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Tips for Travelling Between the North and South Island of New Zealand

Milforfd Sound and Mitre Peak in Fjordland, NZ

New Zealand is the ultimate road-trip destination, with easy travelling distances between centres and attractions. If you’re planning on seeing the whole country in one visit, keep in mind that New Zealand has two main islands—North and South—that are separated by the Cook Strait.

How to Get Between Islands in New Zealand

An airplane parked at Airport terminal in NZ

Because there is no bridge or tunnel between the islands, you’ll either have to catch a flight or take the ferry. When planning your itinerary, you'll need to factor in the main regions you want to cover and the time frame available. If you’re in a hurry, the best option is to go by air. However, if you have time, travelling on the inter-island ferry is highly recommended. It’s considered to be one of the world's most scenic ferry journeys, spanning 92 kilometres over three hours.

Flight Options From North Island and South Island

  • If you’re coming from another country, you’ll most probably arrive at Auckland Airport on the North Island. However, you can also choose to fly to Christchurch, Dunedin, or Queenstown in the South Island, then travel from south to north.
  • If you want to travel from North Island to South Island, fly from Wellington Airport to either Nelson Airport or Blenheim Airport.
  • Another option is flying into Christchurch, then renting a car to return at Queenstown Airport. The supply of rental cars is greater in Christchurch than it is in Dunedin or Queenstown. The most direct route will take you five-and-a-half hours.
  • Another good option for the South Island is Nelson Airport; it’s serviced by Air New Zealand, the national carrier, but also low-cost airline Jetstar. This makes it one of the most affordable airports in the South Island to transit through.
Lovely view of the snow-capped mountains in the Fjords, NZ

Ferry From North Island and South Island

  • Travel between the 'coolest little capital' city of Wellington and the scenic town of Picton. There are two ferry companies to choose from: Interislander Ferry and Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry.
  • It takes around three hours to go from the North Island to the South Island by ferry.
  • Remember, apart from Apex and GO Rentals, rental providers generally don’t allow their vehicles to be taken on the ferry, so you’ll need to drop off your vehicle either at Wellington or Picton before boarding. There are five rental providers with different policies for inter-island travel, so click here for more information.
  • Some rental providers allow you to book a car for each island (minimum of 3 days) depending on your travel details. Once a booking is confirmed, let us know your ferry details with a reference number, and our customer care team will contact the rental provider and arrange your second leg booking.

Whether you choose to travel by air or by sea, you’re guaranteed a great adventure. If you need help booking a rental car from the ferry terminals, feel free to contact us.