When people come and visit New Zealand, they have to do it in at least 2 parts, if not more. Being an island nation, New Zealand is split into several islands, and it depends how you’d like to get around as to what method of transport you use to get between the islands. Do you fly into one island, tour around, and fly to the next? Or do you hire a car and jump on a ferry and head over the Cook Strait?
Fly or Sail?
The time it takes to fly between islands will depend on your point A and point B, but unless you’re going from the top of the North Island to the Bottom of the South, then most flights around New Zealand take between 30-mins and 1 hour 15 minutes. It’s definitely faster to fly, and not only does it take out travel time, it cuts down on driving time. The view of the country is beautiful as you fly over it, and it’s an easy, mostly cheap, way to get around the country. However, if you’re planning on doing a lot of road tripping, perhaps hiring a car or a van, then taking the ferry is a fun way to go.
The ferry has to be done at least one. It’s about a 3 hour trip from Wellington Harbour, across the open ocean and into the Sounds at the top of the South Island. On a nice day, you can see both the bottom of the North Island and the top of the South as you make the crossing. If you’re lucky you might see a pod of dolphins.
As well as the day trips, you can book a night crossing, which I’ve done once in my life, and that was enough. We drove onto the ferry at about 2:45am for a 3:30am sailing. Unless you can sleep anywhere, I suggest avoiding the night crossing. We went straight for the most lounge-looking place on the boat we could find, and I managed to find a spot on the floor between chairs where I could lie down with the pillow I had brought with me. That was all fine, except when I eventually woke, I had a bruise the size of England on my hip and was freezing cold. Unless it was the busy time of year, then the night crossing wasn’t any cheaper than a day crossing, so it’s up to you whether that’s something you look into or not.
If you do decide to try a night crossing, head to the lounge parts of the boat as fast as possible so you get a comfortable seat for the duration of the trip. The bonus to going on a night crossing is that you’ll reach the sounds (if you’re heading south) at sunrise, and that’s a beautiful sight. Breakfast would then happen in the little harbour town of Picton, which has cafes, and a McDonalds.
But in the day time, it has beautiful views right across the waters between the islands. If you’re not one for sitting in front of a pretty view, reading a book, then there are plenty of other things to do on the boat. The ferries have great levels of decking and viewing platforms, and they are clean, tidy, and easy to navigate, so wandering around is doable. There are play areas for the children, and some of the ferries have cinemas in them for those rainy crossings. They also have cafeteria’s, but they are very expensive and it’s best to bring your own snacks and meals.
While it’s a fantastic trip on a good day, on a bad day it’s atrocious. There was one crossing we did where the wind and rain was so bad that the ferry rocked and swayed both front to back and side to side. It was as if it were on a one of those rodeo bulls at the showgrounds. If you’ve got a weak stomach, then head to the back of the boat, where the rock and roll is less. If you’re like me and you can stand the movement, then you get the entire front of the boat to yourself. Rarely is it that bad though, and you’d be simply unlucky to get a really bad crossing like we had. Most of the crossing are a little rocky, but the open ocean isn’t a long part of the trip, so you’re in and out of the rocky waters quite quickly.
So is the Cook Strait Ferry worth it?
In my opinion, yes. Yes, it takes longer. Yes, you might have a rough crossing. Yes, you may throw up. But it will also be beautiful on a nice day, and if you have children then they will talk about ‘that one time we took the ferry in New Zealand’. It will be fun, and the possibility of seeing a pod of dolphins surely is enough reason.