You’ve probably worked out from looking at NZ maps, our country is divided into two main islands, usefully but not particularly creatively named the North Island and the South Island. They’re separated by the famous Cook Strait, known as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world, with much of the journey will passing right through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds. The ferry journey is a definite highlight of a New Zealand campervan rental holiday.
The main company that runs a ferry service between Wellington (bottom of the North Island) and Picton (top of the South) is the Interislander. This company 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. You’ll need to buy a ticket for your campervan as well as for the driver and passengers.
Wilderness campervans and motorhomes can be taken on board the ferry so you don’t need to unpack or unload. After driving your vehicle onboard, you and your passengers will leave it in the car area while you enjoy the amazing views from the passenger seating.
New Zealand Ferries — Tips for campervan travellers
- To make the most of the views, book a ferry sailing during the day. They’re more expensive than the night sailings, but the views are worth it – you might even spot some dolphins and other sea life.
- The sailing from Wellington to Picton (or vice versa) can be rough. If you’re prone to sea sickness, make sure you’re prepared! Take sea sickness tablets beforehand (you can buy them from any pharmacy), or try eating a small piece of raw ginger – it’s good for settling the stomach.
- The ferries operate all year round but there are fewer sailings during the winter. If you’re travelling in the high season (between December and February), you will definitely need to book your ferry crossing in advance.
- When you arrive in the South Island, don’t rush off to Nelson. The first part of the road trip between Picton and Havelock, The Queen Charlotte Drive, is one of the most scenic routes you'll follow on your New Zealand camper van holiday. Plan to do it in the daylight.
- The Kaitaki and Aratere vessels also offer the option to purchase a pass to the Premium Plus Lounge. If you’re looking to travel in style while you enjoy the incredible views, this Lounge, with complimentary refreshments, comfortable seating, newspapers and magazines and great service, is worth it. This option is available to people aged 18+ years.
Check out the Ferries page of our website for more information about travelling between the North and South Islands by ferry.