If you plan on visiting both islands on your New Zealand campervan trip, you'll need to take your campervan on the Interislander ferry. The ferries travel between Wellington, at the bottom of the North Island, and Picton, at the top of the South Island. The crossing takes between three and four hours, depending on the weather.
You drive your campervan into the hold of the enormous ship, leave it there, and make your way up onto the main deck. There you'll find a café and a gift shop. If you paid extra for a premium lounge ticket, you'll get to sit somewhere a bit quieter with unlimited access to a buffet.
The trip through the Marlborough Sounds is magical, and if you're lucky you might even spot some dolphins!
For those planning to make the journey, we've compiled a few useful tips:
- Before you arrive at the ferry terminal, make sure you’ve packed a small bag of everything you want to have with you on the ferry, as you’re not allowed back to nip back to your campervan once the ferry has set sail.
- It's often cheaper to book the Interislander ferry through your campervan rental company than it is to book it directly through the ferry service.
- It's better to get an early-morning crossing so that your day isn't completely written off time-wise. (You can get late crossings that arrive around midnight, but that’s too late to check in to most campgrounds, and driving around trying to find an empty free camping spot in the middle of the night isn’t desirable.)
- You can find campgrounds, free or otherwise, relatively close to the ferry terminals in both Picton and Wellington.
On the Picton side, the closest free camping spot can be found in Collins Memorial Reserve in Koromiko, just south of Picton on State Highway 1. There's only room for twelve campervans and, as you can imagine, it fills up fast, even in winter. If you miss out, don’t worry - there are lots of other free camping spots around Blenheim. (Download the Camping NZ and CamperMate apps to find them all. Why both? Because there are some camping spots that only appear on one or the other.)
On the Wellington side, the closest free camping spot is the Evans Bay Marina Carpark. Again, this fills up fast. Also, it's on the other side of the city centre to the ferry terminal, and driving through Wellington's cramped streets in a campervan is not fun, so give yourself time. (Or fork out to stay at the expensive, but close-to-the-terminal Capital Gateway Motorhome Park.)