Ferry Between the North Island and South Island
Taking the Cook strait ferry between Wellington and Picton
The country of New Zealand is split into two main islands, the North Island and the South Island. Apart from air travel, the most popular way of getting between the islands is via the Cook Strait ferry – the Cook Strait being the body of water between the North and the South Island. The Cook Strait ferries go between the North Island city of Wellington and the South Island town of Picton.
Because a ferry ride between Wellington and Picton is the best way to get between the North and South Island when travelling New Zealand by road, we put this quick guide together about taking the ferry. There’s lots to see on the 3–3h30min journey along Wellington Harbour, Cook Strait, Marlborough Sounds, Queen Charlotte Sound and Picton, and vice versa. You can’t even take a ferry trip in New Zealand without wanting to take some pictures! We’ll go through some of the highlights and things to know about the trip below.
A summary of the cook strait ferry
Who takes you across Cook Strait?
There are two main ferry companies: Interislander and Bluebridge.
How long is the journey?
Generally 3 hours but this is subject to change depending on the weather.
How many ferries travel a day?
Up to 5 ferries usually starting 2.30am to 8.00pm.
What departure time should I choose?
You can save money by taking the ferry by night but the journey is well worth the extra dollars so make sure that one of your crossings is done by day for a breathtaking cruise.
Interislander or Bluebridge?
There are two ferry companies who operate on the Cook Strait: Interislander and Bluebridge. Both are very similar companies with a few minor differences. When it comes to choosing, you are more likely to pick the sailing with the best price and most convenient time for your itinerary.
Otherwise here are a couple points to make about the Interislander and Bluebridge ferry companies:
- Interislander has bigger ferries, which tends to be beneficial for the feeling of being less-crowded, and more to walk around and explore, and sailings are less likely to be cancelled due to bad weather. Saying that, Bluebridge often transfer tickets at no cost to Interislander if their sailings are cancelled.
- Bluebridge offers free movies on board and have upgrade options for private cabins with beds.
Booking your tickets for the Cook Strait Ferry
Book In advance
Both Interislander and Bluebridge regularly sell out of tickets, especially in summer, so the sooner you book the better. Booking your tickets in advance is also the best way to find the cheapest deals. Otherwise, if you are renting a car or campervan, check if your rental company offers ferry discounts.
Consider the different fare options
The Cook Strait ferry companies both offer different fare types, the cheaper option being non-refundable and the rest giving a full or partial refund. For a general idea on pricing, see the section below.
Where to buy your ferry ticket
Tickets can be booked online through the company websites. If you are travelling with a bus company, like the hop-on hop-off buses or the national coach buses, then the Cook Strait ferry is likely to be included in your pass. Check with your bus operator. Your ferry ticket is also likely to be included if you are travelling New Zealand as part of a tour.
Ferry Walk-on Passengers
Being a walk-on passenger is the cheapest way to cross Cook Straight, due to not having the extra charge for a vehicle. Nice!
Checking in at the ferry terminal
As a walk-on passenger, make sure to check into the passenger terminal of your chosen ferry company at Picton or Wellington at least 30 minutes before your departure time. This is a different terminal to where the vehicles check in. Two luggage items weighing up to 30kg each can be checked in. Any excess baggage such as sporting equipment is a small fee. At the other end, you will depart the ferry into the passenger terminal where you will need to pick up any checked-in luggage.
Finding the passenger terminals
In Wellington, the passenger terminal for Interislander is at Aotea Quay, Pipitea, Wellington. For Bluebridge, the passenger terminal is at – it is just across the road from Wellington Railway Station.
In Picton, the passenger terminal for Interislander is at 1 Auckland Street, Picton. For Bluebridge, the passenger terminal is at . Bluebridge offer free shuttle services to the terminal from the Interislander Terminal Bus Shelter, Picton i-SITE and Oxleys Tavern (Corner of Wellington Street and London Quay).
By car or campervan
Taking a vehicle means you need to check-in at the vehicle check-in at least one hour before departure time. It also means you have to pay extra, so see the price summaries in the section below.
Finding the vehicle terminals
As you approach the vehicle check-in area for your desired ferry company, markings on the road direct you to the right waiting area. Hand your ticket in at the ticket booth where the staff will then tell you where to park. You will then need to wait in a queue of vehicles and onto the ferry when instructed.
In Wellington, the vehicle terminal for Interislander is at Wellington Vehicle Check-In, Aotea Quay, Pipitea, Wellington.
For Bluebridge, the vehicle terminal (same as the passenger terminal) is at
In Picton, the vehicle terminal for Interislander is at Interislander Picton Vehicle Check-In, 3 Auckland Street, Picton. For Bluebridge, the vehicle terminal is at
Ferry price guide for backpackers
To give you a quick idea of ferry prices, we have put this list together. Note that these prices vary depending on season and how far in advance you book from your sailing date.
- Backpacker – NZ$50-NZ$70
- Backpacker + bike – NZ$111
- Backpacker + car – NZ111-NZ$174
- Backpacker + small campervan – NZ$174
- Backpacker + large campervan – NZ$243
Why taking a ferry between the North and South Island is awesome
Finally, the Cook Strait ferry in New Zealand isn’t just a means of getting from A to B, but it’s a pretty awesome experience in itself. Here are a few things to look forward to:
- On a clear day, you must go to the observation deck for some amazing introductory scenery for the North Island/South Island
- Sailing the seas and stretching your legs will feel like heaven after a long road trip
- The ferries offer local craft beers and wines making it a true Kiwi experience!
- Sailing at sunrise and sunset are the best times for a sailing to enjoy the scenery
- There’s lots to do around the ferries between watching movies, making use of the bars and cafes, and sitting back and enjoying the scenery.
More about travelling in New Zealand
Another cool way to travel from the North Island to the South Island is by flying. Check out our article on domestic flights in New Zealand.
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