Wellington to Picton Ferry: 6 Tips for Crossing the Cook Strait

Wellington to Picton Ferry

Throughout the years, the Wellington to Picton ferry has become a right of passage for travelers crossing the Cook Strait in New Zealand. Flying may be the fastest option, but coasting through lush green mountains and islands is something you’ll never forget! Here’s everything to know about the Interislander NZ ferry and why it’s such a fun way to get between the North and South Islands.

6 Tips for the Wellington to Picton Ferry

1. Pre-Buy Your Wellington to Picton Ferry Tickets

Crossing Time: 3.5 Hours
Ferry Port Locations: Wellington Picton 

The Interislander NZ ferry runs from Wellington city on the North Island to the small town of Picton in the South. In peak summer season it’s a good idea to book in advance especially if you’re bringing a car on board.

If you’re taking the afternoon Wellington to Picton ferry we recommend staying at least one night in town. The best way to book the Cook Strait ferry is to go online, or buy directly at the ticket office.

New Zealand Interislander Ferry Tickets

Bluebridge Ferry Tickets

Wellington to Picton Ferry Tickets

2. Interislander NZ vs. Bluebridge Ferry

There are two main New Zealand companies that run the Wellington to Picton ferry route. We took Bluebridge Ferry the first time because the other operator was sold out. The Interislander NZ Ferry offers the same route and we were able to use it on our return to the north island. 

We paid $54 NZD in late May as passengers, but prices change with the time of year. The main decider between the two Cook Strait ferry companies will be availability and times they run. Below you’ll find the timetables for each boat which change seasonally.

New Zealand Interislander Ferry Timetable

BlueBridge Ferry Timetable

Wellington to Picton Interislander NZ

3. Flying vs Taking the Wellington to Picton Ferry

This all depends on what type of experience you want! If you plan in advance the flight can actually be cheaper into a major city like Auckland, or Christchurch and Queenstown on the South Island.

This is also quicker than the Cook Strait ferry as it will only take 1.5 to 2 hours to fly depending on your destination. In addition, the views from the air are extremely scenic if you can score a window seat on a flight.

Even with all the advantages of flying, there’s something special about taking a boat through nature in between islands. We saw it firsthand on the Wellington to Picton ferry, and the views seemed to get better as we got closer to shore.

It was amazing gliding through the Cook Strait, and you can even see dolphins and whales at certain times of year! There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating with views of the ocean, or you can book a private room for as little as $30 NZD.  

Wellington to Picton Ferry Tips

4. Wellington Picton Ferry With a Car

We drove onto the Wellington Picton ferry with our rental car. It was an easy process, but it did cost us an extra $75 NZD to bring our vehicle. Once you park your car you can move up onto the passenger area. They will then make an announcement to go back down when you get close to port.

Keep in mind there’s limited space for cars as there’s many bigger trucks on board bringing supplies between islands. There is also a rental car service available in Picton when you get off the ferry. 

Cook Strait Ferry Tip: We were able to get a discount on the ferry through our rental car company. Make sure to ask about this when you’re booking your car! 

→ New Zealand North Island Itinerary: 4 Awesome One Week Routes

→ South Island New Zealand Itinerary: 4 Amazing One Week Routes

Wellington to Picton New Zealand

5. The Famous Cook Strait Ferry Crossing

Our journey on the Cook Strait ferry was actually something we looked forward to for a long time. The previous summer we had spent island hopping through the Greek Cyclades, so we were excited to use this form of transportation again!

From the moment we took off on the Wellington to Picton ferry we knew were in for a fun ride. We started from the capital city of New Zealand, and watched as the high rises and financial buildings faded into the distance.

For the next 3 hours the Cook Strait Ferry traveled through the mountains, islands, and peninsulas, showing off the vast landscape of New Zealand. We tried to stay outside on the top of the boat most of the time keeping an eye out for whale spouts and jumping dolphins.

However, it was late May going into winter so it was a bit windy! Approaching the small port town of Picton was our favorite part of the New Zealand ferry, as it was such a great contrast from leaving the city of Wellington. 

Cook Strait Ferry Wellington to Picton

6. Spend the Day in Picton New Zealand

Once you arrive in Picton you’ll surely be ready to blast off and explore the South Island. Most visitors stay briefly overnight in town or just head straight out to other tourist hubs from here. We decided to spend an extra day in Picton and discovered that it has a lot of character and fun activities to enjoy!

There’s plenty of great hikes around the port, local bars, and restaurants to enjoy. Even if you’re traveling the opposite way as us from Picton to Wellington, it still can be fun spending some time in this small New Zealand town. Be sure to check out our blog below for all the best things to do in Picton!

6 Can’t Miss Things to do in Picton New Zealand

Where To Stay In Picton New Zealand

Ultra Luxury – Escape To Picton Boutique Hotel – This boutique hotel is just steps from the main harbor and all the best things to do in Picton New Zealand. Escape to Picton is complete with beautiful bedding and furniture, and a world class restaurant on the first floor. 

Fun Vacation Picton Luxury Waterfront Quay Apartment – Looking for stunning waterfront views after all your Picton activities? Then this is the spot for you! In addition to each room having a balcony, they’re also complete with a kitchen and laundry facilities to use before you head off to explore New Zealand.

Hostel Life – Tombstone Motel, Lodge & Backpackers – Tombstone Motel offers both private rooms and shared dorms. Our favorite part about staying here was the common room, gym, and fresh baked scones in the morning! This accommodation is a 10 minute walk to town, but still close to all the best things to do in Picton New Zealand.

For more places to stay in Picton New Zealand you can explore the latest prices here!

Cook Strait Wellington to Picton Ferry Crossing

Have any questions on Interislander NZ ferry or want to share your own experiences on the Wellington Picton ferry? Leave us a comment on the bottom of this post!

Safe Travels,
Brigitte & Jake

Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar


Wellington Picton Ferry

New Zealand Travel Planning 

Jucy Van: The best way to explore New Zealand is with a Jucy camper! We spent over six weeks driving around the North and South Islands in a van and loved every moment.

 Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Auckland to Queenstown for $40 USD, and New Zealand to Fiji for less than $150! 

 Accommodation: Compare multiple sites for the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also,  Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget. 

 Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over New Zealand! They have everything from a Milford Sound cruise with underwater observatory, to a Otago wine tour with gourmet wine & lunch, and even a Kaikoura whale watching cruise

 Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for insurance the last few years and they are always there when we need them.

 Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials

South Island New Zealand

Travel Tips & Guides:  10 Helpful NZ Travel Tips25 Beautiful Beaches15 Freedom Camping Tips27 Delicious Food & Drinks7 Milford Sound Tips

Queenstown: Ben Lomond TrackFergburger (Is it Worth It?)Tiki Trail HikeFun Wine TourQueenstown Hill Hike18 Fun Queenstown Things to DoQueenstown RestaurantsArrowtown NZ

North Coast: Abel Tasman Day HikeWharariki Beach & Archway Islands 

East Coast: Banks PeninsulaFrench Town of AkaroaTunnel Beach DunedinHanmer SpringsKaikoura

Mt. Cook & Tekapo: 10 Mount Cook TipsHooker Valley Track5 Can’t Miss Lake Tekapo 

Explore all our North Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides

South Island New Zealand

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  1. Mike Shannon
    December 27, 2022 / 4:13 pm

    We are arriving in NZ in March ‘23. Can you give me an idea about the Wellington to Picton ferry and specifically is the water rough or relatively smooth?? Thanks in advance!!!

    • Brigitte & Jake
      December 27, 2022 / 7:37 pm

      March is right at the end of the summer in NZ which is a great time to visit! You should know the weather can be unpredictable on this crossing though. Our trip was smooth and we spent most of the ferry ride outside taking in the views. However, we’ve heard from others that it can get a little bumpy. Hopefully you get a great day on the water Mike!

      • Kaz
        March 3, 2023 / 8:55 am

        Hey, I lived in Wellington for a few years. I think you have to be prepared at any time for Southerly to rip through and it will be awful. In saying that, autumn is probably the most settled weather in Wellington. I would say, if you do get sick, take pills with you just in case. Sea legs are easy to buy. I personally never just did a day trip over to the South Island because I get really sea sick, if that gives you an indication of how rough it can be.

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