Taking the ferry between the North and South Islands of New Zealand is a really pleasant way to travel, on a calm day at least. We’ve taken the trip a few times, and always enjoyed flat seas and beautiful views of the Marlborough sounds on the way. This is the kind of journey that makes not flying seem like an obvious choice — relaxing, comfortable and scenic. It’s billed as one of the most beautiful ferry routes in the world, so it would be rude to skip it really. A few weeks back we took our first trip on a Bluebridge sailing, I’ve always travelled Interislander before. Bluebridge had a deal on this time which made them significantly cheaper, and the timings worked out, so we went for it and booked ourselves and our car on for a trip to the Coromandel.
The Bluebridge Experience
The two Bluebridge ships are much smaller Interislander’s three. We sailed up from Picton to Wellington on the Strait Feronia, and back south on the Straitsman. First impressions were that Bluebridge have less staff than Interislander, evidenced by the fact that we had to wait for the barista to finish doing the car loading before we could order a coffee. We’d had ninety minutes sleep the night before, so this was problematic.
The Strait Feronia felt quite cramped. There is only one passenger deck on both ships, and on the Feronia it’s very small. The upside to this is that almost all of the seating has a sea view. The downside is cabin fever. I would choose the Straitsman given the option. The passenger area is more spacious and comfortable, and the barista was ready for action as soon as we got on the ship. Both ships have a free movie showing on every sailing, but we didn’t watch either because we’d seen one and the other was a kids film. We ate breakfast on both sailings and it was fine, nothing special, but reasonably priced for the convenience. There are no real coffee cups available on either ship – bring your own cup to save a paper cup from landfill. (They usually aren’t recycleable because of the coating that makes them coffee-proof.)
Both ships also have cabins available, at $40 for a double at the time of writing. These can be bought onboard if there is availability. (If only we’d realised this at the beginning of our sailing north we could have had a well needed nap.) Interislander only has cabins on one ship, the Kaitaki.
Bluebridge or Interislander?
Having travelled on both Bluebridge and Interislander, I would choose the Interislander ships given the option. They all have much more space to move around in, more eating and drinking options, and generally more facilities. The biggest Interislander ship, the Kaitaki, has a passenger capacity of about 1600, compared to 400 on the Bluebridge boats. The other two Interislander boats are a bit smaller, but without private cabins, so there’s lots of public space.
I’ll admit that I can’t remember anything about the quality of the food on the Interislander trips I’ve taken, but looking at their menu online the food options are cheaper and more varied than on Bluebridge. Interislander also have a upgrade option which gives you access to a private lounge and unlimited food and drink, including beer and wine. If you fancy a treat, this sounds very appealing. We haven’t tried it, but maybe next time!
I particularly think the Interislander boats are better for a warm day because there’s outside seating on all of there ships, whereas Bluebridge doesn’t seem to have any. Perhaps because they’ve bought secondhand ships from chilly Northern Europe. The outside seating also means you can enjoy the views more easily while you’re sailing through the sounds.
Having said that, for our most recent trip the timings and price of the Bluebridge sailings worked better, and if that was the case next time we travel north I’d happily go with Bluebridge again. Bluebridge offer a sleeper service for the journey south, which I’d ruled out because the journey is only 3.5 hours, but it turns out that they allow you to board early on this service, so you could get about six hours sleep. I wouldn’t take this sailing if you’re only doing the journey once, because you wouldn’t want to miss the scenery, but for a return journey it’s a great time and hassle saving option.
The other benefit to Bluebridge is the location of the terminal in Wellington. It’s much closer to the centre of town than the Interislander terminal, so if you’re on foot Bluebridge is the better choice. Though there is a shuttle bus from the Interislander terminal to the same spot, this just adds hassle and waiting around. It’s also slightly cheaper to travel Bluebridge as a foot passenger, but if you book your Interislander foot passenger ticket through Naked Bus rather than Interislander you can get it for the same price as Bluebridge.
Interislander doesn’t have a free movie room, unlike Bluebridge. There is a cinema on the Kaitaki, but you have to buy tickets for this onboard.
Bluebridge benefits: cheaper ticket deals, free movie showings, more cabins, overnight Wellington to Picton sailing, central Wellington terminal.
Interislander benefits: more space, cheaper and more varied food and drink options, smoother sailing on choppy days (larger ships), outside seating.
Either way, it’s a beautiful journey we highly recommend taking the time to enjoy if you’re travelling through New Zealand.