North Island

Crossing the Cook Strait between North and South Island

When you visit New Zealand, you will want to travel to both major islands of this stunningly beautiful country. But how can you get from one island to another? And how long does it take to get from Wellington to Picton? Which ferry company is best and cheapest. I will tell you all about it in this article. 

Let’s start with the most frequently asked question about the ferry crossing, how long is the ferry between the north and south islands of New Zealand? 

The ferry between the north and south islands of New Zealand takes about 3.5 hours depending on the wheater conditions. The crossing of the Cook Strait brings you from Wellington to Picton or vice versa. You can take your car, campervan, or bike on one of the ships.  

Apart from being a convenient ferry, it is also the most famous one in New Zealand. Especially the part which takes you into the heart of the Queen Charlotte Sound near the south island. So let’s dive a bit further into the Cook Strait crossing, timetables, weather conditions, and onboard experience. 

View on Wellington from Interislander
Photo: Wellington Harbour by Kiwishirts.com

How do you cross the North Island from the South Island of New Zealand?

You can cross the Cook Strait between the north and south island of New Zealand by ferry boat, or airplane. Planes depart from Wellington Airport to Blenheim or Nelson Airport and take around 25 to 35 minutes. You can catch a ferry in Wellington or Picton with a sailing time of approximately 3.5 hours. 

Is there a bridge across the Cook Strait? 

Although it is only 22.5 kilometers from the narrowest point from one island to another, there is still no bridge across nor tunnel under the Cook Strait in New Zealand. Therefore, you will need to catch a ferry or plane to see both parts of this beautiful country. 

Distance between north and south island
Distance between north and south island of New Zealand

Can you see the South Island from the North Island?

You can see the south island from Mt Victoria on the north island on a very clear day. It is a bit of a climb, but it is definitely worth the sweat if you like views and a bit of activity. 

Once you board the ferry in Wellington, you will have to wait until the boat leaves New Zealand’s capital’s sheltered bay before you can get a glimpse of the south island. 

Cook Strait to south island
Photo: Across the Cook Strait by Kiwishirts.com

Can you take a rental car from North Island to South Island New Zealand?

Many car rental companies do not allow you to take their vehicles from the north to south island and vice versa. You will receive a new and similar car or campervan on the other side of the Cook Strait. 

Apex Car Rentals have partnered with the Bluebridge and Interislander ferry companies to allow you to bring your rental car or camper across the Cook Strait. 

Juicy Rental and Go Rentals also allow their vehicles on the ferry between both islands. 

Other rental car companies will have a single trip, a multi-hire policy which means they will give you a lower daily rental rate because your total rental days of two or more vehicles will be combined.

Which rental company allows their vehicles on the ferry between the north and south island?

>>Tabel with all rental companies and their policy.  

Rental companyAllow vehicle on ferry?Other solution
Ace Rental CarsNoCollect new car
Apex Car RentalsYes
AvisNoCollect new car
Bargain Rental CarsNot clear
BudgetNoCollect new car
Ezi Car RentalYes
Go RentalsYes
HertzNoCollect new car
Jucy RentalsYes
Letz Rent a CarYes
Omega Rental CarsYesOr exchange service
Snap RentalsYes
ThriftyNoCollect new car
EuropcarNoCollect new car

Expert tip! Would you please make sure you consult your rental company’s conditions before making any ferry arrangements to prevent any problems and fines? I try to keep all information up-to-date, but conditions change over time. BlueBridge offers more information about car rental services, parking, and relocation services.

BlueBridge Logo New Zealand
Interislander Logo New Zealand

Is Bluebridge or Interislander better?

I have used both Blueridge and Interislander over the past decade, and in my honest opinion, it does not matter. It is just a 3.5-hour crossing, primarily during the daytime, and you won’t need many facilities. 

But there are some differences between BlueBridge and Interislander, including the price tag. 

The Interislander ferry between the north and south islands is better in terms of size and facilities. Especially the Kaitaki, which is the largest and best-equipped ship. BlueBridge offers lower prices and will have frequent discounts for all kinds of travelers. 

It is up to you to decide what is essential for your 3.5 hour trip across the Cook Strait. 

Ferry Crossing New Zealand BlueBridge
Photo: Arriving at Picton by Kiwishirts.com

What time does the ferry leave Wellington and Picton?

Both BlueBridge and Interislander have several departures per day from either side of the Cook Strait. BlueBridge runs four ferries from Wellington and three sailings from Picton per day during weekdays and three ferries from Wellington and Picton on weekends. Interislander has three ferries scheduled each day. 

You can choose from a morning crossing, an early afternoon sailing, or evening departures. BlueBridge also offers a night crossing from Wellington. You will arrive around 5.45 am in Picton (not on Saturdays). It is possible to book a private cabin on all ferry boats from BlueBridge and the Kaitaki from Interislander. 

You can find the most up-to-date timetable on the website of BlueBridge and Interislander

Can you stay in your car on the Interislander or BlueBridge ferry?

It is not possible to stay in your car on the ferries of the Interislander and BlueBridge. You will need to pack the things you need during the 3.5-hour crossing, leave and lock your vehicle, and return at the end of the boat trip. 

How much does the Interislander or BlueBridge ferry cost?

Several factors determine the price of the Interislander or BlueBridge ferry. Vehicle size, number of adults, children, possible discounts, and private cabin use will add up to a specific fair. The closer you get to departure, especially in the summer holiday season, prices tend to go up. So make sure you book well in advance. 

You can easily calculate the price of your ferry crossing via the websites of Interislander and BlueBridge

When should I check-in for the ferry at Wellington and Picton

You can check in no later than 1 hour before departure from Wellington or Picton. You can minimize delays for all passengers by keeping your booking details and reservations ready for the crew. 

If you arrive before the BlueBridge vehicle check-in is open, you can use one of the kiosks at the terminal to obtain your boarding pass. You’ll only need your booking number. 

Queen Charlotte Sound
Photo: Queen Charlotte Sound by Kiwishirts.com

What is the vehicle check-in procedure on the Cook Strait ferries?

I have put together some tips to make check-in and boarding quick and easy on the Interislander and BlueBridge. Make sure you follow them for a smooth and happy crossing. 

  1. Arrive no later than 1-hour before departure time
  2. You cannot access your vehicle during the crossing! 
  3. Pack a small bag for the journey with a book, camera, phone, some snacks, drinks (or buy at kiosk or restaurant)
  4. Please have your ticket ready for the check-in booth crew and exchange it for a boarding pass.
  5. Follow instructions to the boarding lane, park your vehicle, and turn off the engine.
  6. Wait for the staff to instruct you to start boarding. Do not use your cellphone at this point. 
  7. Follow instructions on where and how to park your vehicle from the onboard marshals. 
  8. Turn off headlights, the alarm, and the engine, ensure that your handbrake is fully engaged and your vehicle is in gear (or in park for automatics). 
  9. Turn off LPF tanks on campervans.
  10. Lock your car or campervan and take your valuable personal belongings with you.
  11. Go to the upper deck to enjoy the views (in good weather) or pick a seat and enjoy the crossing.
  12. Bring seasickness pills if you have a sensitive stomach; the weather can be rough at the Cook Strait. (I can relate!)
  13. Book a cabin if you need a bit of rest during your road trip. You will reach Picton or Wellington well-rested.
Photo: Interislander in Queen Charlotte Sound by Alimison

Discount for Interislander or BlueBridge ferry

The easiest way to get a discount on the Interislander or BlueBridge ferry is to subscribe to one of their newsletters. However, Interislander prices rarely fluctuate, so you should book early.

Discounts Interislander New Zealand

New Zealand AA Members can save 10% on the Interislander ferry fares with the discount code: AACARD10. You will need to show your AA membership card on check-in.

Discount BlueBridge New Zealand

BlueBridge has several discount offers for members of the following associations:

  • Kiwi Holiday Park, promo code for 15% discount: STRAITKIWI 
  • Family Park members, promo code for 10% discount: FAMILYPARK
  • New Zealand Motor Caravan Association Inc, promo code: MOVANNERS
  • Farmlands Co-operative Society, promo code for 15% discount: CRIKEYDICK (not usable between 20 December and 10 January and Easter weekend)
  • Tourism Industry Aotearoa, promo code available from your member’s only area of the TIA website

Can you shower on the Interislander or BlueBridge ferry?

You can shower on the Interisland and BlueBridge ferries in a cabin with a private shower and toilet. It is possible to book a cabin in advance or at the information deck aboard the ship (based on availability). Not all ships have private cabins, here is an overview.

CompanyShipPrivate cabins
InterislanderKaitakiYes
InterislanderAratereNo
InterislanderKaiarahiNo
BlueBrigdeStraitsmanYes
BlueBrigdeStrait FeroniaYes

Are there toilets at the vehicle terminal in Wellington and Picton?

There are toilets at the vehicle terminal in Wellington and Picton or the queue before boarding the ferry. I always pay attention to it because it can be a while before you parked your car and entered the ship. 

I hope I was able to answer your questions about crossing the Cook Strait in New Zealand. Enjoy the crossing, it is a rememberable experience.

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