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Picton to Wellington: Travelling Between the North and South Islands on the Interislander

Picton to Wellington: Travelling Between the North and South Islands on the Interislander

If you’re travelling between New Zealand’s North and South Islands you have two options: fly or catch a ferry. You’ll obviously want to go opt for the ferry if you have your own transport, and that’s exactly what we did on our recent North Island trip. We travelled from Picton to Wellington on the Interislander, one of two companies who ply this route. Keep reading to find out what the experience is like!

Cruising through the Marlborough Sounds

The journey from Picton to Wellington first takes you through Queen Charlotte Sound, past small islands and forested coastline. There are some great views along this part of the trip and it’s a good idea to go out onto the observation decks for a closer look. It does get pretty cold out there though so bring a jersey. I overheard some of my fellow passengers talking about how they saw dolphins the last time they did the Picton to Wellington ferry trip — don’t expect to see them but they could be a nice surprise.

READ MORE: 12 of the Best Things to Do in Picton

The Interislander

The Interislander fleet comprises of a few different vessels but it doesn’t matter too much what one you end up on. We travelled on a different boat on the return journey and the food and seating options were fairly similar. You should easily find somewhere comfortable to sit and there are some TVs scattered around (which mostly play sports). There’s also a bar on-board and plenty of food options. The trip takes around 3.5 hours and it’s a relaxing experience. There’s also a movie theatre if you feel like killing some time. You can upgrade to the “premium lounge”, which gains you free Wi-Fi and other perks. I’m not sure there’s too much point as the main seating areas are comfortable enough (and not having Wi-Fi for 3.5 hours is actually kinda nice).

Book the Interislander ferry on the Great Journeys of New Zealand website — also check out some of the scenic train rides on offer.

Arriving in Wellington

You’ll pass by some of Wellington’s coastal suburbs towards the end of the journey. Again, the views are nice so consider braving the (usually) heavy wind and heading outside to one of the viewing decks.

Getting on and off the ferry

If you’re vehicle-less then boarding the Interislander is easy — you pretty much just walk on (I imagine, I’ve always travelled with a car). If you have a vehicle it takes a little longer. You’re encouraged to arrive an hour before departure and you should probably heed that advice. There’s a bit of waiting around involved while all the vehicles slowly pile onto the ferry, but it’s not too bad (especially if you have good music in your car).

The Details

Prices for the Interislander vary depending on vehicle type and availability / demand etc (a bit like an airline I guess). You can get some good specials and obviously it’ll be cheaper outside of peak times (Christmas / New Year is particularly busy). You can book online, and the process is easy. If you book a flexible ticket you’re only a quick phone call away from changing your sailing time, which is handy if you want to stay somewhere else for longer.

Before you Depart Picton

If you’re departing from Picton (or arriving there from Wellington) you should consider having a look around town. It’s one of my favourite small towns in New Zealand and there are a couple of nice short walks. The best is the Tirohanga Track, which takes you up a hill behind town for awesome views of Queen Charlotte Sound. The Snout Track is also a good option, or you could just head to Shelley Beach / Bob’s Bay if you don’t have much time.

Beautiful view of Picton from the Tirohanga Track, New Zealand

Are you thinking of travelling from Picton to Wellington? Will you take a ferry? Let me know in the comments below!

I was hosted by Great Journeys of New Zealand on my ferry trip between Picton and Wellington. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.