After 2.5 weeks of road tripping the south island of New Zealand in our Spaceships Campervan, it was time to cross the Cook Strait over to the north island. We would be road tripping the north island as well, so had to take our campervan with us on the Bluebridge Ferry. It was our first time taking a ferry, so we were excited and a little nervous at the same time. Taking a ferry can’t be that hard, can it?
Here’s everything you need to know when crossing the Cook Strait with the Bluebridge Ferry.
The Bluebridge Ferry – Practical Info
To get from the south island to the north island of New Zealand (with our campervan!), Brecht booked a spot on the Bluebridge Ferry well beforehand. We would board the ferry in Picton, and after a 3.5 hour trip it would drop us of in Wellington. In reality we spent about 5 hours in transit, from checking in to driving off the ferry.
When you’re driving (not walking) onto the ferry, they ask to check in at the vehicle booth at least one hour before scheduled departure. If you’re on foot or by bicycle, you need to check in at the terminal at least 45 minutes beforehand. By car (or motorhome), you’ll have to queue up and wait till the staff signals it’s your turn to drive onboard the ferry. Instructions are pretty clear, so no need to worry. If need be, you can always ask the staff for assistance.
There’s hardly any preparation needed before boarding the Bluebridge Ferry. Just make sure you book a spot beforehand and check in one hour before scheduled departure. When parked on the ferry, put the car in gear, take everything you need during the trip with you out of the car, and lock your vehicle. Please double-check if your handbrake is on! You don’t want to be the one watching his vehicle slowly roll off the ferry into the water (there’s a video of this happening somewhere in Australia, Google it!).
A one way ticket from Picton to Wellington for 2 people and a campervan that’s the size of a car cost us NZ$226. This is the Saver Sail fare, the cheapest, non-refundable ticket. It is transferable to another date though, under certain conditions. You can opt for Super Sail (NZ$258) or Flexi Sail (NZ$318) as well, which are both transferable to another date, and respectively 50% and 100% refundable.
There’s a quiet room, a family room, a children’s play area, a movie room, and a lounge on board, but it you wish, you can book a private cabin as well. Prices start from NZ$30 for a single room. There’s a viewing deck and a café on the Bluebridge Ferry, and there’s supposed to be free WiFi in the lounge. Only I could connect though, Brecht couldn’t for some weird reason.
You can find even more information on the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry website.
The Bluebridge Ferry – Our Experience
We’d spent the night in Kaikoura and left early for Picton, where we would be taking the Bluebridge Ferry to Wellington. On our way over there, we stopped to visit the Ohau Point fur seal colony (with seal pups!) and pick up some lunch. It was our first time taking a ferry, so we were a little nervous.
Around 13:00 we arrived at the vehicle booth for check in, where they assigned us to one of the queues filled with cars waiting to board the ferry. Near the front of the rows there’s a public toilet if you need to go. While waiting, a guy came around asking if people had any fishing gear or walking shoes with them. Apparently they want to prevent the spread of a certain algae from the south to the north island. He sprayed the soles of our shoes and we were good to go.
At 13:40 our row was the last one to be led to the ferry. We obediently followed the instructions of the staff, drove all the way to the back of the ferry, turned around and parked our campervan in our assigned row on the car deck. We put it in gear, made sure the handbrake was on, and locked it, before heading up to the lounge for the duration of the trip. Make sure to take everything you need with you!
On our way to the lounge we passed the movie room (Star Trek was on) and the quiet room. We picked a spot near an outlet and got our laptops out to get some work done. The WiFi wasn’t really cooperation though, which wasn’t a big surprise in the middle of the Cook Strait. We took turns taking some pictures and enjoying the view from the viewing deck. Be careful you don’t get blown of the deck though, the wind is strong and cold.
When nearing Wellington (it was getting dark by then), we watched the bright lights of the capital city from the viewing deck. Together with what felt like everyone else on the ferry. The view is pretty impressive though.
They announced over the speakers it was time to return to our vehicle. It was about 17:45 when we arrived in Wellington, 3 hours and 40 minutes after we departed in Picton. We were parked in the back of the ferry and had to wait at least 20 minutes before we could drive off. Every row has to wait its turn: they’ll tell the first car in the row to start the car. We waited as long as possible to start ours. No need to gas the staff with your exhaust gasses.
The worst thing that can happen when taking a ferry is your car rolling off, so make sure your handbrake is on. Apart from that, book a spot well beforehand, dress yourself for windy weather if you want to go out on the viewing decks to enjoy the views, and don’t leave anything you might need during the trip in your car. Then there’s only one thing left to do: enjoy crossing the Cook Strait on the Bluebridge Ferry!
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