All the info you need to travel between the North and South Island on New Zealand’s Cook Strait ferry.
In order to travel from New Zealand’s North Island to the South Island, you have to take the Cook Strait ferry. Sure, you can fly between the two islands from major airports, but in many cases, taking the ferry will make more sense, and it can be much cheaper. Sometimes it may even be necessary–for example, if you’re traveling by car, you’ll need to take the ferry to get your vehicle from one island to the other.
Besides, the Cook Strait ferry is a fun experience in itself, so I highly recommend using it to travel between the North Island & South Island if you have the time. Wellington and Picton (where the ferries come in on each island) are both must-visit places, so taking the ferry is a natural way to travel between the two.
I’ve traveled back and forth on New Zealand’s interisland ferry 3 or 4 times, so I have figured out a few ways to make the journey go smoothly (though I still haven’t figured out how to make the waters less choppy).
There are two Cook Strait ferry service providers to choose from: Interislander and Bluebridge. Both run the same service, but there are some differences to note. I’ll talk about my experience on each ferry and which one I recommend.
Here are my top tips for crossing the Cook Strait, plus everything you need to know about traveling on New Zealand’s Interisland Ferry.
Cook Strait Ferry:
Traveling between New Zealand’s North & South Islands
Cook Strait Ferry Basics
Terminals: Wellington (North Island) & Picton (South Island)
Distance: 58 miles
Cruise Time: 3-3.5 hours
Price: Varies (see Pricing section for details)
Things to Know + Top Tips for the Cook Strait Ferry
- Book well in advance if you are traveling during peak season.
- Check both the Interislander and Bluebridge websites before booking to get the best sailing time & price.
- When booking your cruise, check the description of the ship if you are looking for specific facilities.
- If you are traveling by car, check-in at least 1 hour before your sailing time.
- If you are walking onto the ship (pedestrian), check-in at least 45 minutes before your sailing time.
- While free Wi-Fi is available on board, it is limited & unreliable. Download shows/movies if you want to watch them on the trip, or use your own Wi-Fi hotspot.
- You are not allowed to remain in your vehicle during the sailing.
- During busy sailings, you may want to find your preferred seat right away. While some areas will have plenty of space, viewing lounges, cinemas, & some seating rooms fill up fast.
- You will have to check baggage (or leave it in your car) before boarding the ship, so prepare a backpack or small bag beforehand with any items you want to keep with you (laptop, chargers, jacket, snacks)
- You CAN bring small hand luggage onto the ship, however checking it is free (up to 2 bags), so unless you have valuables with you, it’s easier to check it vs carrying it around with you on the ship.
- There are plenty of outlets all over the ship to charge your devices. International travelers, make sure you have your travel adapter with you.
- It can get VERY windy out on the Cook Strait, and the waters are often quite choppy. Be prepared if you get motion sickness.
- Dress warmly (jacket, long pants) if you intend to spend time on the outdoor decks. Even in summer, it gets chilly outside. Layers are best (as they are anywhere in New Zealand).
- Food & drink is available on all ships, but you can bring your own.
- There are bars on the ship. Alcohol can be consumed ONLY if it was bought on the ship.
- If you want great photos, book your sailing near sunrise or sunset.
Which Cook Strait Ferry is Better: Interislander or Bluebridge?
There are two New Zealand interisland ferry companies that cross the Cook Strait: Interislander and Bluebridge. Both provide the same service, both have terminals in the same place, and both are great experiences. But there are quite a few things to consider before choosing which one to book.
- The Interislander is generally more well-known among tourists, so popularity may be a factor for you.
- When arriving or departing in Picton, the Interislander terminal is much easier to access than the Bluebridge passenger terminal.
- Interislander is the longest running Cook Strait ferry, so it has been in business longer than Bluebridge.
- There are usually 5 sailing times every day, each way. So it’s easy to find something that works with your travel schedule.
- The Interislander provides a free shuttle service from the Wellington Railway Station to the ferry terminal before each sailing.
- Interislander’s ships are larger and more spacious than Bluebridge’s.
- Read reviews of the Interislander Ferry on Trip Advisor
- The Bluebridge ferry is usually cheaper than the Interislander ferry.
- The Picton passenger terminal (where you check in) is not at the same place as the ferry terminal. This makes it difficult to access sometimes, but they provide a shuttle straight to/from the ferry.
- The Bluebridge ferry is more popular with locals than tourists.
- Bluebridge only runs 2-3 times per day, each way. However they do have an 8 am sailing, so if you want to depart early, Bluebridge is the best option.
- They run movies on board, free of charge.
- Bluebridge has private cabins available on all ships & all sailing times.
- Read reviews of the Bluebridge Ferry on Trip Advisor
Ultimately, I personally wouldn’t consider one Cook Strait Ferry provider better than the other. You will have a great experience on either one, and the pricing is in the same range. However, if I were going to choose one to recommend, I would pick Interislander over Bluebridge. Overall, Interislander is more convenient, has bigger ships with more facilities, and provides more sailing times.
But in the end, I would suggest checking both websites before booking your ferry ticket to get the ideal price & sailing time. Most of the time it will just come down to which one works best with your travel schedule.
Cook Strait Ferry Pricing
Prices vary quite a bit depending on a few factors. Are you a pedestrian (walking on) or do you have a vehicle? Adult/child/senior/student? What size vehicle & how many passengers? Price also depends on the type of fare you purchase.
Here’s a basic overview of New Zealand Interisland Ferry Pricing. Quoted pedestrian prices are for adults and all are for one-way fares. Check the websites for exact pricing for your trip.
Interislander Ferry Pricing
Pedestrian: $65-75 NZD
Car with 2 adults: $275-325 NZD
Cabin: Ticket price + $40 NZD
Bicycle: Pedestrian ticket price + $15 NZD
Bluebridge Ferry Pricing
Pedestrian: $53-73 NZD
Car with 2 adults: $225-325 NZD
Cabin: Ticket price + $30-75 NZD (dependent on room size)
Cook Strait Ferry Pricing Tips
- Buy the cheapest fare type if you are 100% sure of your travel date/time. It’s non-refundable.
- If you buy a Top 10 (Holiday Parks), BBH (Backpacker Hostel), or AA (Automobile Association) membership during your travels in New Zealand, you can get a discount on Interislander ferry fares.
- When traveling with a vehicle, you must also pay for each passenger in the car.
- Lounge access, meals, cabins, bicycles, etc. will all cost extra
Getting to New Zealand Interisland Ferry Terminals
How to Get to the Wellington Ferry Terminal
Interislander Terminal Address: 1 Aotea Quay
Bluebridge Terminal Address: 50 Waterloo Quay
Wellington is a big city, so chances are you’re going to have to plan out your route to get to the ferry terminal. The Interislander and Bluebridge passenger terminals are near each other, but getting to each requires different instructions. Below are my tips on the best way to get to each.
Taxi/Uber: You can take a taxi to or from the passenger terminal. You can also use Uber around the city, which is an easy option.
Shuttles: A free shuttle bus will take you from the Wellington Railway Station to the Interislander ferry terminal about an hour before each sailing. The shuttle also picks passengers up from various accommodations/stops around the central city. Just check with your accommodation to see if this is an option. There is no shuttle provided for the Bluebridge ferry.
Tip: I stayed at the Wellington YHA hostel and the shuttle can pick you up there (free of charge).
Bus: If you are traveling by bus, you will arrive at the Wellington Railway Station. From there, you can either catch the free shuttle to the Interislander terminal, or walk across the street to the Bluebridge terminal.
Walking: The Bluebridge passenger terminal is located across from the Wellington Railway Station. If you are coming in directly from the train station, or if you are staying at one of the hotels directly across the street, you can easily walk to the Bluebridge terminal. If you are taking the Intersialnder, walking would be quite difficult. However, you can walk to the Railway Station & catch the free shuttle to the Interislander passenger terminal.
Arriving: If you are coming into Wellington from the South Island ferry, you can hop on the Interislander shuttle back to the Railway Station, or you can rent a car or hire a taxi outside of the passenger terminal. If you are traveling on the Bluebridge ferry, you can either walk to Railway Station or hire a taxi from the passenger terminal.
How to Get to the Picton Ferry Terminal
Interislander Terminal Address: 1 Auckland Street
Bluebridge Terminal Address: 1 Lagoon Road
Picton is a tiny town that is more or less centered around the ferry traffic. Getting to and from the ferry terminal is very easy from any part of town.
Walking: If you are staying in the main part of town, you can easily walk to the terminal from your accommodation. There are plenty of walkways leading to the Interislander terminal. If you are taking the Bluebridge ferry, you’ll need to check-in at the passenger terminal first, and then they will shuttle you straight to the ferry.
Shuttle: Bluebridge provides a free shuttle service from the Picton i-Site (visitor’s center) or the bus terminal, to the Bluebridge passenger terminal for check-in.
Bus: If you are coming from outside of Picton, you can catch a bus from your location straight to the Interisland ferry terminal. All buses make a stop right outside.
Arrival: If you are arriving in Picton from the North Island ferry, you have a few options. You can walk straight to your accommodation in town (it’s very pedestrian friendly). You can rent a car at the ferry terminal. Or you can catch a bus outside to another town.
How to Book the Interisland Ferry
Whether you are sailing with Interislander or Bluebridge, you can book your ferry service ahead of time online, & you can pay with a credit card or EFTPOS (point of sale/debit). Check sail times, availability, & pricing. Here are a few booking tips to keep in mind:
- Book the Interislander ferry here. (Or you can book through Viator or Trip Advisor)
- Book the Bluebridge ferry here.
- Book tickets well in advance to ensure you get the sailing date/time you want. Space fills up fast during peak season.
- Check both ferry providers to make sure you get the best price AND the best sailing time.
- If you are traveling by camper can, motor home, or other large vehicle, you will be asked for the length of your vehicle
What to Expect Onboard the Cook Strait Ferries
The Cook Strait ferries are HUGE. I’m not much of a boat person, so I don’t think I had ever been on a ship that large before. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, it won’t seem like a big deal. But if you’re new to boat transportation, you might be surprised.
Also, if you’re not used to walking on large ships, get ready to find your sea legs. I never managed to learn how to walk on the boat without toppling over, but most people seemed to be just fine.
The ships have tons of space, with multiple passenger decks to wander around. You’ll find a variety of seating areas to choose from, including viewing lounges, dining areas, plenty of table space, and outdoor seating areas. Facilities from ship to ship will vary. Most ships have cafes, bars, children’s & family areas, private lounges, and entertainment rooms. Some ships have cinemas, cabins, and other facilities. Check the ship description before booking if you are looking for specific things.
I highly recommend hanging out on the viewing deck on your journey. You’ll definitely want to see everything up close–there is no shortage of scenery. If not for the whole ride, then at least spend the first and last 20 minutes up top. Sometimes it might get too windy on deck, but if the weather is fine, take advantage of it. It actually tends to be quite empty up there on most days, so you’ll have plenty of space.
Is there Wifi on the Cook Strait Ferry?
Both the Interislander and Bluebridge ferries provide free Wi-Fi service. However, there is a limit to how much you can use, which is common practice in New Zealand. Generally you will get about 100 MB per device for free. Wi-Fi service isn’t great on either ferry, as it can be slow, spotty, and unreliable.
If you want watch a movie/TV show on your trip, download it to your device before getting on the ferry. If you’re trying to get work done, use your own Wi-Fi hotspot or plan to work on offline tasks.
Crossing the Cook Strait: What to Expect on the Journey
If you’re just visiting New Zealand as a tourist, then you’ll want to take full advantage of the scenery. The ride across the Cook Strait is incredibly beautiful.
As you leave the Wellington Harbor (or come into it), you’ll get an incredible view of the city’s hills and all the houses nestled among them. A bit further out are more lush green hills dotted with cottages & holiday homes, plus you’ll pass Somes islands, Pencarrow Head Lighthouse, and other interesting sights.
Next, you’ll head out into the Cook Strait. This is the waterway that separates the North and South Islands. The Cook Strait is a notoriously windy place, so the waters here can get rough here at times. However, you generally won’t notice much, unless you get seasick…then you probably will notice.
After crossing the Cook Strait, you’ll begin to come into the South Island. Cruising through the Marlborough Sounds and Queen Charlotte Sound is such a treat. I highly recommend heading out to the viewing deck during this portion of the trip. And as you come into the Picton terminal, you’ll get the most amazing view of the town and harbor.
It’s always possible that you will see some wildlife during your cruise. It’s certainly not guaranteed, but dolphins, seals, birds, and other creatures do live in the waters and often make an appearance. So keep an eye out while on the viewing deck.
I hope this post answered your questions about New Zealand’s Cook Strait Ferry service. Traveling between the North and South Islands on New Zealand’s Interisland Ferry was one of my favorite experiences. You get some of the best views of Wellington and the Marlborough Sounds from the ship, and that alone is worth the trip.
If you have any other questions about the North Island to South Island ferry, just leave a comment!
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