We could have flown from Auckland to Nelson in one and a half hours. Instead, we took the long way. 13 and a half hours according to Google Maps – a bit longer if you are me and a fan of stops. Driving from Auckland to Wellington and then taking Interislander over to Picton and driving to Nelson.
Before I tell you why we did it – I’ll tell you why we didn’t.
This is not about saving money (although you may save a bit). Once you take in to account petrol, the ferry cost and accomodation for a night it would have cost about $100 less to drive and catch a ferry than it would to fly. If you get your hands on a good deal you could pretty much call it even. So let’s take cost out of the equation.
So what is it that you get from driving and catching Interislander that you can’t get from flying?
It’s the adventure.
It’s the holiday that happens on the way to your holiday when you get to explore 880km of New Zealand.
It’s driving through the ever changing landscape of New Zealand.
It’s seeing more of our people and places and all the quirky and beautiful sites than you ever could from a plane.
It’s being able to stop and dive in the water at Lake Taupo.
It’s watching the sun set over a rare mill pond ocean at Paraparaumu beach while the kids dive in to a near empty ocean.
It’s sharing our stories of our youth as we drive through the towns that we made our stories in (Marton – I’m looking at you).
It’s being completely in control of your time line and able to make it up as you go along.
It’s the places you go to once every 20 years that stay in your memory and are all the more richer for being somewhere you only seldom pass through.
It’s stopping and supporting local businesses on the way.
It’s the freedom to have everything you need, in your own car.
I’m going to go with if you’ve got this far you are keen to know more…
A big part of this trip is going to be Interislander.
Interislander was such a big part of my 20’s. At the time I was living in Wellington and working in an advertising agency. You may have heard rumours about advertising and our love of wine which are all it seems true!
So it won’t surprise you to hear that even though I was only in my early 20’s we were often shouted over to Marlborough for the Wine and Food Festival (which is epic if you get the chance to go).
So not only was I a seasoned Interislander traveller but I did it with a fair few Marlborough Savingnon Blancs under my belt too!
Later in my 20’s it became the gateway to my first ever grown up holiday in the South Island and visits to my best friend Sarah when she moved away to Christchurch.
And then suddenly I didn’t anymore. A crazy 15 years went by, I moved to Auckland, had kids, got married, got unmarried, married again, made a game – all that stuff you guys know well – and I’d forgotten what epic adventures started on this ship.
In 2021 I decided to change all this and James and I planned an epic South Island adventure that would see us taking the kids, for the first time, on Interislander.
Everything you need to know about your trip on Interislander
First up – your 3.5 hour trip goes by in a heartbeat – there is so much to do.
Everyone is having their own unique experience. There’s the young couple reading and writing scooped up in chairs facing the windows. There’s the Mum walking the length of the ship with a baby fast asleep in a sling on her back. There’s couples snoozing and friends chatting in the various lounges. There are families relaxing over couches and chairs, pointed out toward the ever changing landscape.
There are groups eating in the 2 different restaurants on board.
There are parents of toddlers sneaking grateful glances at each other in the playground or watching the magician.
There are kids laughing at movies or the magician, oblivious to the fact they are crossing the Cook Strait.
Us, well we were crossing with teens and tweens. That tricky age that is no longer a child, but too young (despite what they think) to be an adult. An age where everything is uncool (especially if it involves your parents), nothing is new or exciting and phones rule.
Now I could lie and just post the photos when I hissed “put your phone down and smile nicely” but that’s not really how we roll.
Our kids did use their phones from time to time, snuggled up in comfy seats looking up as the landscape changed around them.
And, luckily the ship is built for battery draining kids (and camera happy Mums) in mind with loads of charging points around the ship.
But the kids also explored the ship with us.
We started off in a flurry of requests – get breakfast, see the two story playground, go on the outdoor deck, look around the boat, go to the gift store (that was me so I could see the Getting Lost Games on sale in there) or do we watch a movie?
We put it to a vote – both with the kids and on our social channels. The overwhelming winner was Breakfast first.
Tip to new players here – everyone goes for breakfast first (check out how yummy it all looks and you’ll see why).
The seasoned pro’s (of which there were a few on our sailing) go and grab a table with a window seat and watch Wellington slip by out the huge windows. Then, once Wellington is out of sight the lines have vanished and you can send the kids up to grab some breakfast. That will definitely be us next time!
We hadn’t grabbed a seat early but still had no problem finding anywhere to sit (even with the 5 of us). This was the true the whole of our trip as we moved about exploring. And we did a lot of walking – 4,000 steps my phone tells me which is the equivalent of walking the 182 metre length of the boat about 14 times!
We went up and down levels – exploring the two story playground that our kids were really too big for but all declared the coolest thing on the boat.
The kids shopped at the gift shop (including of course the Getting Lost game now stocked on board!!), we took in the scenes outside, they mooched on their phones inside, we ate and generally had a great time.
Our favourite spot to sit was the Lookout Atrium. With it’s big floor to ceiling windows it was the perfect spot to watch the world go by.
If you are sailing later in the day it’s also right next to Local Heroes Bar so you can grab a drink there too. Me, I went with coffee on my 9am sailing.
The Life flight cup reminded me of one of my favourite stories about Interislander. You no doubt would have heard about the tragic Wahine disaster on the Cook Strait (the worst in NZ’s history). Now it may be a weird thing to talk about marine tragedies on a boat but the kids were naturally interested and we spent a good part of our wait to board talking about it.
I love the saying – in any tragedy look for the helpers – and it’s those stories I want to hear about. The story of the Wahine had many helpers and Interislander played a part in that day too – sending the Aramoana to help rescue people. Although they were able to save many they were frustrated they couldn’t save even more if they had of been called earlier.
Also frustrated was Kiwi Peter Button. He stood helplessly on the beach watching passengers drown and thought, ‘there must be a better way’. So in true Kiwi spirit he learnt how to fly a helicopter, and then went on to launch Life Flight, which has saved over 30,000 lives since their inception. You can see why Interislander is a proud supporter to this day.
Another tip is to get yourself out on the observation decks before you head in to the Marlborough Sounds. You’ll find at this time everyone has slipped into their own little routines and you may find yourself, like I did, alone on the deck as you slip around the tip of the sounds into this amazing part of NZ.
Once you are in the Marlborough Sounds the decks become busier (although never so busy that you can’t find a spot to take photos). I absolutely love cruising through these drowned valleys – just the word “drowned valleys” captures my imagination.
The water takes on an other worldly aqua luminescence and the sun dances off it like hundreds of tiny diamonds.
As you get closer to Picton more baches appear on the coast line. Sail boats are so plentiful they give Auckland a run for it’s money in the title for City of Sails.
When we pulled into Picton the overwhelming sense was, that can’t of been 3 and a half hours! It flew by in a blur of eating, sight seeing, playing and talking. And in a few minutes we were driving off the Kaitaki to enjoy the rest of our South Island holiday.
We would like to thank Interislander for their support on this trip and for shouting us the ferry tickets (how lucky are we!) As always, the thoughts and opinions in this blog are our own but we want to be up front about any support we are lucky enough to receive.