Across our island nation, taking advantage of a diverse armada of ferries – big and small – is a great way to explore New Zealand. There’s often the opportunity to combine ferry crossings with biking or hiking.
Kohukohu to Rāwene, Hokianga Harbour
Making the 15-minute crossing from near Kohukohu to Rāwene, this simple drive-on/drive-off ferry is a good way to take in New Zealand’s fourth-biggest harbour. Bookend the journey with one of Northland’s best pies at the Koke Cafe at the Kohukohu Hotel followed by a leisurely exploration of Rāwene’s art galleries and historic 19th-century streetscape. Coffee and cake at Rāwene’s Boatshed Cafe is mandatory before continuing south on State Highway 12 to Opononi.
Half Moon Bay to Waiheke Island, Auckland
‘Slow Down. You’re Here’. There’s a sign that welcomes arrivals but most visitors on the car ferries will have already decompressed from city life on the relaxed one-hour journey from Half Moon Bay, or hour-plus from the city. Grab a coffee from the onboard cafe and secure a spot outside to watch the islands of the Hauraki Gulf roll by.
Auckland to Coromandel Town, Coromandel Peninsula
Crossing the Firth of Thames, it’s a two-hour journey from Auckland’s Ferry Building to Te Kouma on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula. From there it’s a quick 15-minute journey by shuttle bus on to Coromandel Town. For lunch, order the cilbir (Turkish eggs) at the Wharf Road cafe before experiencing the bush railway and zipline at Driving Creek on the outskirts of town. A beer at Coromandel’s historic Star & Garter pub completes a great day out before heading back to Auckland.
Whitianga to Ferry Landing, Coromandel Peninsula
Jump on the five-minute passenger ferry trundling across Whitianga Harbour, and it’s then an easy stroll of fewer than 20 minutes to take in brilliant Coromandel coastal scenery. Views from the Shakespeare Cliff Lookout include Mercury Bay and Cooks Beach, where the HMS Endeavour made anchor in 1769, and there’s also an up-and-down detour to Lonely Bay. For an even bigger adventure, it’s around 16km to Hahei and Cathedral Cove. An e-bike is recommended to tackle the rolling terrain. Feast on Mexican street food at Cooked in Ferry Landing before crossing back to Whitianga.
Queens’ Wharf to Days Bay, Wellington
A popular day trip from Wellington since the late 19th-century, Days Bay is reached by the East by West ferry travelling across Wellington harbour from Queens Wharf. During summer, kayaks and paddle boards can be hired from Wildfinder in Days Bay, and bikes and e-bikes are also available to ride around 2km to Eastbourne, or a further 9km out along the 4WD road to the Pencarrow Heads lighthouse. A few ferries each day also stop at Matiu/Somes Island, a DoC-managed wildlife reserve with good walking tracks. You’ll need around two to three hours to explore the island.
Leaving Wellington, Cook Strait ferries pass by both Pencarrow Head and Matiu/Somes Island, but the best reasons for booking a daytime crossing feature later in the journey. After crossing Cook Strait and gliding past Arapawa Island, ferries enter the Marlborough Sounds to negotiate a spectacular maze of forested islands, and following a final sharp turn to port around rugged Dieffenbach Point, it’s then a relaxed cruise along sheltered Grove Arm to Picton. Welcome to the South Island.
Lyttelton to Quail Island, Banks Peninsula
From the bohemian harbourside vibe of Lyttelton, catch 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. Now the island known to Māori as Ōtamahua is a protected reserve with regenerating populations of native New Zealand birds and rare white-flippered little blue penguins. A well-maintained 4.5km loop walking trail showcases the best of Ōtamahua’s history and landscape.
Portobello to Port Chalmers, Otago Peninsula
Rent an e-bike from Dunedin eBike Hire (dunedinebike.co.nz) and take advantage of the Port to Port Ferry to complete a journey along both sides of Otago Harbour. Cycle trails link central Dunedin to Portobello on the harbour’s southern shore – count on a journey of around 19km – before crossing the harbour by ferry to Port Chalmers, and a ride of around 12km back along the harbour’s northern shore to the city.
Bluff to Stewart Island
Crossing 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 escape the shelter of Bluff Harbour past Stirling Point, and continue across often capricious seas refreshed by southern breezes seemingly blowing in from the South Pole. Once on Rakiura (Stewart Island), the brief hop across to the bird sanctuary of Ulva Island is always more relaxing.