Taking the Interislander ferry between North and South island in New Zealand. Interislander Or Bluebridge?

This is our experience taking the Interislander and Bluebridge ferry from Wellington to Picton and vice versa. Interislander or Bluebridge, which one to choose?

Actually:

To cross from North Island to South Island (or vice versa) of New Zealand, there are only 2 ferry operators, Bluebridge or Interislander.

The 92km crossing over Cook Strait takes around 3 hours.

This is what you should know before you book your ferry!

Table of Contents

Bluebridge Ferry

Since 2002, Bluebridge Ferry has been carrying passengers between both the North and South island of New Zealand.

So are their ships really old?

Not at all – Bluebridge has swapped out the ships in their fleet a total of 7 times between 2002 and 2010.

Technically, the newest vessel in their fleet is the MV Straitsman with a capacity of up to 400 passengers, 40 trucks and 150 cars.

MV Straitsman has many built-in features that are designed to minimize wasted energy. Like using heat from the energy to warm the ship during winter.

Or special paint that reduces water resistance on the ship! (i.e. saving more energy!)

Bluebridge ferry as seen from on board the Interislander ferry
Bluebridge ferry as seen from on board the Interislander ferry

As for the interior, everything is modern and comfortable:

There is a cafe on-board, toilets, private cabins, a children’s play area, a viewing lounge, etc.

Interislander Ferry

Interislander officially started its ferry passenger service in 1962.

Today, they have 3 ships in their fleet – Kaitaki, Aratere and Kaiarahi.

Only Kaitaki has cabins on-board for those who wish to make the crossing during the night.

Interislander ferry - more on the journey from north to south island, New Zealand on www.travelswithsun.com
Interislander ferry

There used to be a faster (1 hour less) catamaran service back in 1994 but it was cancelled in 2005 due to the high financial costs and environmental concerns.

So now, passengers are encouraged to make the most of the 3 hour journey and enjoy the views during the day crossings.

The Interislander ferry is such a notable brand in New Zealand that they even have their own card in the New Zealand version of the world famous Monopoly game!

Timetable for Bluebridge & Interislander

Wellington to Picton

From Wellington, Interislander typically has the same timings for its 5 crossings everyday.

Except on Mondays and Sundays. Take note of the timings too!

And Bluebridge offers up to 4 crossings on weekdays and only 1 or 2 crossings on Saturdays.

Key: Interislander = Red; Bluebridge = Blue

Timetable For Bluebridge & Interislander (Wellington to Picton)
Timetable For Bluebridge & Interislander (Wellington to Picton)

Picton to Wellington

Timetable For Bluebridge & Interislander (Picton To Wellington)
Timetable For Bluebridge & Interislander (Picton To Wellington)

For the most up to date schedules, check the ferry websites:

Bluebridge website

Interislander website

Bluebridge vs Interislander – which one should you choose?

If timing is not an issue for you, then you can consider the price:

We went with Interislander ferry because it was cheaper when travelling from the north to south island of New Zealand.

But when we returned to the north island, we chose Bluebridge instead.

Because Interislander didn’t have any more slots on our chosen date.

However, to be fair, there aren’t any big differences between the two:

Category Interislander Bluebridge
Crossings per day 5 (less on Sat and Mon) 4 (weekdays); 1-2 (Saturdays)
Duration 3 hours 10 minutes 3.5 hours
Routes Picton to Wellington Picton to Wellington
Wellington to Picton Wellington to Picton
Cancellations by the ferry Unlikely If any, they may transfer you to Interislander (free of charge)
Average Price (per adult) $65-75 $54-73
Average Price (per child) $33 ~$30
Average Price (per infant) FREE FREE
Average Price (per senior) $5 less than adults $3 less than adults
Average Price (per car <1.8m) $143 ~$120
Average Price (plus trailer) Add $138 Add ~$160
Average Price (motorhome) ~$288 ~$250
Earliest time 3.30am 2.30am (weekdays); 8am (weekends)
Latest time 8.30pm 8.45pm
Pets In vehicle or kennel In vehicle or kennel
Food Available on board Available on board
Drinks (inc coffee and alcohol) Available on board Available on board
Stability Good (bigger ships) A bit less due to the size of the ship
Entertainment Cinema, children’s play area and video games (Kaitaki) Sky TV/ children’s play area Free movies; Small children’s play area
Cabins $40 $30 (single) to $60 (family)
Shop Available on board n/a
WiFi 100Mb/person Look for Free Wi-Fi Area signs

Note: Use this table as a guide but key in your actual details on the respective websites to get accurate pricing!

How to get a cheap ferry ticket to Wellington to Picton (or vice versa)

General tips

  • There are different times available for both ferry services. Generally, the earlier times are slightly cheaper.
  • The bigger your vehicle, the higher the price. They have different categories too.
  • Book way ahead if you can. Especially if you are going in the summer or ski season!
  • Booking online may result in a discount but you won’t be able to change your travel date!
  • Join a group on Facebook – some lovely person might share a promo code there!
  • Your chosen car rental company or bus service may offer discounts! Ask and see.

Note: Usually, cheap tickets are not refundable.

Discounts & Deals for Interislander & Bluebridge

Besides everything that’s listed in the table below:

For Interislander, there’s also discount if you buy the tickets to explore Malborough Sounds too!

I think it was 10% but please check this out at an i-Site (e.g. near Havelock) in the South Island before you buy your ferry ticket!

Condition Interislander Bluebridge
Student valid Student ID card at check-in (includes international) for -$5 Year round 5% off for students
Senior Senior card at Check-in for -$5 $3 less than adults
Families At least 1 adult/senior, 1 child and a vehicle (not motorcycle) to apply n/a
AA Membership affiliate Use their promo code to get 10-20% off; n/a
Show valid NZ AA membership card (under booking name plus photo)
NZMCA Membership affiliate Discounts for large groups; Flexible FOC sailing times; Access to lounge; 10% off scenic trains; Save up on Nautical Miles Discounts for large groups (up to 6); Flexible FOC sailing times;
Budget Backpacker Hostels (BBH) Use their promo code to get 10% off; n/a
Show valid BBH membership card (under booking name, plus photo)
“Show Your Card And Save” logo Use their promo code to get 10-20% off; n/a
Show valid “Show Your Card & Save” activated membership card (under booking name, plus photo)
Top 10 Holiday Park Use their promo code to get 15% off; n/a
Show valid Top 10 Club card (plus corresponding photo)
BIG4 Member Use their promo code to get 10% off; n/a
Show valid BIG4 Holiday Park membership card (under booking name, plus photo)
Kiwi Holiday Parks of New Zealand n/a Use their promo code to get 15% off (not applicable for peak holidays – Easter or Dec15-Jan15);
Show Kiwi membership card at check-in
Farmlands Trading Society n/a Use their promo code to get 15% off (not applicable for peak holidays – Easter or Dec15-Jan15);
Show Farmlands card at check-in
Family Parks n/a Use their promo code to get 10% off;
Show membership card at check-in

Sometimes, there are special monthly deals!

Bluebridge deals

Interislander deals

Wellington ferry terminal

Interislander passenger terminal: Aotea Quay, Pipitea, Wellington.

Interislander vehicle terminal: Wellington Vehicle Check-In, Aotea Quay, Pipitea, Wellington.

Bluebridge passenger & vehicle terminal: (opposite Wellington Railway Station)

Picton ferry terminal

Interislander passenger terminal: 1 Auckland Street, Picton

Interislander vehicle terminal: Interislander Picton Vehicle Check-In, 3 Auckland Street, Picton

Bluebridge passenger & vehicle terminal: 1 Lagoon Rd, Picton.

Note: There is a free shuttle services (by Bluebridge) from Picton i-SITE, Interislander Terminal Bus Shelter, and Oxleys Tavern

Interislander Experience (Wellington to Picton)

It cost us $219 for two of us, together with our Toyota Estima. The one-way journey from Wellington to Picton takes around 3 hours.

Tip: We booked online on the Interislander website and got the website booking discount. But these are tickets are not refundable although the dates are interchangeable with reasonable notice.

Please note – prices vary according to what kind of vehicle you have:

Our converted camper car (Toyota Estima 2002) classified as either a SUV or van.

Find out how we got our secondhand camper car and how you can start your own van life in New Zealand.

How do you know what your camper car classifies as?

Both Bluebridge and Interislander do not consider the contents of the car when classifying whether your vehicle is a camper car or not.

It is the external modifications that may impact the overall size of the car (e.g. extended roof).

The check in procedure for the Interislander ferry

Be punctual.

We got to the departure terminal at 7.48am. The gate closes at 8am.

Check in:

The gate attendant will scan your ticket/booking from your phone and give you two slips of paper. One is for your dashboard display and the other is to give to another attendant right before boarding the ship.

There was already a long queue of cars, motorhomes and trucks ahead of us. The trucks boarded first. We drove straight onto the ship around 8.30am. We parked in the lower deck (more of a basement, actually).

Vehicles on board the Interislander ferry
Vehicles on board the Interislander ferry

What to bring on-board the ferry?

You are only allowed to bring one bag each per person (e.g. think carry-on size).

Take your food if you need to. Don’t forget any device you want to charge and also your medicine. If you plan to go on deck, bring gloves and a windproof jacket. As we’re sailing now, the sea is really calm and there’s little wind. But you never know.

Tip: Bring your own water bottle and refill it from a jar placed on top of the bar.

Facilities on the Interislander ferry

On the higher decks, there are lounges where you can get a hot cup of coffee for $4 or $5. You can bring your own food if you want. But the food prices at the lounge are not as crazily overpriced as we expected.

They even serve alcohol too.

You can get the menu from the Interislander website. Mind that it depends which ship you are on. They have 3 – Arahura, Aratere and Kaitaki (up to 1600 passengers) .

The ship we took could take 550 passengers so try and get a table before the rest of the passengers come up to the lounge.

Power-hungry?

There are electrical sockets from which to charge your devices (the seats facing the big windows overlooking the rear of the ship).

The wifi is also limited to 100Mb per person. Guess that’s enough to post a pic on Instagram and maybe message a couple of people.

How stable is the Interislander ferry?

Prone to sea-sickness?

A view of the sounds from a far on Interislander ferry
A view of the sounds from a far on Interislander ferry

The ride is pretty smooth since this is a large ship. But we went on a sunny day with little wind.

Not sure how it would manage in stormy conditions though so you might want to pack your motion-sickness medication just in case. The motion is more noticeable up on deck.

Oh wait, I’m feeling something now as we exit the bay. I soooo dislike ferry rides. >.<

The only thing that might drive me up deck later is the prospect of seeing dolphins. We didn’t see any but maybe you’ll be lucky!

Arrival in Picton

Approaching Picton on the Interislander Ferry
Approaching Picton on the Interislander Ferry

Wait for the crew to call for passengers with cars to head back down. Don’t forget your belongings! Do not start your engines until they say you can.

Again, there will be a queue to go out but it moves fairly quick so you’ll find yourself in Picton town soon enough.

We didn’t stay in Picton too long. Made a quick stop in the next town, Blenheim to pick up some groceries before continuing the rest of our 1 month self-drive road trip in New Zealand.

Bluebridge Experience (Picton to Wellington)

Facilities and check in process are very similar to Interislander’s.

But here are a couple of differences we found:

  1. There’s a very convenient toilet block that you can use while you are in the check-in queue at the Picton terminal
  2. We could both feel the motion of the waves while we were on the Bluebridge ferry. Normally, it’s just me that’s affected.
My Estima Onboard Bluebridge Ferry from Picton to Wellington
My Estima Onboard Bluebridge Ferry from Picton to Wellington

I still wouldn’t recommend one ferry over the other. Both were very comfortable and convenient.

Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the shuttle service or overnight journeys for either of them.

Just go for price or timing if you can’t choose one.

Scenic view from Bluebridge Ferry during the crossing from Picton to Wellington
Scenic view from Bluebridge Ferry during the crossing from Picton to Wellington

Alternative to taking the ferry

If you haven’t got a car and you want to save time:

Consider taking a flight instead. It’s usually $200 NZD per person and 30 minutes duration.

That way, you can get separate car rentals on both islands. Try out different car rental companies or stick to the same one. Your choice.

Conclusion

Taking the ferry between the North Island and South Island of New Zealand is a straightforward and fuss-free process.

Just be sure to book ahead to get the date you want. And ensure that you check in on time.

This is also a great way to see Marlborough Sounds.

So, Interislander or Bluebridge?

If sailing’s not your, thing you can always take a flight instead.

Would you rather take a flight or ferry to cross over to the North or South Island of New Zealand? Leave a comment below.

Else, pin this post!

Taking the Interislander ferry from North to South island, New Zealand
Taking the Interislander ferry from North to South island, New Zealand – www.travelswithsun.com

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