Don’t book a Cook Strait Ferry without these tips

Backyard Travel Family provides you with the best tips for travelling across the Cook Strait by ferry. A fun way for the family to travel and see epic views like this

The Best Cook Strait Ferry tips for travelling with your family and children


The Cook Strait Ferry

The Cook Strait Ferry is the only way to road trip between the North and the South Island.  The ferries leave from downtown Wellington (at the bottom of the North Island) and arrive in Picton (at the top of the South Island) 

The ferries take passengers on their own, as well as vehicles.  You can take a campervan, car and trailer, truck or any such vehicle.  The larger the vehicle, the more your crossing will cost.

The ferries take about 3 hours approximately to cross the Cook Strait, depending on weather.  From time to time, sailings are cancelled due to bad weather, so do factor this into your travel plans.

If you are driving the length of the country, especially in the peak of summer (Christmas – March), I would book your ferry sailing as soon as possible.  These can get booked up and if it is cancelled due to rough weather, dates get booked up from rebookings.

Your two operators for the crossing are the Bluebridge and the Interislander.  I don’t find any particular difference between the two. The Bluebridge tends to have more freight, so the passenger decks are smaller (but they take fewer people)  Have a look at both and choose the best time sailing and cost for you.  Find my best Cook Strait ferry tips below!

Tip 1: Arrive Early

One of the benefits of arriving early to the sailing is that you do get to choose the best seats.  There is no allocated seating, so if this is something that is important to you, jump aboard early.

You also don’t want to miss your ferry due to roadworks or travel delays, so do plan to arrive in the town with some time to spare.   

Tip 2: Book a cabin

One of the best hints is to book a cabin on the boat.  Especially if you have under 5s, these are a lifesaver!  The kids can play and you don’t have to worry about them wondering off and annoying others. (my kids like to run)  On the Bluebridge, a family room is only an extra $40 and you have 2 bunks (4 beds) and can even request a portacot.  You have your own bathroom and powerpoints and it is large enough for the kids to sit on the floor and play games etc.  Also a good idea if the Cook Strait Ferry crossing is rough and you get seasick, because a bathroom is close, and there is somewhere to sleep. On the Interislander, this is available for the same price on the Kaitaki boat only

Tip 3: Overnight sailing tips

If you do book the overnight ferry option on the Bluebridge from Wellington (2.30am), if you arrive around 11pm, they will let you hop on so you can sleep all the way until the 5.30am arrival.  A great option if you want to save some money on accommodation. I imagine the Interisland ferry may offer something similar, but haven’t experienced it myself yet.

Tip 4: Onboard Facilities

Food is available on all sailings and the bar is open, but they are generally cafe prices, so we often stock up before we go. While less important these days with iPads etc, they usually have a recent movie playing for the sailing.  (Back in the day, this used to be pretty exciting)

The ferry is a beautiful sailing and you really must spend the hour coming into Picton (or leaving it) outside on the deck, as it’s the best place to see the beauty of the Marlborough Sounds.

Tip 5: How to get the cheapest deals

The best tip for getting a cheaper deal on the Cook Strait crossing is to sign up for the newsletters on both boats.  They will often send through 10% off vouchers and codes to book early for good deals.  If you want more tips on getting cheap deals when travelling around New Zealand, check out my post here

Interisland Ferry prices don’t seem to fluctuate and they are rarely “on sale”.  Your best bet is to book early to get the sailing you want with your newsletter discount code.

Bonus Tips

  • Book a cabin for more space and guaranteed seating all together
  • It can get rough crossing between islands on a bad day, so this will take longer.  I wouldn’t book anything time sensitive straight after your sailing
  • The most picturesque points are leaving Wellington Harbour and the last hour arriving into Picton (even on an awful day, its worth having a look)
  • Sign up to both ferry websites, they are often sending discount vouchers
  • Heading North – check out the North Island Road Trip Itinerary
  • Heading South – check out our South Island Road Trip Itinerary


Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 5 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

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1 thought on “Don’t book a Cook Strait Ferry without these tips”

  1. Pingback: Budget Travel for Families in New Zealand: Tips, Cheap Deals & Discounts

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