Cook Strait ferry: Quick facts & comparisons

Everything you need to know about the Cook Strait crossing, including our Interislander Cook Strait ferry comparison chart, you'll find here on our quick facts page.

Interislander Kaitaki passing Mabel Island RP176 1000x680 v2

Book the perfect Cook Strait crossing 

There is more to consider than simply price and convenience when booking your Cook Strait crossing. So we've put everything you need to know together on this page to help you make an informed decision:

 

The Cook Strait Crossing

Cook Strait is the channel of water that divides New Zealand's two main islands. With thousands of tonnes of cargo, vehicles, and people moving between the North Island and South Island every day, the Cook Strait Crossing is an integral part of New Zealand transport infrastructure. As a result, ferries depart from Wellington and Picton several times a day.

At it's narrowest, Cook Strait is just 22km wide (14 miles). However, with two seas meeting here, the Cook Strait is too exposed to provide safe harbourage. Instead, Wellington's huge natural harbour is used on the North Island and Picton, deep within the sheltered Marlborough Sounds, is used on the South Island.

This elongated passage makes the Cook Strait journey 92km long. Roughly divided into three diverse segments of equal length, the journey sails around the expansive Wellington Harbour, through the wild coastlines of the Cook Strait, and into the picturesque channels of the Marlborough Sounds. 

 

Interislander Cook Strait ferry in Wellington Harbour  Interislander sailing past Kapiti island on the Cook Strait crossing Interislander Cook Strait ferry sailing through Queen Charlotte Sound

 

Cook Strait ferry crossing time

The Cook Strait ferry crossing time takes 3 to 3½ hours. This wide timeframe is due to the nature of sailing across the sea - which is a bit like running on a slow-moving treadmill. Depending on the Cook Strait ferry crossing conditions, the direction and speed of the sea will affect how long the Cook Strait crossing takes. 

Our Cook Strait ferry timetable

The steady flow of goods across Cook Strait ensures that our Cook Strait ferry crossings run regularly throughout the year. During the summer months, from December to March, our Cook Strait ferry crossings run day and night. You will also find more Cook Strait ferry sailings during the School holidays, as New Zealand families set sail on their vacations.

These variations in our Cook Strait ferry timetable throughout the year mean that it's best to use our Cook Strait ferry bookings system to get accurate Cook Strait sailing times for the days you wish to travel.

However, if you would like to see an approximate guide to our current Cook Strait ferry sailing times, then view our Cook Strait ferry timetable.

Book a flight or take a cruise across Cook Strait?

Flying across Cook Strait is quicker, but enjoying your time is what sailing Interislander is all about. Not to mention spreading out. A Cook Strait ferry is perfect for spending quality time with friends and family, and these three little hours will be a treasured part of your holiday memories. 

Sailing between our islands also means you can enjoy some of New Zealand's amazing scenery and wildlife. Meandering through the Marlborough Sounds is about as blissful as travel can be, with dolphins a common sight in the pristine calm waters, nestled between the wildly beautiful hills. 

If you are still unconvinced, try reading our blog to find out "Five reasons why the ferry beats flying!". 

 

View from the bow of our Cook Strait ferry leaving the Tory Channel between
Kaitaki Cook Strait ferry Play Zone
Interislander Plus Lounge experience during our Cook Strait crossing
Easily drive straight on and straight off our Cook Strait car ferry

 

Which Cook Strait Ferry is best?

One of the most commonly asked questions from people looking to book a Cook Strait car ferry is "which Cook Strait ferry is better?"

With three-and-a-bit hours aboard one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world, you should look beyond the usual comparisons of price and convenience.

Your choice of Cook Strait ferry can be the difference between half a day in transit or an unforgettable holiday highlight.

Other factors, like driving straight on and off without turning, or having a children's playground on board, or easy accessibility, can also make a difference to your day. 

Finding which Cook Strait ferry is best for you:

Our three Interislander ferries offer very different experiences of the Cook Strait Crossing, so we've created this quick guide to finding the Cook Strait ferry that suits your travel needs best:

 

 
Perfect
Excellent
Good
 
 
Family travel
Kaitaki
Aratere
Kaiarahi
 
 
Campervanning
Kaiarahi
Kaitaki
Aratere
 
 
Outdoor viewing / Photography
Aratere
Kaitaki
Kaiarahi
 
 
Plus Lounge Experience
Kaitaki
Aratere
 

What's it like on board a Cook Strait ferry?

Interislander ferries are large seafaring ships with multiple passenger decks and numerous facilities, from restaurants to shops, lounges to playgrounds. But each Cook Strait ferry is unique, with some having more child-friendly features while others offer a more relaxing environment.

Cook Strait Ferry Comparison Chart:

To give you a quick overview of what each Interislander Cook Strait ferry has on board, we've created a Cook Strait ferry comparison chart:

 

 
Kaitaki
Aratere
Kaiarahi
 
 
Car Ferry
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
 
Camper­van friendly
Yes
No
Yes +
 
 
Licensed Bar
Yes
Yes
Yes +
 
 
Restaur­ant
Yes +
Yes
Yes
 
 
Cafe
Yes +
No
No
 
 
Plus Lounge
Yes +
Yes
No
 
 
Private Cabins
Yes
No
No
 
 
Shop
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
 
Cinema
Yes +
Yes
No
 
 
Play­ground
Yes +
Yes
No
 
 
Nursery
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
 
Outdoor Seating
Yes
Yes +
Yes
 
 
Bow Viewing Area
No
Yes +
No
 
 
Kennels
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
 
Access­ible
Yes +
Yes
Yes

How to find our Cook Strait ferry prices

Our Interislander Cook Strait ferry prices are dynamic and you'll find booking well in advance or during non-peak periods will be much cheaper than trying to book a peak sailing at the last minute.

To find our Cook Strait ferry prices, simply use our booking system to enter your basic journey details, including your direction of travel, date of travel, passenger numbers and vehicle type. You will then be presented with the different sailing travelling that day and the different prices.

Choosing the best Cook Strait ferry fares for you

We offer three types of Cook Strait ferry fares: Saver, Flexible, Refundable.

Our Refundable Cook Strait ferry fares provide complete peace of mind by allowing you to cancel or change sailings up to 1 hour before departure. If you do choose to cancel, you'll get 100% of your fare refunded.

Our Flexible Cook Strait ferry fares allow you to change sailing up to 1 hour before departure. These cost just a little more than our cheapest Cook Strait ferry fares, which makes them exceptional value.

Saver fares are our cheapest Cook Strait ferry fares. If you are looking to book a last-minute Cook Strait ferry deal and know you won't need to change sailings, then our Saver fares offer the best value.

 

View of the Queen Charlotte Sound from our Cook Strait ferry

 

Finding the best Cook Strait Ferry deals

We have a number of Cook Strait ferry deals that always apply. These include Student Cook Strait ferry discounts, Family Fares and Senior Fares. Whenever you add a student, senior, or an adult with more than one child, our booking system will automatically apply these Cook Strait ferry discounts and give you our best available Cook Strait ferry fares.

Alongside our student, senior, and family Cook Strait ferry discounts, we also offer seasonal specials. These Cook Strait ferry deals are found on our Cook Strait ferry Discounts & Deals page. If you would like to be notified whenever a new deal is added, then join our Newsletter group. On average, we send out one a month.

Get the latest Cook Strait crossing conditions

We recommend using Swellmap if you wish to see a forecast of the Cook Strait crossing conditions for your sailing. The Swellmap website provides accurate forecasts of wave height a few days in advance. Standard weather forecasts can be misleading because strong northerlies (winds from the north) have very little impact on the wave height.

Most people find one or two metres of wave height comfortable. Wave heights of three metres and higher can be nauseating for people who suffer from motion sickness. When wave height exceeds five metres, safety measures begin with at-risk passengers and cargo being restricted.

By booking a Flexible or Refundable fare, you have the option to change sailings if the Cook Strait crossing conditions don't suit you. All you have to do is log in to your booking online and move it to another sailing or call us on 0800 802 802 up to one hour before scheduled departure.

Heavy weather usually blows through quite quickly and within hours the Cook Strait sailing conditions can return to a comfortable level. Therefore, buying a Flexible or Refundable ticket with free-of-charge changes is a sensible option.

 

Interislander sailing through windy Cook Strait sailing conditions

 

Cook Strait ferry cancellations

On rare occasions, strong southerly winds will make the Cook Strait crossing conditions very rough and bring all Cook Strait ferry crossings to a halt. Knowing how this affects our passengers' plans, we announce our Cook Strait ferry cancellations as early as possible.

During weather disruptions, the Interislander Arrivals and Departures Board shows upcoming cancellations and when the next sailing is expected to depart. So if you are checking for Cook Strait ferry cancellations, we recommend using the Departures and Arrival Board for realtime information.

When Cook Strait ferry cancellations occur, we offer all passengers the option to change sailings or cancel. This enables you to delay your travel, change your plans completely, or attempt to book a flight (however, flights are normally severely affected by these events too).

Our Cook Strait ferry crossings today

If you are looking for Cook Strait ferry crossings today, then we recommend using our online Interislander Cook Strait ferry Arrivals and Departures Board. The board shows upcoming sailing for the next few days, making it easy to find a last-minute Cook Strait sailing that suits.

The Interislander Arrivals and Departures Board shows accurate departure and expected arrival times. So if you are meeting someone travelling on one of our Cook Strait ferries, then you can get an accurate arrival time using the board.

 

Explore On Board

our ships Aratere snippet 730x504

Explore Aratere

With three separate viewing decks, including one on the bow, there is no better place for soaking up the atmospheric Marlborough Sounds on a sunny day!
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our ships Kaitaki snippet 730x504

Explore Kaitaki...

With two restaurants, a sports bar, shop, several lounges and a deck dedicated to children, Kaitaki is designed to entertain.
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our ships Kaiarahi snippet 730x504

Explore Kaiarahi

Kaiarahi is the newest of our Cook Strait ferry and features modern spacious interiors and a fantastic bar with panoramic views.
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