Crossing the Cook Strait, New Zealand by ferry: Travel times, booking, prices & other interesting information

Interislander FerryTravelling between the North and South Islands of New Zealand means crossing the Cook Strait. The only way to do this with a vehicle is by taking a ferry with either the Interislander or Bluebridge which both arrive and depart from Picton and Wellington.

The Cook Strait crossing (Raukawa Moana in Māori) is the connection between the Tasman Sea on the West, the South Pacific Ocean on the East and the North and South Islands of Aotearoa.

Considered one of New Zealand’s most iconic tourist experiences, and one of the most spectacular ferry crossings in the world, crossing the Cook Strait is a top to-do on many travellers bucket list. As with many stunning vistas though, the Cook Strait is also considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable pieces of aquatic paradise around.

The Strait often experiences rough water and heavy swells from strong winds, especially from the South. New Zealand’s position is directly athwart the roaring forties, meaning the Strait funnels westerly winds and deflects them into northerlies, further aggravating wave heights. This, combined with the tides from the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean being out of phase with each other, creates a challenge for anyone operating a work-boat in the region.

Check out this awesome video uploaded by on 2 Nov 2011 if you want to see the Strait at it’s fiersest!

This article is not intended to scare you off though, just to make you aware that the crossing may be idyllic one day and like riding a rocking bronco the next.

Although the Cook Strait is only 24 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, the ferry journey covers approximately 90 kilometres and takes around three hours, depending on the weather.

Both the Interislander and Bluebridge ferries run regular crossings, 7 days a week  between Picton in the Sounds and Wellington, New Zealand’s capital in the North.

The rest of this article looks at what each company offers, but please note that times and prices vary depending on the season.

The Interislander

The Interislander operates three ships to carry both passengers and their vehicles: Arahura, Aratere and Kaitaki and travel up to 11 crossings a day.

Interislander Timetable

Interislander Timetable (click to enlarge)up to 11 sailings a day.

Onboard Services include:

The cost for passengers on the Interislander vary depending on your age, how many people are travelling (group bookings) and what additional extras you bring with you (lap dog etc :)). Generally though, fares look like this:

Wellington to Picton one way

  • 1 x adult (no vehicle): $55 – $75
  • 1 x child (2 – 17): $28 – $38
  • Infant (under 2): Free
  • Seniors (60+): $55 – $65
  • Tertiary: $55 – $65
  • 1 x sedan (includes 1 driver):  $173 – $248
  • 1 x campervan up to 5.5m (includes 1 driver):  $173 – $248
  • 1 x campervan 6m (includes driver): $243 – $328
  • 1 x motorhome 7m (includes driver): $313 – $408

See here for Interislander Fare Types


Onboard Services include:

Bluebridge timetable

Bluebridge Timetable (Click to Enlarge)

The cost for passengers on the Bluebridge ferry vary like on the Interislander  and again depends on your age, how many people are travelling (group bookings) and what additional extras you bring with you. Generally though, fares look like this:

  • 1 x adult (no vehicle): $51 – $73
  • 1 x child (under 14): $26 – $33
  • Infant (under 1): Free
  • Super Gold Card Members:  $51 – $61
  • 1 x sedan (includes 1 driver):  $169 – $245
  • 1 x campervan up to 5.5m (includes 1 driver):  $169 – $245
  • 1 x campervan 6m (includes driver): $240 – $337
  • 1 x motorhome 7m (includes driver): Couldn’t get the data!

See here for Bluebridge Fare Types

Both options are pretty good. The Interislander has slightly more travel times and on board services, but if you don’t mind then Bluebridge is just as good.

If you are not too good on the open water, some have suggested you grab a late passage and/or a cabin so you can get some sleep. All other information you can find on their websites. Remember to book in early if you are travelling in peak season (December – February) and have a nice warm jacket to wear on deck as New Zealand is a four season country; meaning that in any one day you can have summer, winter autumn or spring!

Oh….and if you need a free car or campervan, remember to visit 🙂

Happy travelling!

If you liked this article you may also be interested in:

The difference between Campers, motorhomes, 4WDs, and other campervans: An Australian and New Zealand perspective

The dos and don’ts of travelling abroad: Backpacking in New Zealand

Southern Lakes Region: New Zealand’s little slice of heaven

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