The Best Way to Cross the Cook Strait in New Zealand

Updated on February 1, 2020
Victoria Hannah profile image

I love to write about and photograph places I have visited, discuss these with like-minded people and find out their perspective also.

Wellington to Picton on the Blueridge Ferry

Christmas Eve 2019 was the first time I had been to Wellington and the South Island for nearly 40 years. I was on my way to stay with a fabulous friend of mine in Nelson. We used to work as freelance patternmakers in fashion in Sydney. She has since escaped the scene and is now happily ensconced in Nelson, and I am in the transition process myself, so we had loads to chat about!

There are two ferry companies that service Cook Strait—the Interislander and Blueridge, with whom I travelled. Luckily I booked into the Hotel Waterloo, a nice, clean budget place which is only a 5-minute walk from the ferry terminal. I had flown in from Sydney in the early hours and only got to bed at 1:30am after stressing about how to set the alarm on my phone after changing the sim card. I ended up making it just in time!

Just leaving Wellington Harbour on a murky Christmas Eve.
Just leaving Wellington Harbour on a murky Christmas Eve. | Source
On board the Blueridge Ferry
On board the Blueridge Ferry | Source

Arrive Early and Bring Dramamine!

Everyone had to be down at the ferry by 7am for the 8am departure. I was the last person to board at 7:45am. Consequently, it was absolutely packed and I struggled with my bags and carrying my breakfast tray trying to find somewhere to sit and eat. So a warning—if you decide to take the ferry, arrive at the terminal early to get the best seating.

It was very cool, windy and cloudy when we left Wellington, and for at least the first 1.5 hours of a 3.5-hour journey, it was a bit rocky. I was a touch concerned because I had been on a Picton-to-Wellington trip in my 20s which was excessively rough and scary. My friend and I decided to drink our way across the strait and forget the weather, which meant we weren't in a good condition when we arrived in Wellington, but at least we didn't notice the waves as much. We were young and very silly!

The Cook Strait

The Cook Strait is one of the most treacherous strips of water in the world and has been the scene of quite a few devastating shipwrecks with many lives lost. I was a young girl in 1968 when the shocking Wahine disaster happened during a violent storm. So far this piece of writing does not present as a good reason to cross the Cook Strait by ferry, but it is about to get much better!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Heading towards PictonVH enjoying the tripInterislander Ferry coming back from PictonMarlborough SoundsComing into Picton
Heading towards Picton
Heading towards Picton | Source
VH enjoying the trip
VH enjoying the trip | Source
Interislander Ferry coming back from Picton
Interislander Ferry coming back from Picton | Source
Marlborough Sounds
Marlborough Sounds | Source
Coming into Picton
Coming into Picton | Source

Sunshine and the Colour Blue: Arriving in Picton Harbour

I had been dozing for a little while, and when I woke up, the sky was blue and the most amazing scenery was spreading out in front of us. As we sailed through the majestic Marlborough Sounds towards Picton, everything was blue and green, the sea was glistening and it was so quiet.

Everyone came out on deck even though it was still quite brisk, but they couldn't help it—the scenery was sheer magic! We all had our phones and cameras out; it truly is spectacular. If you look at a map of the top of the South Island of New Zealand, you will see the region the ferry travels through.

Taking the Ferry Is Always an Adventure

We had a slight hiccup as we entered Picton Harbour. The winds came up and the ferry had to turn around and attempt another docking, which held us up for another hour. The weather is very changeable in the Cook Strait, so you have to keep this in mind if you have travel connections that are tight.

When I went back to Wellington, I flew from Nelson and it was only a half-hour flight, but I highly recommend crossing the Cook Strait by ferry (and preferably in summer!). You can also book a cabin and sleep on the ferry, but you would miss out on a wondrous piece of nature.

Arriving into Picton. Photo clipped from a video.
Arriving into Picton. Photo clipped from a video. | Source
Arriving into Picton. Photo clipped from a video.
Arriving into Picton. Photo clipped from a video. | Source

© 2020 Victoria Hannah


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    • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

      Victoria Hannah 

      5 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks Bev, I have also done Dover to Calais when I was in my twenties, on a murky day. I must say I prefer the Eurostar 1st class...that was an expensive treat but an immensely enjoyable one.

      I would love to do Wales to Ireland and the Isle of Man, they sound fabulous.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 

      5 months ago from Wales, UK

      Think I'd be a bit nervous undertaking that crossing too. I've done Wales to Ireland, Wales to the Isle of Man and the sweet and gentle crossing from Lymington to the Isle of Wight... oh and Dover to Calais when much younger. All were non-eventful - thank goodness. Good article.

    • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

      Victoria Hannah 

      5 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks Liz, it was so much better than I expected. It is a must for tourists to see how beautiful it is.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      This is an interesting account of your ferry crossing. It sounds and looks like you appreciated it.


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