Cruise across Cook Strait on one of the inter-island ferries and enjoy the scenery from the comfort of one of their many observation decks. It’s the perfect place to spot dolphins, seals and many kinds of seabirds on a journey that rates amongst the most scenic ferry crossings in the world.
Cook Strait was named in memory of Captain James Cook, the intrepid explorer who discovered in 1770 that - contrary to popular belief at the time – New Zealand is made up of two major land masses. The inter-island ferry connects the North Island and South Island of New Zealand travelling from Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, to Picton, a picturesque harbour town located at the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound and known as the gateway to the magnificent Marlborough Sounds and the South Island of New Zealand.
The scenic ferry journey offers many highlights en route and is richly supplied with local legends and myths. From Wellington, the ferry makes its way through the harbour offering panoramic views of its dramatic cityscape set on high hills which plunge steeply into the sea. It travels past Ward Island in Wellington Harbour, which according to Maori legend is one of the daughters of the great Polynesian explorer Kupe, and then past Somes Island, used as a detention centre during WWII. At the entrance to the Wellington Harbour it skims Pencarrow Head, the site of New Zealand’s oldest lighthouse (built in 1859) and around the point to Oterangi Bay, the North Island terminal of the Cook Strait power cable and the place where in April 1968 a land wind speed of 268 km/h was recorded, then out into Cook Strait. From here passengers are offered fantastic views of the South Island’s Kaikoura Range and there are frequent opportunities to spot dolphins and sea birds.
One third of the journey involves cruising through the majestic Marlborough Sounds, a series of sunken sea-filled valleys that feature many bush clad islands, hidden inlets and bays, clear waters and native forests growing down to the waterline, with glimpses of small wooden homes, jetties and boatsheds owned by locals, many of whom commute via the water.
On some ferries, for a small additional charge, a private ‘club’ lounge is available and provides a peaceful setting to unwind. It offers complimentary tea and coffee, juices and cookies, plus daily newspapers and current magazines. A food court, café/bar, children’s corner, shops and work stations are also provided for passengers’ comfort and convenience.
The inter-island ferries provide scheduled services across the Cook Strait for passengers, vehicles, commercial vehicles and rail freight, and links New Zealand’s North and South Islands. There are normally 3-4 sailings per day in each direction, however the frequency and departure times of sailings do change from season to season, so be sure to check up-to-date timetables.
The ferry terminal in Wellington is located on Aotea Quay, five minutes north of the Wellington Railway Station, and is open daily from 7 am until 7 pm; and Monday to Friday 10.30 pm to 1.30 am. A free shuttle bus is provided from platform 9 at the Wellington Railway Station.
The ferry terminal in Picton is located on Auckland Street in central Picton and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 4.30 am to 9.30 pm, and on Mondays from 8 am to 9.30 am.
If you are holidaying in New Zealand during the height of summer, from December through to February, it is advisable to book your tickets well in advance to ensure you get the sailing that suits your travel times. For your convenience, you can book your Interislander ferry tickets when you book your Apex Car Rental.