Getting between the North and South Islands of New Zealand
A range of choices to fit in your
Transform your travel
between NZ's islands into a gorgeous scenic flight in a
small plane between Picton (pictured) and Wellington.
of a series on travel to and in New Zealand -
click the links on the right hand side for more articles.
Most people will choose to
include time in both the North Island and the South Island of
New Zealand during their vacation downunder.
The two islands are separated
by a narrow but sometimes very rough stretch of water.
There is no bridge between the
islands, so you need to choose between a ferry or a flight, and
if flying, you also need to decide which two towns or cities to
fly between, and whether to take a regular 'big jet' or a small
sightseeing type flight.
Choosing Where You Travel
Between in New Zealand
There are several factors to
keep in mind when deciding where and how to cross between New
Zealand's North Island and South Island.
These include cost,
convenience, timing, and how to fit the travels into the rest of
your New Zealand touring itinerary.
Most people will either take
a ferry between Wellington and Picton (and/or vice versa) or
will fly between a major city/tourist center in the North Island
(ie Auckland, Rotorua, or Wellington) and a major city/tourist
center in the South Island (ie Christchurch or Queenstown).
But just because these are
the best known and most common means of travelling between the
islands, that is not to say they are also the best for you in
your particular travels.
Avoiding the Need to Do a Round
Here's an important
consideration. Depending on where you're traveling from
and to before/after your time in New Zealand, you may not need
to arrive into the country at the same airport as you fly out
In particular, if you are
traveling between NZ and Australia as part of your journey, you
might fly perhaps between Sydney and Auckland in one direction,
and between Melbourne and Christchurch in the other direction.
Or you could fly between any
other city (primarily on Australia's east coast) and any of the
major NZ cities with air service to Australia (best service with
Auckland and Christchurch, less with Wellington, Queenstown, and
sometimes other airports such as Hamilton and Rotorua).
You can fly in and out of
the same or different airport in Australia and/or in and out of
the same or different airport in New Zealand too; depending on
what fits with your schedule, itinerary, and airline
Much of the time it will
cost you no more to fly in to one city and out of a different
one - saving you therefore the time and cost of needing to
return back to your entry city in NZ.
There are also flights from
multiple NZ cities to other destinations in Asia, to which a
similar logic generally applies.
Free or Discounted Flights in
Flying for free?
What's not to like about that! Sometimes you may find that
your airfare from your point of origin to New Zealand is the
same to fly to Auckland or to Christchurch or possibly other NZ
cities too, or if not exactly the same, might only be very
Better still, sometimes
you'll find that you could fly eg first to Auckland, then spend
some time during a multi-day stop in the North Island, then fly
on to eg Christchurch, spend more time during a multi-day stop
in the South Island, then fly home again.
Choosing Where to Travel
One important consideration
as to where you travel between on NZ's North and South Islands
may be how you plan to get to the point of departure and how you
will continue your travels from your point of arrival.
In particular, if you are
choosing to use a rental car or motor home, you will need to
understand your rental car/motor home company's one way rental
policies and also be aware of which towns and cities they have
Not many of the rental car
companies have more than two or three depots around the country.
Most have depots in Auckland and Christchurch, some also in
Wellington, and a few more in Picton also, but when you go to
the secondary centers, your choices rapidly dwindle.
Ferries and Trains between New
Zealand's Two Islands
Please see our three page
series on Taking a Ferry
between New Zealand's North and South Islands for all the
information you need about how the ferries operate, what your
choices are, etc.
Please see our page about
trains and rail travel in New
Zealand for information on trains that get to and from the
top of the South Island (Picton) and the bottom of the North
Island (Wellington) and how to bridge the gap between.
Train Connections with Ferries
If you are traveling by
train for some of your travels in New Zealand, you will have to
arrange transfers between a train station and an airport or
ferry terminal yourself.
Wellington Transfers between
Trains, Ferries and Flights
Wellington in the North
Island is one of the terminals for the interisland ferries, plus
it also has a train station and airport, so transfers between
all three modes of travel are possible.
The Wellington train station
is close to the Wellington ferry terminals. It is walking
distance to one of the terminals and just under two miles (3 km)
to the other terminal. A shuttle bus operates between the
railway station (platform 9) and the ferry terminal, leaving
about 50 minutes before each scheduled ferry departure, and
returning back to the train station after everyone has got off
the ferry and collected their luggage, with the notable
exception being this shuttle bus does not operate for ferry
arrivals after 9pm.
Wellington's main Rongotai
airport is about 8 miles (12.5 km) from the train station.
This is probably about a NZ$30 taxi ride; alternatively there is
an airport bus service - Metlink's 'Airport Flyer' that operates
every 15 minutes between the airport and Lower Hutt (one service
an hour extends on to Upper Hutt), with two stops in central
Wellington (Courtenay Place and the main Bus terminal just a
short walk from the railway station). This bus even offers
free Wi-Fi on board.
Christchurch Transfers between
Trains, Ferries and Flights
Christchurch has an airport
and train station, but does not have a ferry terminal any
longer. However, one of the two train services travels
between Christchurch and Picton, so in theory it is possible to
connect between flights and ferries (but you'll usually have the
need to overnight in Christchurch between the two journeys due
to the one train a day leaving very early to go to Picton and
returning very late from Picton.
Christchurch's train station
was relocated away from its moderately central location and now
is in an unappealing location a little further out of town
(about 2.5 miles/4 km driving distance) from Christchurch's main
It is about a 5.5 mile (8.5
km) journey between the train station and Christchurch's main
There is a free shuttle bus
service between many hotels in central Christchurch and the
railway station to get you there in time for the Trans Coastal
train's early morning departure to Picton. There are no
free shuttles for the return train, but there are usually
regular shuttles that meet the train and which provide low cost
transfers within the city.
Picton Transfers between
Train, Ferries and Flights
Picton is the point in the
South Island where the interisland ferries travel to and from.
It is a very small town and the train station is a couple of
minutes walk from the ferry terminal.
Happily, the ferry and train
schedules (there is only one train a day) are synchronized so
that there is a convenient connection between when the ferry
from Wellington arrives and when the train to Christchurch
departs, and similarly between when the train from Christchurch
arrives and a ferry departs (both in the early afternoon).
You can even check your bags
all the way between Wellington and Christchurch, and they will
be transferred automatically for you between the ferry and
Picton has a tiny airport
and a similarly small airline which offers service between
Wellington and Picton up to eight times a day, plus less
frequent service between Wellington and Nelson and also
Wellington and Blenheim.
This airline, Sounds Air,
also offers shuttle transfers between its airport, a few miles
south of Picton, and downtown Picton. Details
Flying Between the Islands
The quickest way to travel
between the two islands is of course to fly.
A flight is not only quick,
but it can also give you gorgeous views of NZ's beautiful
countryside on your journey.
You have a choice of two
major airlines that operate mainly passenger jets (Air NZ and
Jetstar) and several tiny commuter airlines with equally tiny
Note that New Zealand often
has rough weather in the air, especially around Wellington, and
particularly at lower altitudes. The jets can usually get
up above the bad weather, and in any case get through it very
quickly at 550 mph. The tiny propeller powered planes will
struggle through the middle of such bad weather, at perhaps 150
mph or less, which can sometimes make for an unfortunately
That is not to say that
flying on these small single engined planes is dangerous.
But it can sometimes be very rough.
On the other hand, if you
have a strong stomach, or on a nice day in summer, if you choose
to spurn the big passenger jets and instead treat yourself to a
flights on a tiny Sounds Air plane between Wellington and Picton
or Nelson, you'll be getting a marvelously memorable scenic
flight as well as a functional transfer between the islands, and
you'll be doing something special that most international
tourists don't know is even possible.
Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand is NZ's
largest airline, operating both international and domestic
flights, and giving you the greatest number of choices in terms
of where you can fly between and the number of flights operated.
It is a Star Alliance airline.
There are flights between
the islands operating between many different cities. Here
is a list sorted by the South Island city first, and then the
North Island cities it operates direct service to (more or less
in north to south order in both cases). Other services can
be done with a change of plane somewhere en route, or course.
Blenheim and Auckland or
Nelson and Auckland, Rotorua,
Napier, New Plymouth or Wellington
Westport and Wellington
Christchurch and Auckland,
Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier, New Plymouth,
Palmerston North or Wellington
Timaru and Wellington
Queenstown and Auckland,
Rotorua or Wellington
Dunedin and Auckland,
Palmerston North or Wellington
Invercargill and Wellington
Air New Zealand operates a
mix of jet and commuter flights.
More details can be found on
New Zealand's website.
Air2There is a tiny airline
that offers service (in tiny single propeller driven planes)
between Wellington and Blenheim and between Paraparaumu and
either Blenheim or Nelson. You have a 15kg/33lb luggage
More details on
Golden Bay Air
The smallest of all the
airlines listed, this airline operates 50 minute flights,
primarily only between Wellington and Takaka, in Golden Bay, to
the west of Nelson, in small single propeller driven planes.
You would have either a 10kg or 20 kg (22/44 lb) luggage
Jetstar is a Qantas
subsidiary airline, and operates skeletal domestic service in
New Zealand between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and
Queenstown (as well as flights between various eastern
Australian cities and Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown).
All planes are twin engined jets.
More details are on
One notable feature of
Jetstar is their price guarantee where they guarantee to meet
and even beat the lowest applicable competing fare.
If you see any reference to
the Origin Pacific airline, this is out of date. The
airline ceased operations in 2006.
Pacific Blue is a subsidiary
of Australian airline, Virgin Blue.
For three years from late
2007 through late 2010 it operated domestic services in New
Zealand too, but the pressures of intense competition between
three major domestic airlines in a tiny country of barely 4
million people saw the airline cease operations in NZ after
apparently losing considerable money.
So if you see references to
Pacific Blue as a domestic NZ airline, that too is out of date.
The airline still operates
flights between NZ and Australia.
This is a tiny airline based
in Picton which operates flights between Wellington and either
Picton, Blenheim or Nelson. It has three main planes it
uses - single engine, propeller driven 13 seater Cessna
The flight is short and on a
nice day can be extremely scenic and beautiful because you're at
low altitudes and the planes have high wings, above your
windows, so you are sure of great views.
On a not so nice day, the
flight will be rough and bumpy and unpleasant.
It takes about 25 minutes to
fly between Wellington and either Picton or Blenheim, and 40
minutes to fly between Wellington and Nelson.
Sounds Air allows 33lbs
(15kg) of luggage free per passenger, and more than that may be
charged for, and they do not guarantee they can always accept
For more information
Click the links in the top
right of this page for additional helpful information about
travel to and in New Zealand.
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21 Jan 2011, last update
30 May 2021