Master and Commander: Our InterIslander Crossing

InterIslander Ferry New Zealand

It’s called ‘One of the Great Journeys of New Zealand‘  and doesn’t fail to live up to the hype. The InterIslander ferry crosses the Cook Strait between New Zealands north and south islands and was our planned route between the capital Wellington and Picton in the south.

We had travelled on the InterIslander on our first JWalking trip to New Zealand back in 2015 and that had been from Picton on a beautiful calm summers day. We had just Breezed into Wellington that day, our trip south would not be quite so easy.

InterIslander Ferry Wellington Picton

Wellington Weather Warning

We received an email from InterIslander the evening before our 9am ferry crossing informing us that stormy conditions and very strong winds were forecast for the following day. They asked if we would like to reschedule our crossing as it could be very uncomfortable but we innocently assumed this was just a standard communication and went ahead as planned.

Bright and Early Start

Well maybe not so bright but certainly early as we showered, packed our bags, tidied the apartment, headed to the bus stop across Kent Terrace, annoyed the commuters on the number 2 bus with our bags and backpacks, walked through the main station, caught the InterIslander shuttle bus, and arrived at the terminal by 8.15. Phew! Checked in our cases and waited for the boarding call.

You may have notice that I didn’t mention anything about breakfast? Well we decided that if it really was going to be a rough crossing it might be better if we didn’t eat or drink. So we didn’t. But everyone else in the terminal obviously thought differently. Lots of coffee, burgers, pastries, sandwiches and fizzy drinks were being consumed all around us. Very unwise. A big fella sitting right in front of us even managed to consume a complete family-sized cheesecake as we waited! No way did we want to be sitting near him on the ship!

Boarding the Kaitaki

Just before 9am we all boarded in a very civilised manner and we noticed that the weather didn’t seem too bad, it wasn’t that windy in the harbour tied to the dock behind the other ships and containers. We were on the biggest ship in the fleet, in fact the biggest ferry in the whole of New Zealand, the Kaitaki (Maori for Challenger). It held 1350 passengers and was scheduled to complete the 58 mile crossing in a little over 3 hours. We headed for the back of the ship and the Atrium Lookout Lounge. This is a huge glass conservatory spread over 2 floors that looks out over the sea. We thought it might be better to not be held up inside a dark interior lounge.

Getting out of Wellington Harbour

Wellington Harbour is huge. The ferries take an hour just to get out of the harbour, that’s how big it is. As the ship set off and headed out of the protected inner harbour behind Mount Victoria it seemed a little choppy but not too bad. Perhaps they had over-reacted?

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton

They hadn’t over-reacted at all. As soon as we hit the middle of the harbour the waves started to hit us. Usual crossings deal with 1 metre swells but we were experiencing 6 times that! The ship began to rise and fall dramatically and the horizon seemed to disappear above and below us time after time. Waves lashed the sides and warnings boomed out over the tannoy.

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton

At one stage the wooden conservatory style chair that I was sitting in just started to slide across the floor and I found myself slipping away from Jo as the ship viciously leaned from side to side. She thought it was hilarious but for a moment I didn’t know what was going on. I even ventured outside for a couple of minutes to see what it was like. A few unbelievably crazy souls were hanging onto the rails as the waves lashed the side of the ship and within seconds I was soaked! My own stupid fault.

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton

Calmed in the Cook Strait

The super rough seas continued for an hour or so until we left the harbour and sailed into the Cook Strait. This is the strip of water that divides north and south island New Zealand and can be one of the roughest waterways in the world. Today however everything changed as we entered it. The six metre waves died down, the spray stopped, and the ship seemed to relax as the world calmed down. It was incredible really how it went from Master and Commander to Boating Lake in a couple of minutes. You’ve heard of Master and Commander haven’t you? An epic ocean-adventure film starring Russell Crowe.

Within moments the whole day changed from black skies and ocean carnage to blue skies and calm waters. Bizarre. We crossed the Cook Strait and entered the beautiful Marlborough Sound and decided it was time to eat so headed outside to enjoy the rest of the journey. We couldn’t believe that it was the same day or the same crossing as it really was so completely different.

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton

The only slight irritation were the hoards of jolly selfie-taking tourists that kept pushing past us and crowding around to take hundreds of photos. Of themselves, and their friends, and their children, their friends and them, their children and their friends children …….. you know how it goes.

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton

Picton Harbour on South Island NZ

All too soon we were entering Picton Harbour and docking ready for the next part of our journey. Even though the first part of the crossing had been rough it had been exciting and scenery after that was just breathtaking. It has to be one of the worlds greatest sea crossings.

A beautiful calm sunny day greeted us and as we disembarked through the cabin we wondered how the trip had been for everyone else. The sight of mask-wearing staff disinfecting all the furniture and carpets in the main lounges and the overpowering smell of vomit told us everything we needed to know. Wonder what happened to the cheesecake?

Next Stage of our Trip

We had booked a little car from Apex Car Rentals at Picton which we would have for the next five weeks when we planned a fairly ambitious tour of the complete South Island. Seeing a lot of places that we missed first time around, revisiting a few that we just couldn’t resist returning to, and excitingly meeting up again with old friends.

InterIslander Ferry Wellington to Picton




  1. I think it’s the most beautiful ferry crossing in the world, especially through the Sounds. It was rough both ways when I last crossed in March, lots of people throwing up but it wasn’t even close to the roughest it can be (and sounds like you had it rougher). I’m sailing the other notorious crossing, the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island, in February, only it’s a much smaller boat. Are you going there on this trip?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy new year guys. One of the great ferry crossing stories of all time. Talk about 4 seasons in one day! I remember that film for the awful joke about weevils! Have fun in the South.

    Liked by 1 person

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