Why you should take the ferry between New Zealand’s North and South Islands

New Zealand ferry between North and South Island in dock at Picton viewed from the cliff

I’m a big fan of boats, and, beyond that moment of excitement of the plane speeding up and taking off, not the biggest fan of flying. So whenever I need to make a journey that involves crossing a body of water, I’ll always look into whether there is a feasible, safe boat option; you can imagine, then, that when it came to leaving the volcanic landscapes of the North Island of New Zealand for the stunning mountainous scenery of the South Island, my first question was is there a ferry?

Happily there is a ferry, running between the capital city of Wellington at the bottom of the North Island and the town of Picton nestled in the top corner of the South Island, with two different companies – Interislander and Bluebridge – operating the three and a half hour crossing over the Cook Strait.

Here’s why I’d always recommend taking the ferry for this journey over flying.

It’s easy and you have lots of options
With two different companies operating multiple trips every day, you have the freedom to work the trip into your schedule; if, like I was, you’re travelling through New Zealand in a short amount of time, you can leave early in the morning and have the whole afternoon to explore Picton before moving on, or you could even book an overnight crossing. You only need to check in 45 minutes to 1 hour prior to departure, and you can travel as a foot passenger, or with your car (or even with a motorbike or bicycle). There are no lengthy security procedures, the allowance for your checked luggage is generous (and picking it up at the other end was a lot quicker than from a flight!), and you can bring your own food and drink on board.

It’s comfortable
There are plenty of seating options on the ferries, from the reclining chairs in the lounges to the tables at the eateries and bar onboard. With the various outlets available you can grab a coffee, some lunch or an adult beverage (you are on holiday after all!) and you’re free to wander around the boat as the mood takes you; far preferable, in my opinion, to being stuck in a cramped plane seat.

The scenery is beautiful
This is the main reason why I tell everyone to take this ferry! As you approach the South Island you pass through the stunning Marlborough Sounds, chunks of green hilly islands sitting on bright blue water. The ferries have open decks for the best outside viewing (do be prepared for how windy it is up there!), or plenty of windows if you don’t fancy braving the sea air. If you’re making the journey from North to South like I was, this is the perfect introduction to the South Island’s famously fantastic natural landscapes, and a lovely sneak preview of what lies ahead for you on your trip.

New Zealand ferry North South Island

New Zealand ferry North South Island

New Zealand ferry North South Island

It’s convenient
Both ferry companies offer a shuttle bus service from Wellington CBD to the ferry terminal for foot passengers, and as previously explained, the check-in time is minimal and the luggage restrictions of air travel don’t apply. At Picton, you can simply walk off the ferry and straight into the small town, after a very short wait (in my experience) for checked luggage. If, like I did, you take a ferry first thing in the morning, you can soon be dropping your bag at your accommodation in Picton and enjoying a full afternoon of the beautiful cliff walks along the nearby coastline. And if you’re moving on to your next destination soon after arrival, you’ve been deposited directly into Picton, or Wellington if you’re going the other way, for easy transport links onwards.

Picton coastal walk in New Zealand

Coastal walks in Picton

Coastal walk in Picton New Zealand

Coastal walk in Picton

Happy sailing!

New Zealand ferry between North and South Island in dock at Picton viewed from the cliff

14 Comments

  1. Flora

    This is a really useful post Rachel! I haven’t made it to NZ yet but I’ll definitely bookmark this when I eventually get there 🙂

    Reply
  2. Pingback: A city rebuilding: why Christchurch is worth a stop on your New Zealand trip - The Imagination Trail

  3. Elizabeth

    I’m a big fan of boats and anything to do with water also! I really want to go to New Zealand and see all that beautiful scenery. You definitely have me sold on taking the ferry too 🙂

    Reply
  4. Liliane

    Haven’t been to New Zealand but glad I got to read up on this so I can keep this in mind! Definitely seems worth doing!

    Reply
  5. Jen

    It seems like an easy transfer! I missed out on seeing the South Island on my visit to New Zealand, would love to try this on a future trip.

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      It’s definitely worth a return visit to see the South island – I loved the volcanic landscapes of the North, but the South has some absolutely stunning alpine scenery. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  6. Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad

    Great post! I was sooo surprised by this journey!! So beautiful! Definitely the best way to get between the islands. 🙂

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂 I’m still amazed when I think about how beautiful it was!

      Reply
  7. Roxanne Weijer

    I went to New Zealand in 2012 and took the ferry between both islands. Totally agree with you, absolutely loved taking the ferry. It’s such a beautiful country.

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      I still look at my photos from NZ and am amazed at how gorgeous it was! Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  8. Val

    I always advice visitors in Greece to take the ferries instead of flying (at least in between the closer to each other islands!) cause as you said the scenery is a valid reason for that! I hadn’t thought the same about NZ thank you for sharing your insight!

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      Thanks for reading and commenting Val! The ferries in Greece must be a great experience too.

      Reply
  9. Lauren

    I love traveling by ferry! It is so much more relaxing than flying. I will have to share this post with my parents as they have a NZ trip booked for February. Pinning for future reference as well!

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Lauren. I hope your parents have an amazing time in NZ!

      Reply

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