Cook Strait Ferry Travel Guide

Interislander Ferry

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. This journey rates amongst the most scenic ferry crossings in the world and is the perfect place to spot dolphins, seals and many kinds of seabirds.

There are two ferry companies operating on Cook Strait – Interislander and Bluebridge . The Interislander service, operated by KiwiRail, has three roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessels sailing the 50-nautical-mile (93 km; 58 mi) route, taking about three hours to complete the crossing. Bluebridge has two RORO vessels that take about three and a half hours to complete the crossing.

Cook Strait is named after Captain James Cook, the intrepid explorer who discovered in 1770 that – contrary to popular belief at the time – New Zealand consists of two major landmasses. The Cook Strait ferry service connects the North Island and South Island of New Zealand travelling between Wellington (New Zealand’s capital city) and 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 ferry crossing offers many scenic highlights and is rich in local legends and myths. From Wellington, the ferry makes its way through Wellington harbour offering panoramic views of its dramatic cityscape set on high hills, which plunge steeply into the sea. It travels past Makaro / Ward Island and then past Matiu / Somes Island, which according to Maori legend were named after the daughters of the great Polynesian explorer Kupe. 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. Once out into Cook Strait, passengers get 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 workstations are also provided for passengers’ comfort and convenience.

About the Interislander

The inter-island ferries provide scheduled services across the Cook Strait for passengers, cars, 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 take your Apex rental car across on the ferry and we provide a booking service for your Cook Strait ferry tickets when you book your Apex Car Rental.