Let us begin the South Island travel in the North Island

providing information for driving into the Wellington area from the north in order to get on the Cook Strait Ferry and, time permitting, also to enjoy the wonderful city of Wellington.

First the roads into Wellington converge whether you are approaching on either State Highway 1 or State Highway 2. Entering the city you will go though several kilometres of road congestion. Try not to be there during the busy times when people are going to or coming from work in the city if possible.

Where SH 1 and SH 2 converge at the bottom of the Ngauranga Gorge, signs will appear telling traffic for the Picton Ferry to exit. Unless you are going straight to the Interislander ferry terminal without visiting Wellington or you are driving a campervan, you don't have to exit here - you can continue on to the next exit, marked for Aotea Quay.

Taking the first exit (marked Hutt Valley/Picton Ferry on SH 1 and Ngauranga/Picton Ferry/Porirua on SH 2), you will emerge at a set of traffic lights. Just after the lights, off to the side of the road, is a dump site for campervans and stock trucks. If you are driving a campervan, stop here and empty your greywater and blackwater tanks, as you will not be allowed onto the ferry with full tanks.

Continue to follow Hutt Road for 3km, keeping in the left lane. A sign will direct you to onto a flyover over the railway lines. If you are taking the Interislander Ferry, turn right immediately after the flyover and stay in the right lane as the road curves back under the flyover and into the terminal. If you are taking the Bluebridge Ferry, continue straight down Aotea Quay. If you took the second exit for Aotea Quay, you will merge here. Curving around passed Westpac Stadium, the Bluebridge ferry terminal is on the left, opposite the railway station.

If you are planning to visit Wellington continue on along the waterfront. Stay in the left lane. The street names will have gone from Aotea Quay, Waterloo Quay, Jervois Quay(all the same street you will stay on) and then Cable Street. the National Museum of Te Papa on your left. Remain in the left lane and turn at the next light past the Museum and park in the parking lot on the right. You can stay overnight here for $8.00 and be in the middle of the Wellington action. The downtown area is very compact and easy to walk everywhere.

From there walk into the city two blocks to Courtenay Place the cafe centre of Wellington. if you walk along the waterfront past Te Papa when you get to the Rowing Club cross over the walking bridge to City Centre. The Wellington Information Centre is located here. Don't miss the funky part of town down Cuba Street right off the City Centre. A favourite place for coffee is Plum on Cuba. The top shopping area is Willis Street and Lambton Quay just a short walk through from the City Centre. Best to pick up a city map at the Information Centre.

Time permitting the places to visit are: Te Papa Museum, Maritime Museum (also on the waterfront), and off Lambton Quay a ride up the cable car with its spectacular view of the city at the 186m summit and a very pleasant park. You also are not far from New Zealand's Parliament complex, which is marked by a large beehive-shaped building near the railway station. The Beehive is the executive wing of Parliament, housing the offices of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, while Parliament House next door houses the main debating chamber.

Cook Strait Ferry

From Wellington, it is a 3 hour 15 minute crossing to Picton in the South Island. Approximately one-third of the cruise is going out the Wellington Harbour, the next one-third crossing the Cook Strait and the last third going through the fabulous Marlborough Sounds, namely the Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound. If you hit one of those magic days of good weather, it will be one of the most wonderful panoramas of an introduction to an area one could hope for.

As implied above, there are two ferry companies operating between Wellington and Picton.

  • Interislander (www.interislander.co.nz) is owned by the national railway KiwiRail. It operates three ferries - Kaitaki ("Challenger"), Arahura ("pathway to dawn"), and Aratere ("quick path"). The latter two are capable of carrying rail wagons as well as road vehicles.They offer four sailings per day (five in peak season) 
  • Bluebridge (www.bluebridge.co.nz) is owned by Strait Shipping. It operates two ferries, Santa Regina and Straitman. They offer three sailings per day.

All ferries from both companies offer similar facilities, including a cafe, foodcourt, bar, shop, cinema, kids play area, and plenty outdoor decks and indoor seating. Kaitaki and Straitman both have private two-berth and four-berth cabins on board for hire (for an additional fee). EFTPOS and credit card facilities are available onboard. Note that prices aboard the ferries are higher than they are on land, so don't underestimate how much money you need to take on board.

Pack a carry-on bag, as you won't be able to access your vehicle once the ferry leaves port. Make sure it includes a warm jacket as it can get very cold in the middle of Cook Strait even on the best of days, and a camera with plenty of memory to capture all the scenery along the way.

Picton

At the ferry landing in Picton when you drive your vehicle off the boat you will be directed to Lagoon Road. At the roundabout if you plan to continue on and bypass Picton, go straight ahead on Kent Street which will take you directly to State Highway 1. Turn right and you are on the way south towards Blenheim.

A stay or a short look at Picton is highly recommended to avoid congestion on the road south of Picton with all the ferry traffic. Turn left at the aforementioned roundabout (Dublin St) and drive into the main part of Picton. High Street is the main street. One street over is Wellington Street where parking is available on th street and also in a parking area right on the waterfront. There is a parking lot in the centre of town where council recommends putting camper vans. A very small community but quite vibrant. Le Cafe restauant on the waterfront gets the vote for best place to hang out. Lots of backpackers and motels and several very good holiday parks. Close to town are the Blue Anchor Top Ten and the Picton Campervan Park. Blue Anchor can be reached by continuing on Dublin Street after the circle. It becomes Waikawa Road and not too far along the road the park is on the right.

To reach the Picton Campervan Park continue straight along Kent Street from the circle and on the left after Oxford Street you will see the entrance. Plenty of accommodations in the area from backpackers to luxury lodges. For a real treat take a boat to one of the many lodges tucked into the bays of the Marlborough Sounds. A good place to park your vehicle. Drive along Waikawa Road leaving the main part of Picton area, but still in town, take a left on Surrey Street (just past the Blue Anchor Holiday Park). This will take you down to the Marina in the area across from the main part of town. Continue along the Marina driving past the old sailboat restaurant on the left to where you can park during the day. Grand place to hang out. There is a walking bridge over the Marina back into town central too.

If you go up the road overlooking the town (the Queen Charlottes scenic drive) just to have a panoramic view there are adequate pull off areas to look down on the town, harbour and the ferry terminal. Great place for photos.

It is an area nestled in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds. A place of seemingly unlimited bays, coves and islands. Lots of world class lodges scattered throughout. A place where water sports prevail plus sailboat rentals, fishing excursions, kayaking along with all kind of cruises offered through the Sounds. One favorite is the world famous Mail Boat Cruise offering top quality excursions. Diving is popular with the Mikhail Lermontov laying in 33 meters of water. It is one of the world's largest divable ship wrecks in the world. Also offered for those interested in another perspective is sky diving in the Sounds.

Picton is a place not to be missed as it is one of New Zealand's most interesting and beautiful spots.