Top Tips for Travelling Between the North and South Island of New Zealand
New Zealand is the ultimate road-trip destination, with easy travelling distances between centres and attractions. The only problematic part to seeing the whole country in one trip is geography! New Zealand has two main islands, imaginatively named the 'North' and the 'South', separated by the Cook Strait. The Maori names, Te Ika-a-Maui and Te Waipounamu, are certainly more lyrical. There is no bridge or tunnel between the islands! Your choices are to fly, or take the ferry.
Take the Ferry or Fly Between the North and South Island
When planning your itinerary, you'll need to factor in the main regions you want to cover, and the time frame available. If you have time, travelling on the inter-island ferry is highly recommended. It is rated as one of the world's most scenic ferry journeys; it's 92 kilometres, and takes around three hours. You'll travel between the 'coolest little capital' city of Wellington, and the scenic town of Picton, with its access to the Marlborough Sounds. There are two ferry companies to choose from, The Interislander, and Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry.
There are, however, some issues around car hire and ferry travel. To make things as clear as possible, VroomVroomVroom has put the information into an easy reference page: http://www.vroomvroomvroom.co.nz/interislander-ferry/. Please refer to this page for a complete break down of conditions.
Rental Car Conditions for Ferry Travel
In summary, we work with five suppliers with different policies for inter-island travel. Inter-island travel is available from some suppliers for rentals of more than 6 days; others require separate bookings for shorter rentals. Avis, Budget and Hertz have minimum requirements for inter-island travel which includes a rental of at least three days on each island with a minimum total of 6 days. If this requirement is not met the rental will be charged as two separate rentals. If you are travelling more than once between the two islands, the third (and any subsequent) rental period has no minimum length of rental requirement. You need to be aware of a couple of other things; a maximum of 5 hours is allowed between the drop off of the vehicle in one island and the pick up of the next vehicle. To guarantee a replacement vehicle is available, a minimum of 48 hours notice is required of your intention to cross between the islands, if a crossover booking has not been previously made.
Thrifty has slightly different conditions. All multi-island hires (rentals covering both islands) must have a minimum of 3 days rental on any one-way sector in each island or a $562.50 one-way fee will apply to the hire. For example, a six-day Auckland to Christchurch booking must have 3 days in the North Island and 3 days in the South Island. Again, your vehicle must be returned to the supplier at the departure point, and a new one picked up on arrival. Thrifty do let you keep one vehicle for a two-island visit, but the client must pay for any inter-island transportation costs for the vehicle. The vehicle must be returned to a Thrifty location within the same island that the rental commenced or additional charges will apply. Rental cars are not insured when on the ferry, so if there should be any damage, you'll be liable.
Europcar treat an Auckland to Christchurch (or vice versa) hire as a two leg booking. A one way booking is allowed online but you'll need to call reservations at least 72 hours prior to the scheduled ferry so Europcar can have a car ready when you reach the other side of the island. At peak times such as Christmas and Easter it is advised that the changeover day is reported as early as possible. Again, you'll be dropping off your car before boarding the ferry, and a fresh vehicle is provided when you disembark the ferry on the other side. If a car is taken across on the ferry, you'll become liable for repositioning costs. If you choose to transfer the vehicle between islands, a relocation fee of NZD $350.00* plus GST will be charged. With any supplier, remember that not only will you have extra costs, you'll be liable for any damage to the vehicle.
Don't be concerned that all this changing over of vehicles is going to be a hassle. All our suppliers have depots right at the terminal. You check your suitcase in at the ferry terminal, and just take hand luggage with you on the crossing. If you have any queries on the exact conditions of your rental car for inter-island ferry travel, contact our amazing customer service team by live chat, phone or email, and they will talk you through it.
Disruptions to Touring Routes
Something to consider now, for the summer of 2016-2017, is that due to the earthquake on November 14, there are some serious road closures at the top of the South Island. The main coastal route between Picton and Christchurch is out of action, making the town of Kaikoura – usually a highlight of the drive, and famous for its seafood and whale watching – difficult to access. There's still plenty of great things to see by taking the inland road, or the longer way around via Nelson and the West Coast. Talk to your car hire supplier when you pick up your vehicle about your plans, and they will be able to give you the latest options.
Flying Options between North and South
If your time is more limited, then flying between the islands may be the answer for you. The cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin are considered main trunk, and will always be the most affordable. The playground of Queenstown, and the region of central Otago is a visitor favourite. Queenstown is a highly scenic airport, but you do pay a premium to fly in or out of there. To save your dollars, you can fly to Christchurch, and drive to Queenstown. The most direct route will take you five and a half hours, but it is worth adding a side trip to Aoraki Mt. Cook. Another good option for the South Island is Nelson Airport; it is 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.
So many choices! Whatever you choose, you are guaranteed of a great adventure. Make sure you have the ideal vehicle at the best price, booked through VroomVroomVroom. We love to hear your stories; let us know of your perfect inter-island itinerary!