A visit to New Zealand will undoubtedly result in you crossing the Cook Strait – the body of water which separates New Zealand’s North and South Islands. It connects the Tasman Sea on the west with the South Pacific on the east. The strait was first discovered by the Europeans when Captain James Cook sailed through it in 1770. If you’re traveling with a vehicle, you’re limited to crossing the strait with a ferry. Without a vehicle, you have the option of taking a short flight – though this is significantly more expensive than crossing with the ferry.
The two major ferry operators crossing the Cook Strait are Bluebridge and Interislander. They travel between Picton on the South Island and Wellington on the North Island. I arrived in Wellington recently and had the opportunity to cross the strait with Bluebridge. Previously, I made the journey to the South Island with Interislander.
The ferry ride is a stunning journey in itself, and well worth the experience. The trip takes approximately three and a half hours – slightly longer if the seas are rough. Leaving Picton on the South Island, the ferry goes through the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound. You’ll see thick bush, white sand beaches, and gradually rolling hills. As you enter the strait, you’re afforded some beautiful views of the South Island behind you and the North Island in the distance. With any luck, you might even see dolphins and whales swimming alongside the ferry.
I expected Bluebridge to be a budget friendly option for backpackers and budget travelers. The staff at Bluebridge were very friendly and exhibited some great Kiwi hospitality. I was traveling with my campervan and boarding was an absolute breeze.
Bluebridge runs two passenger ferries between the North and South Islands – the Monte Stello and the Santa Regina. The two ships make the journey between the islands up to four times each day. As I expected Bluebridge to be a budget friendly option, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by their amenities. Nonetheless, they did offer everything you might need: coffee, budget friendly food, beer, wine, newspapers, and a free movie on a big screen television. Despite it being a busy Easter weekend, there were plenty of seats and some great outdoor decks from where you could take in the view.
I was less than impressed with the overall state of the ferry. It was old, run down, and smelled slightly. There were very few bathrooms that I could find and the ones I located were in a dismal state. My guess is they were the source of the previously mentioned smell.
At the end of the day, this is something you could expect and deal with on a budget option crossing. I’m happy to deal with an older boat with less amenities if I’m afforded a significantly cheaper crossing. However, after looking more into the fares offered by Bluebridge and Interislander, I’ve found that Interislander is within $5 of Bluebridge’s fares for similar crossing times or sometimes cheaper.
If you book within a couple days of your crossing online, you’ll pay approximately $3 more to cross with Interislander – $53 as opposed to Bluebridge’s $50. However, if you book a couple weeks or months in advance, you’re able to snag a Interislander fare for $48 while Bluebridge’s fare remains $50. When booking a fully transferable fare, Bluebridge becomes your cheaper option – by about $8. If you want the flexibility to change your crossing date, Bluebridge becomes your better option.
I was surprised to find the Interislander’s fares so closely aligned with Bluebridge’s fares. Bluebridge runs a ferry with less amenities and less crossings yet still charges about the same fare as the Interislander. This doesn’t quite add up to me. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, you’re crossing the strait to get to the other island – not to have a luxury boat ride. Book with whoever is cheapest and get ready for an unforgettable trip across the Cook Strait.
Click here if you’d like to cross the Cook Strait with Bluebridge.
Disclaimer: Bluebridge provided me with a discounted media fare in return for a review on Backpackingmatt.