Wellington to Christchurch by train and ferry

Travelling from Wellington to Christchurch through the Marlborough Sounds and along the Pacific coastline is an experience you will treasure forever!

The ultimate New Zealand travel experience!

Travelling between Wellington and Christchurch by train and Cook Strait ferry is a magical way to discover New Zealand. From the moment you step aboard the Wellington ferry, you will be entering a world of legendary scenic relaxation.  It transcends travel; there'll be no driving, airports, seat confinement or safety belts, you will be free to stroll to cafe's, venture outside to our viewing carriages and decks, play games, chat freely and drink whatever tickles your taste-buds.

That's right. Travelling with us from Wellington to Christchurch by ferry and train is a freeing experience. We do the work while you sit back and enjoy yourself. Take your eyes off the tarmac and put your electronic devices away. This journey is about breathing in our beautiful world and soaking up the sparkling beauty of the Marlborough Sounds and Pacific coastline.

Perhaps best of all, Wellington and Christchurch are two of the biggest tourist attractions in New Zealand. Situated on the southern tip of the North Island, Wellington is our political and cultural heart, nominated "the coolest little capital in the world" by Lonely Planet. Christchurch is the "capital" of the South Island, with a rich history at the heart of British settlement. Whether its a weekend getaway or part of you holidays in New Zealand, travelling between Wellington and Christchurch is a journey through New Zealand's finest scenery and richest history.

Interislander's Cook Strait begins the journey from Wellington to Christchurch

Discover New Zealand's scenic secret

Our New Zealand inter-island ferries are a magical experience. Modern and friendly, our three Interislander ferries ply the Cook Strait between New Zealand's North and South Islands, running several trips a day. The 92km Cook Strait crossing glides through some of New Zealand's best scenery, making the Wellington to Picton ferry one of the most beautiful ferry journey in the world.

Travelling on our Cook Strait ferry is actually a three-and-a-bit-hour long scenic tour of New Zealand's humbling scenery. As you ease away from the Wellington terminal, you will leave the modern world on dry land and venture into an untamed, primordial, wilderness. Genuinely, it is that poetic.

The early part of the journey is peppered with landmarks: the Westpac Stadium, Matui (Somes Island), Wellington airport, Miramar Peninsula, Pencarrow lighthouses and Island Bay.

The next hour is spent journeying northward (that's right, you go north to get to the South Island) through the narrow channel of  the Cook Strait, with the rugged uninhabited coastlines of the North and South Islands looking as primitive and wild as the day Captain Cook first sailed through. 

The last hour of the Interislander Wellington to Picton ferry journey is spent drifting through the Marborough Sounds. The rolling hills of Marlborough are so close during this narrow passage, you would be forgiven for thinking you are aboard one of the great river or lake cruises of the world. This section is also incredibly sheltered and the waters are rarely anything but calm. 

Coastal Pacific completes the journey from Wellington to Christchurch by train

The romance of rail meets the beautiful sea

The second part of our scenic journey from Wellington to Christchurch is aboard our magnificent Coastal Pacific train. With custom-built carriages offering astonishing panoramic views from your seat, the Coastal Pacific train combines comfort, style and sightseeing in one unforgettable journey.

The first part of the Coastal Pacific's journey is along the original nineteenth century railway from Picton to Blenheim. This track was laid to connect the growing town of Blenheim with the port at Picton. The journey takes just 25 to 30 minutes, which is just enough time to settle down and start enjoying the comfort of this magnificent train.

After Blenheim, the real magic begins. First, you will be taken through the colourful industrial salt farm at Lake Grassmere. Although it is fundamentally a man made salt production facility, the colours are still the result of nature's splendour - it is essentially a scenic industrial facility!

Travelling through Lake Grassmere from Wellington to Christchurch by train
Take the Coastal Pcific train from Wellington to Christchurch

As the train crosses the border from Marlborough into Canterbury, the scenery changes dramatically. The parched grasses and rolling farmlands turn vibrantly green and increasingly rocky. The Kaikoura mountain ranges move ever closer to the sea and the railway moves to the coast to get around them. Soon the railway is squeezed between mountains and sea, ducking in and out of tunnels cut through the cliffs as they descend steeply into the water. The scenic feast has now begun in earnest and the outdoor viewing carriage becomes a popular place to take it all in.

The scenery transforms again as the train breaks from the mountains and begins its journey across the alluvial plains toward Kaikoura. The Coastal Pacific stays close to the shore, crossing through sandy dunes with the sparkling Pacific Ocean alongside.

By late afternoon, the Coastal Pacific has stopped at Kaikoura and the landscape begins to change once more. The steep banks and cliffs of Oaro are perhaps the most majestic and iconic part of the Coastal Pacific's entire journey. This is the railway's secret world, where it travels around isolated bays and across remote beaches. There are no roads, no houses, no huts; just a few remote trails used by the locals.

Travelling around secret bays on the Wellington to Christchurch train
Corssing the Hurunui Bridge travelling by train from Wellington to Christchurch

Two last changes of scenery remain. Firstly, the railway will head inland to Hundalee following and crossing the Conway River then Waiau River, cruising through woodland and farmland on its way back to civilisation. Lastly, suburbia returns as the Coastal Pacific gently plies through the back gardens of Christchurch.

By early evening, the Coastal Pacific train pulls into Christchurch station, giving you time to check into your hotel and explore the city's night-life!


Travelling from Wellington to Christchurch

Here's our top travel tips for travelling from Wellington to Christchurch by ferry and train. Whether you are putting together an amazing holiday itinerary or simply looking to enjoy New Zealand's epic scenery as you travel from Wellington to Christchurch in a day, we have all the information you need.

Catching our Cook Strait ferry in the morning

You can travel from Wellington to Christchurch by ferry and train in a single day by catching the morning Interislander ferry to Picton. This departs from the Wellington ferry terminal at either 08:30am or 09:00am, depending on which timetable Interislander is operating. 

The morning Wellington ferry is our busiest and is normally operated by Kaitaki, our largest Cook Strait ferry, packed with bars, cafes, restaurants and comfortable lounges - it even has a whole deck dedicated to children, complete with climbing apparatus and two cinemas! During peak season, the bustle and buzz of this family-friendly ferry bring a tingle of additional excitement to the journey. However, if you would rather relax away from the crowds on a comfy sofa with free food and drink, then you can book a ticket in the Interislander Plus Lounge.

Approaching Picton on the journey from Wellington to Christchurch by ferry
Looking through the Tory Channel entrance on the Picton ferry

Catching Aratere for an outdoor scenic experience

Aratere is the only purpose-built Cook Strait ferry in operation and she was designed for the magnificent journey through the Marlborough Sounds, with outdoor viewing decks and seating areas aplenty! You can stand on the bow outside the bar with a drink in hand (perfect on a sunny afternoon sailing). You can enjoy the peaceful quiet side viewing decks. You can lounge in the sun on the spacious rooftop outdoor seating area. If it is scenic tour of  the Marlborough  Sounds you are after, then Aratere is by far the most relaxing and wonderful way to travel between Wellington and Picton

So whilst Aratere doesn't have the multi-floor facilities of Kaitaki, or modern interiors of Kaiarahi, she has the rustic charm of a true classic New Zealand Cook Strait ferry.


When buying a ticket from Wellington to Christchurch online, our system will automatically put you on the morning ferry and afternoon train. To stay overnight in Picton, or travel on the afternoon ferry, or add the Plus Lounge, you need to book your ferry and train journeys separately or call our Customer Services team.


Connecting with the Picton to Christchurch train

After arriving in Picton on the inter-island ferry, you can either catch the afternoon train to Christchurch or stay and enjoy the region for a day or two. However, if you want to catch the Picton to Christchurch train immediately, then you need to be on the morning Wellington to Picton ferry. If you choose the relaxing afternoon Wellington to Picton ferry, then you will need to stay in overnight picturesque Picton or nearby Blenheim.

Between sailing and catching the  Picton to Christchurch train, be sure to stretch your sea-legs by exploring the Picton Foreshore for half an hour or so. Picton is beautiful and shouldn't be overlooked. There are plenty of quaint cafes around the foreshore that offer great coffee and stunning views. If you are travelling with children and want to run some energy out of them before climbing on board the train, then there is an excellent playground and splash park on the foreshore.

Picton railway station is just a short walk from the Picton ferry terminal. It is also a short walk from the Picton Foreshore and the caf√©s on London Quay. In fact, most things are just a short walk in Picton.

Wellington to Christchurch throughfare ticket

To travel from Wellington to Christchurch by ferry and train in one day, you can buy a Great Journeys of New Zealand "throughfare" ticket. This is a single ticket that includes the morning Interislander Wellington to Picton ferry, followed by the early afternoon Coastal Pacific train from Picton to Christchurch. To book this, simply select a journey from Wellington to Christchurch when booking online.


Slow travel - making use of free stopovers!

With a Flexi or Flexi Plus ticket, you are allowed to stop wherever you like along the Wellington to Christchurch route. So if you are looking to visit the top NZ attractions as part of your holiday in New Zealand, then buy a Flexi or Flexi Plus train fare and jump off in Picton, Blenheim and Kaikoura en-route to Christchurch.

Stop and Relax in picton

When you imagine a port, it probably doesn't have swaying palm trees, a beautiful beach, quaint cafes and an idyllic backdrop of mountainous hills. Well, Picton has all of these things. So rather than hurrying through, why not take time to enjoy this fabulous fishing town. Better still, venture out into the Marlborough Sounds for a true retreat from the modern world.

For full list of Picton accommodation, head to the marlboroughnz.com website.

Stopover in Blenheim for good times and fine wines!

There are few who'll disagree that Blenheim is a one of the greatest wine producing regions in the world. In particular, their Sauvignon Blanc is celebrated globally for its unique citrus punch. A relative newcomer is Pinot Noir, which is also sending ripples through this discerning market. 

With dozens of vineyard restaurants and dozens more cellar doors, the last thing you'll want is a car. So why not treat yourself to a private wine tour  and have someone meet you at the station and take you to the winemakers of your choice! 

Of course, the best accompaniment to world-class wine is world-class food - and there is no shortage of choice in Blenheim when it comes to matching your wine with the perfect dish. Lastly, you'll need a comfy bed for the night. So head over to our page on Blenheim for more information!

Stopover in Kaikoura for a seaside experience with a difference

Whether you want to go on the renowned Whalewatch Kaikoura tour or just relax by the seaside enjoying seafood and sea breezes, visiting Kaikoura is an NZ must do experience. 

Since the 2016 earthquake, Kaikoura has undergone a few changes. So even if you have been there before, you should definitely consider returning. Point Keane on the Kaikoura Peninsula, which is home to the town's seal colony, has grown remarkably. There is now a surfing school on the town's beach thanks the seabed shift bring better waves. There is also a new pier, a new museum, a new hot spring and a new alpine lake. 

For those who have never been to Kaikoura, you are going to be dumbfounded by its beauty. From the hills to the south of town, where much of the rental accommodation is located, the views back across the town far below with the mountains soaring in the distance is genuinely breath-taking.