How to Get from New Zealand's North Island to South Island by Ferry (With a Car)
Are you road tripping New Zealand and need to get from North Island to South Island either alone or with your rental car? Read our guide on how to travel by ferry from Wellington to Picton or in the opposite direction.
New Zealand consists of two main islands, North Island and South Island, and as most of the travelers plan on visiting both islands because each has many highlights to offer, sooner or later everyone will have to focus on the logistics.
Unless you want to travel by air, which is first of all more expensive (in case you are traveling on own and getting around New Zealand by public transport or shuttle buses), and impossible in case you are traveling by rental car, getting from North Island or South Island is possible only by ferry cruising frequently via the Cook Strait and picturesque Marlborough Sounds between Wellington and Picton.
Traveling between the islands is not a boring transport you must undergo in order to continue to your next destination, but it is an experience on its own, for many once in a lifetime opportunity to see Marlborough Sounds up close.
We traveled this journey twice with a car, and here is our detailed guide on how to get from one island to another, tips on how to buy tickets, what to see from the boat, what to pack and where to stay.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TAKING FERRY FROM NORTH TO SOUTH ISLAND
There are a couple of important things you should know before traveling between the islands in New Zealand.
No matter if you are backpacking or traveling by rental car, it is good to know that the area around Wellington, the capital city, is very windy, and when the weather is not cooperating, the sea can be rough, and the 3.5 hours journey can seem endless.
Although most travelers reading the post will probably visit New Zealand for a vacation without an opportunity to be flexible, in case you can at least a bit amend your plans, keep an eye on the weather forecast and try to book your tickets on a day when the weather looks promising.
Otherwise, you are up to for a very rough journey.
The other, very important thing to know is, that when traveling by rental car, not all companies allow travelers to cross the Cook Strait.
This leaves you with two options.
HOW TO TRAVEL BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH ISLAND WITH RENTAL CAR
Honestly, road tripping around New Zealand is the best way how to get around and how to explore the best this country has to offer. But if you want to see both islands, you can stumble across several difficulties which is important to deal with in advance.
First, you must find out if your travel company allows you to travel between the islands. Not many travelers pick up and drop off the car at the same place, so you will most likely have to pay the one-way fee anyway, so the question is only whether you can transport the car from North Island to South Island without an additional fee (you have to, of course, pay for the more expensive ferry ticket) and whether it pays off.
Rental companies should mention the conditions on their websites, or you can contact them directly via email to have something in your hand.
In case it is not possible to transport the car, or it seems to you there are too many things to organize, there is one more option.
You can rent a car for example in Auckland, drop it off in Wellington, then take a ferry to Picton, and here again rent a car, and drop it off, for example, in Christchurch, from where you can have a flight back home.
Although it seems complicated, many travelers actually choose this option.
WHAT COMPANIES RUN FERRIES BETWEEN NEW ZEALAND'S ISLANDS
At the moment there are two companies running ferries between North and South Island, Interislander and Bluebridge.
Honestly, we think services on both ferries are the same (there are seats, bar, TV, restaurant, outside deck), so you can reserve whatever company is available on your preferred date. In case you prefer higher level of comfort, for an additional fee you can book a cabin.
You only need to pay attention to which company did you book when looking for the check-in area as each company has a different boarding place, but you will see the signs when approaching the harbor.
WHERE TO FIND THE FERRY TERMINAL
Each company has its own passenger terminal, but you should not have a problem to find it as both terminals are very well-signposted both in Wellington and Picton.
In Wellington, you will find Interislander terminal at Aotea Quay, Pipitea and Bluebridge terminal at 50 Waterloo Quay, Pipitea. In Picton, Interislander terminal is located at 1 Auckland Street and Bluebridge terminal at 1 Lagoon Road.
HOW TO BUY FERRY TICKETS
The fee depends on the time and season you are planning on traveling in New Zealand, but generally, you will pay around NZD 60 for a single ticket, and additional NZD 150 for a standard car, be ready to pay more when traveling with a campervan.
You can buy the ticket online with one of the two companies we mentioned above directly, or via this link.
We recommend you to book your ferry tickets as soon as possible in case you are traveling on a strict schedule, as days in the summer or at the best times are often booked out well in advance, or ticket price can increase significantly.
HOW LONG IT TAKES TO GET BETWEEN THE ISLANDS
When the weather conditions are pleasant, you should make it from Wellington to Picton in three hours and ten minutes, but it can take up to three hours and thirty minutes when the sea is rough.
Also note, that you need to be present at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before departure (this is the deadline when you must check-in your car), but we would recommend you to be at the terminal at least one hour before departure to ensure everything will go smoothly.
WHAT TO SEE WHEN TRAVELING BETWEEN NORTH ISLAND AND SOUTH ISLAND
As we had mentioned before, traveling between New Zealand's islands is not only about getting from one place to another, but it is also a very scenic journey, so in case the weather is at least decent, go to the main deck and enjoy the views.
The most scenic part is when the ferry is entering Marlborough Sounds, so make sure you won't miss it.
From time to time, travelers can even see dolphins following the boat. Before leaving North Island, it is worth visiting Wellington and once you arrive in Picton, do not leave immediately, but explore either New Zealand's wine region or prepare for Queen Charlotte Track.
WHERE TO STAY IN WELLINGTON
Ferries go quite frequently between Wellington and Picton, but you may have to spend a night in either one of those cities either before or after crossing the Cook Strait.
We've handpicked three best accommodations in Wellington and Picton for every type of traveler.
Budget | Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers - Backpackers friendly accommodation in the center of Wellington has everything you might be looking for - clean rooms both dormitories and private, kitchen, laundry, and common room.
Mid-range | C Hotel Wellington - Great value for money. This hotel, except for well-equipped and clean rooms offers an indoor pool, spa, and fitness center.
Luxury | InterContinental Wellington - Absolutely outstanding hotel is located by the harbor waterfront and offers top service, elegant rooms, and perfect dining options.
If you decide on spending a night in Picton, here are the three best accommodation choices.
WHAT TO PACK FOR FERRY TRAVEL BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH ISLAND
It takes approximately 3.5 hours to get from Wellington to Picton, and although you can spend the whole journey inside watching movies, it is much better to be outside (if the weather allows) and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
The most beautiful part of the journey is when you are either entering or leaving the Marlborough Sounds.
As you will leave your bags in the car or storage, here are five essential things you should keep in your backpack.
Canon M50 | Camera is a thing you should by no means leave behind.
Motion Sickness Pills | We do not know how about you, but we are prone to motion sickness, so pack a few pills with you just in case as the sea can be rough.
Water Bottle | It is possible to buy water or snacks on board, but it is bit pricey, so bring along enough water for a bit more than three hours.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
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