Travelling Between Islands
Travelling in New Zealand between the North and South Island
As you’ve probably figured out from looking at maps of New Zealand, most of the country is split into two big islands, literally named the North and South Islands. The body of water between the two islands is called Cook Strait. Cook Strait connects the Tasman Sea with the Pacific Ocean, and is located right next to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. It’s known as one of the most dangerous and unpredictable bodies of water in the world, and is 22 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. It’s also famous for being one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world, and is one of the highlights of a campervan rental holiday in New Zealand.
You can fly between the islands (there are domestic airports located throughout both islands) or, if you’re renting a campervan, your best bet is to take the Inter island ferry.
New Zealand Ferries Between The North and South Island
The journey from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island) is unbelievably beautiful; a great part of it takes you right through the Marlborough Sounds. If you don’t want to miss the spectacular views this journey offers, make sure you book a daylight sailing on one of the New Zealand ferries. They are more expensive than the sailings at night, but you’ll see so much more – you might even see dolphins!
The main company that runs a ferry service between Wellington and Picton, is the Interislander. Actually, the Interislander operates three vessels, the Arahura, Aratere and Kaitaki. The journey covers 50 nautical miles (93 km or 58 miles) and takes about 3 hours to complete.
There’s an interactive map of the ferry route available on the website of the Interislander, with information about the points of interest that you’ll pass. As you’ll see on this map, the New Zealand ferries first head northwards on their route from the North Island to the South Island!
New Zealand ferries — Ferry terminals
The terminals of the New Zealand ferries are easy to find. The Interislander Ferry Terminal in Wellington is located on Aotea Quay beside the motorway on State Highway One. When your depart is early in the morning, spend the night at the Top 10 Hutt Park Holiday Park in Lower Hutt. This campsite is situated not too far from the ferry terminal.
Picton, on the South Island, is so small you cannot really miss the ferry terminals.
The Interislander website offers detailed maps of the location of both terminals.
New Zealand ferries — Fares & bookings
You will need to purchase a ticket for your motorhome and for the driver and passengers. The Interislander offers three different fare types to choose from: Easy Change, Saver Change and Web Saver.
- The most flexible ticket (but also the most expensive) is the Easy Change. This is the best option when you’re travelling by camper van. You can book these tickets online, you’re allowed to make changes until departure time, and the tickets are fully refundable if you wish to cancel your journey. Book well in advance when you’re travelling during peak season and prefer daylight sailings. Online booking is possible, as are bookings by telephone (+64 4 498 3302 from outside NZ or 0800 802 802 freephone from within NZ). Make sure you have at hand: travel dates and times, number of passengers, make, model and dimensions of your camper van, and credit card details.
- When you are spending more than just a few weeks in New Zealand, the Saver Change and the Web Saver fares are a cheaper option. Both have to be booked well in advance. Check out the Interislander website for full details of the fares.
- The Kaitaki and Aratere ferries also offer the option to add on a Premium Plus Lounge pass. These are similar to airline lounges, with newspapers and magazines, comfortable seating, snacks and complimentary beverages and great service. It costs extra to use the Lounge but if you’re looking to travel in style while you enjoy the incredible views, it’s worth it. The Lounge is available to people aged 18 years and over.
New Zealand Ferries — Tips
- The sailing from Wellington to Picton, across Cook Strait, can be a rough one. Eat a small piece of raw ginger root as a precaution; we guarantee it works wonders against sea sickness!
- The ferries operate all year round but there are fewer sailings during the winter. If you are travelling in peak season (between December and February), you will definitely need to book your ferry crossing in advance.
- When it’s already (or still) dark when you arrive in Picton, don’t rush off immediately in the direction of Nelson. The first part of the journey between Picton and Havelock, The Queen Charlotte Drive, is one of the most scenic routes you’ll follow on your New Zealand camper van vacation!
- There are more New Zealand ferries operating between the North and the South Island than just the ones from the Interislander. Another one is Bluebridge Ferries. Check out their website for their timetable and fares.
- Some campervan and motorhome rental companies act as agents for the ferry companies which means you can use the same company to book your ferry ticket as well as your campervan.