of the rugged North Island coastline as you head out through the harbour into open water. You’ll see different sea birds including gulls, terns and as you approach the South Island, gannets ( from the Farewell Spit gannet colony). If you're lucky you’ll also catch a glimpse of the seal colonies off the coast and on the rare occasion - dolphins or whales.

The final hour of the trip takes you through the Marlborough Sounds. Positioned a the South Island’s Northeastern tip, the sounds are made up of several calm channels popular for swimming, fishing, boating and wildlife spotting. The ferry slows as you enter the sounds so you'll have ample time to take in the vibrant bush-clad hills and glassy waters. You’ll also glide through the Queen Charlotte Sound known for it’s wildlife (such as Orca, penguins and dolphins) pristine beaches and native bush before arriving into the quaint port town of Picton.

An Aerial view of Marlborough Sounds

How many ferries are there each day?
There is usually five ferries per day beginning at 2.30am with a final crossing at 8pm.

When is the best time of day to travel?
This one is really a personal preference but our favourite is definitely to travel at sunrise or sunset for the magical experience of seeing the sun's rays glow orange over the Sounds.

A glance at the Interislander Ferries

The Interislander has three ferries - the Aratere, Kaiarahi and the Kaitaki (the largest of the three holding 1350 passengers). Each has several cafes, restaurants, bars, shops, outdoor viewing decks and an entire floor dedicated to children.They also have several cinemas, a games arcade and a free WiFi and power zone - as well as the option to upgrade to the Interislander Plus lounge for a VIP experience.

Booking tickets for the ferry

During the peak seasons (summer and winter) you’ll need to book well in advance as most crossings sell out rapidly. There are generally several different fares - with the more expensive options allowing you flexibility and the option to be refunded, should your plans change. However, if you're booking with us we’ll take care of every aspect of booking your ferry crossing.

Taking the ferry as a walk-on passenger

Taking the ferry without a vehicle is the cheapest - and also the most convenient - way of crossing the strait - and if you book with us you will leave your existing rental vehicle at one end, and pick up a new one at the other. By taking the ferry as a walk-on passenger you won't have the extra vehicle charge and you’ll also be able to check in for departure a lot later.

You’ll need to check in 30 minutes prior to departure and you’ll be allowed to bring two pieces of luggage weighing up to 30 kgs each. In Wellington the Interislander ferry passenger terminal is located at Aotea Quay, Pipitea, across the road from the wellington railway station. In Picton the ferry passenger terminal is at 1 Auckland Street.

Traveling on the ferry with children

Taking the Interislander with children is an adventure in itself. As mentioned above, the ferries are well catered to children and offer a wide range of entertainment options. Kaitaki, the largest boat, has an entire floor dedicated to kids with a big soft play room, two cinemas, a disney lounge and several child-friendly food options. All the ferries offer free WiFi but sometimes reception can be patchy in bad weather - so if your child has a web based programme they can't do without we recommend you pre-download it before travelling.

For more specific information on travelling between the North and South Islands by ferry, give us a call! We’d be happy to chat.


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We have lots more information to share with you if you need it. Our team lives and works within New Zealand. We have travelled to every region and experienced the best (and worst) of what there is to offer.  If you have any questions about tours, locations or just want some friendly advice please reach out to us by chat, email, or phone. There is no penalty for getting in touch, we do NOT charge any consultant fees so you can take the hassle out of your travels for free!

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