Travel Tips: Discover New Zealand by Ferry

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To travel

Relax from the city life on a relaxed 1-hour trip from Half Moon Bay to Waiheke Island. Photo / 123RF

All over our island nation, enjoying a diverse armada of ferries – large and small – is a great way to explore New Zealand. It is often possible to combine ferry crossings with cycling or hiking.

north island

Kohukohu to Rāwene, port of Hokianga

Making the 15-minute crossing from near Kohukohu to Rāwene, this simple ferry with or without a car is a good way to visit New Zealand’s fourth largest port. End the trip with one of Northland’s best pies at the Kohukohu Hotel’s Koke Cafe, followed by a leisurely exploration of Rāwene’s art galleries and historic 19th-century streetscape. Coffee and cake at Rāwene’s Boatshed Cafe are mandatory before continuing south on State Highway 12 to Opononi.

From Half Moon Bay to Waiheke Island, Auckland

‘To slow down. You are here’. There’s a sign welcoming arrivals, but most ferry visitors will have already decompressed from the city life on the relaxed hour-long drive from Half Moon Bay, or over an hour from town. Grab a coffee at the onboard cafe and reserve a spot outside to watch the islands of the Hauraki Gulf pass by.

Auckland to Coromandel Town, Coromandel Peninsula

Crossing the Firth of Thames is a two hour journey from the Auckland Ferry Building to Te Kouma on the west side of the Coromandel Peninsula. From there, it’s a 15-minute shuttle ride to Coromandel Town. For lunch, order the cilbir (Turkish eggs) at Wharf Road Cafe before experiencing the bush railroad and zipline at Driving Creek on the outskirts of town. A beer at Coromandel’s historic Star & Garter pub completes a great day before heading back to Auckland.

Whitianga to Ferry Landing, Coromandel Peninsula

Board the five-minute passenger ferry crossing Whitianga Harbor, then an easy under 20-minute ride will take you through the beautiful coastal scenery of Coromandel. Views from the Shakespeare Cliff Lookout include Mercury Bay and Cooks Beach, where HMS Endeavor anchored in 1769, and there is also an up and down detour to Lonely Bay. For an even greater adventure, it’s around 10 miles from Hahei and Cathedral Cove. An electric bike is recommended for tackling the hilly terrain. Feast on Mexican street food at Cooked in Ferry Landing before returning to Whitianga.

For an even greater adventure from the ferry, walk or cycle to Hahei and Cathedral Cove.  Photo / 123RF
For an even greater adventure from the ferry, walk or cycle to Hahei and Cathedral Cove. Photo / 123RF

Queens Wharf in Days Bay, Wellington

A popular day trip from Wellington since the late 19th century, Days Bay is accessible by the East by West ferry crossing Wellington Harbor from Queens Wharf. In the summer, kayaks and paddleboards can be hired from Wildfinder in Days Bay, and bikes and e-bikes are also available to travel approximately 2km to Eastbourne, or an additional 9km along the 4×4 route to ‘at Pencarrow Heads Lighthouse. Every day a few ferries also stop at Matiu / Somes Island, a DoC-run wildlife sanctuary with good hiking trails. It will take you around two to three hours to explore the island.

Cook Strait

Leaving Wellington, Cook Strait ferries pass both Pencarrow Head and Matiu / Somes Island, but the best reasons to book a day crossing are later in the trip. After crossing the Cook Strait and past Arapawa Island, ferries enter the Marlborough Sounds to negotiate a spectacular maze of forested islands. Welcome to the South Island.

Leaving Wellington, the Cook Strait ferries pass through a beautiful water passage before arriving in Picton.  Photo / 123RF
Leaving Wellington, the Cook Strait ferries pass through a beautiful water passage before arriving in Picton. Photo / 123RF

south island

Lyttelton to Quail Island, Banks Peninsula

From the bohemian vibe of Lyttelton Harbor, take a ferry to Quail Island. The historic island was where Antarctic explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton trained their sled dogs and ponies before their ill-fated expeditions to the South Pole. Today, the island known to the Maori as ÅŒtamahua is a protected reserve with regenerating populations of native New Zealand birds and rare small white-finned blue penguins. A well-maintained 4.5 km loop trail showcases the best of ÅŒtamahua’s history and scenery.

Portobello in Port Chalmers, Otago Peninsula

Rent an electric bike from Dunedin eBike Hire (dunedinebike.co.nz) and take advantage of the Ferry Port to take a trip to both sides of Otago Port. Cycle tracks connect central Dunedin to Portobello on the south side of the harbor – it takes around 19 km – before crossing the harbor by ferry to Port Chalmers, and a journey of around 12 km along the north shore of the port to the city.

While exploring Dunedin, cross the harbor by ferry to Bonny Port Chalmers.  Photo / 123RF
While exploring Dunedin, cross the harbor by ferry to Bonny Port Chalmers. Photo / 123RF

Bluff at Stewart Island

Crossing the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island only takes an hour, but it often feels like one of New Zealand’s great adventures. Sturdy, low-slung catamarans slip out of the shelter of Bluff Harbor past Stirling Point and continue through often capricious seas cooled by southerly breezes that seem to blow from the South Pole. Once on Rakiura (Stewart Island), the brief jump to the Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary is always more relaxing.

Check alert level restrictions and advice from the Department of Health before traveling. covid19.govt.nz


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