Sooner or later everyone traveling New Zealand boards a ferry to cross Cook Strait some with positive anticipation and others with deep trepidation. After several years we basically take it in stride and look upon it as an enjoyable part of our journey.
We always keep a close eye on the weather and plan our crossings in favourable conditions if at all possible. This is the best way to alleviate the rough ones if you have the opportunity. If not at least prepare for the worst and arm yourself with seasick pills, a good book and perhaps a pillow.
Reading material is a must on all trips. The entry into and out of the ferries with your vehicle is always handled very professionally so don’t worry about that phase. The first time you have the experience don’t panic you will be guided into the boarding area you need to be at and into and out of the ferry so easily you will wonder why you worried. Our cats aren’t real thrilled about any crossing though.
We have been using the Bluebridge Ferry exclusively the last couple of years. They have always gone out of their way to accommodate the motorhome travellers. Even at the 3am crossing we have commented on how the staff are so happy and friendly as we pull into the hold of the boat. Another item we like is if we need to change reservations, even at the last minute, there have been no problems. Now that they have two boats working there is even more of an opportunity for catching a good crossing. Prices are right too.
Something I think is very important to mention are the communities at either end of the ferry route, Wellington and Picton. Most people in a motorhome hurry through and as a result miss out on two of the finest places in New Zealand.
We’ll begin our crossing from the North. Here is a little information for driving into Wellington city in order to get on the ferry and, time permitting, also to enjoy the city.
The roads to Wellington converge whether you are approaching on either Route 1 or Route 2. Entering you will go though several kilometres of road congestion but it is easy to drive. Try not to be there during the usual busy times when people are going to and from work if possible.
When you are driving in via Route 1 there are signs directing where to turn into the Interisland Ferry terminal. If you are planning to use the Bluebridge Ferry ignore these signs. Continue on towards Wellington. Stay in the left lane and turn left onto Aotea Quay (first turnoff and well posted). This will take you to Waterloo Quay. On the right is the Westpac Stadium. The turn off to the Bluebridge Ferry terminal is on the left and well-marked not too far along the street. Parked at Bluebridge terminal you are in walking distance of the major shopping district of Wellington.
If you are planning to hang around a bit continue on along the waterfront. Stay in the left lane. The street names will change from Aotea Quay, Waterloo Quay, Jervois Quay (all the same street you will stay on) and then Cable Street. The National Museum of Te Papa is on your left. Remain in the left lane and turn at the next light past the Museum and park in the parking lot on the right. You can even stay overnight here and be in the middle of the Wellington action. The downtown area is very compact and it is easy to walk everywhere. A New World supermarket is just a block away.
From the parking lot walk two blocks to Courtney Place and you are in the cafe and restaurant centre of Wellington. You can also walk back along the waterfront past Te Papa where you come to the Rowing Club. Cross over the walking bridge to City Centre. The Wellington Information Centre is located here. Don't miss the funky part of town down Cuba Street right off the City Centre beginning across from the Michael Fowler Centre. Our favourite place for coffee is Plum on Cuba. The top shopping area is Willis Street and Lambton Quay just a short walk through from the City Centre. Best to pick up a city map at the Information Centre.
Time permitting the places to visit are: Te Papa Museum, the Maritime Museum (also on the waterfront), and off Lambton Quay take a ride up the cable car with its spectacular view of the city at the 186m summit where there is a very pleasant Park. You also are not far from the Parliament Building and the heart of New Zealand government if you care to have a look first hand at your representatives in action. Across the street is the Backbencher Bar. Have a look at the caricature puppets of the politicians. Even the menus are done with political satire. Maybe you can even arrange to have your representative buy you lunch there.
Take your time and enjoy Wellington. It is a busy atmosphere with the cafe scene, great music and plenty of activity all year round. Grab a local paper to see what’s happening in the city. We are great fans of the Blues Night every Thursday at the Bristol on Cuba Street.
Now that you have visited Wellington we better get ready to head for the ferry and, weather permitting, enjoy a few hours at sea heading to the part of the country with unbridled beauty in its natural form. I don’t care how jaded one becomes after traveling; the South Island of New Zealand has one of the most spectacular styles of scenery ever experienced. We spend the summers from September through May every year constantly traveling through this area and are still finding new and exciting places to roam.
From the ferry terminal building it is a 3 hour 20 minute crossing to Picton. Approximately one-third of the cruise is going out the Wellington Harbour, the next one-third crossing the Cook Straight and the last third going up fabulous Queen Charlotte Sound. If you hit one of those magic days of great weather it will be one of the most wonderful panoramas of an introduction to an area one could hope for. Even under the worst scenario the middle part through the Straits is the only really bad area even on the hardest of days.
At the ferry landing in Picton when you drive your vehicle off the boat you will be directed to Lagoon Road. At the traffic circle if you plan to continue on and by-pass Picton go straight ahead on Kent Street that will take you directly to Route One. Turn right and you are on the way to the Marlborough wine region and Blenheim.
If you choose to have a stay or a short look at Picton (highly recommended) turn left at the traffic circle (Dublin St) and drive into the main part of Picton. High Street is the main street. One street over is Wellington Street where parking is available on the street and also in a parking area right on the waterfront. There is a parking lot in the centre of town where Council recommends parking camper vans.
It is a very small community but quite vibrant. Le Cafe restaurant on the waterfront gets our vote for best place to hang out. They have music most weekends. The Irish Pub is a great place to meet new friends. Lots of backpackers and motels and several very good camp grounds. Close to town are the Blue Anchor Top Ten and the Picton Campervan Park. Blue Anchor can be reached by continuing on Dublin Street after the traffic circle on High Street. It becomes Waikawa Road and not too far along the road the Park is on the right. To reach the Picton Campervan Park continue straight along Kent Street from the ferry and on the left after Oxford Street you will see the entrance. There are other parks close to town as well.
For a special place to go drive along Waikawa Road leaving the main part of Picton area, but still in town, take a left on Surrey Street (just past the Blue Anchor Holiday Park). This will take you down to the Marina in the area across from the main part of town. Continue along the Marina driving past the old sailboat restaurant on the left to an area where you can park during the day. Grand place to hang out. There is a walking bridge over the Marina back into town central.
If you go up the road overlooking the town (the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive) to have a panoramic view there are adequate pull off areas to view the town, harbour and the ferry terminal. Great place for photos. This is also the best route to enjoy seeing the Marlborough Sounds. Hilly and twisting it is still easy to negotiate. This is the inner route to get to Havelock and on to the town of Nelson and beyond.
Picton is an area nestled in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds. The Sounds is a place of seemingly unlimited bays, coves and islands. Lots of world class lodges scattered throughout and some of the best walking tracks. A place where water sports prevail including sailboat rentals, fishing excursions, kayaking along with all kind of cruises offered. One favorite is the world famous Mail Boat Cruise offering top quality excursions. Diving is popular with the Mikhail Lermontov lying in 33 metres of water. It is one of the largest divable shipwrecks in the world. All in all this is a very special region of New Zealand.
Take it easy and enjoy this part of your journey. Don’t hurry on through. You may be surprised by how much you will discover at the beginning and end of your ferry crossing.
For more information go to Ron's New Zealand Travel Guide.