After reading reviews about the Interislander and Bluebridge ferry services we decided that Bluebridge seemed a bit of a budget option and booked ourselves along with our rental car on the Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton at 9am on a Saturday morning. Our fully-refundable, fully-changeable ticket cost us approximately $330NZ.
I questioned whether we would be taking the rental on the ferry since I had read that most rental agencies have you drop off one car at the ferry terminal and have you pick up another one on the other side. Tom was sure that we needed to book the car, too. When we picked up the rental car Tom asked about dropping off the car and to our surprise we would not need a space for the car on the ferry.
A call to Interislander caused a bit of chaos. The operator said if we don’t have the car with us we can’t go at all as our ticket is for two adults and a car. They only ticket they had left for Saturday was a 6pm sailing which gets us into Picton at 9pm. This puts us behind schedule by 9 hours. Not that we really had a schedule, no reservations had been made for that night so we could stay in Picton. Instead of booking the 6pm sailing we just left them as they were and talked about our options. One call to Bluebridge sorted everything out for us. They had six seats still available for their 9am sailing for Saturday morning, and they were only $45NZ each. We’ll take them! Tom cancelled our tickets on Interislander and we got a full refund.
Dropping the car off made for an interesting time. Since Bluebridge is relatively new to carrying passengers, car rental drop-off is only available at the Interislander terminal. The two terminals aren’t too far as the crow flies, but with luggage and all of the twists and turns we didn't really have the inclination to walk. Customer Services at Bluebridge told us to catch the shuttle bus that runs between the two ferry terminals, but once we dropped the car off at the unattended Hertz lot there was no shuttle bus or any indication of when or where to catch it. Luckily a taxi drive came walking out of the terminal so we asked for a lift over to Bluebridge. He didn’t speak English well nor did he hear very well but we finally got where we needed to go. He tried to drop us off with the cargo!
Check-in was a breeze. Check-in staff took our luggage like an airline does at a check-in with a conveyor belt. We left the hotel extra early to return the car and catch the shuttle bus, but since we didn’t have to wait we had some extra time. We took a seat a few rows back at first. I love people-watching and there were some interesting folk coming in to take the ferry. We decided to move up to the front row by the window to watch preparations for the journey. As time ticked closer and closer the waiting area filled-up and there was no sign of any boarding by foot passengers or by vehicles.
After what felt like forever, foot passengers were finally called. At check-in foot passengers were given plastic sticks to use as boarding passes which we gave to an employee as we boarded. As it typically goes on the ferry, people scrambled around to find the "best seats" on the ferry. It didn’t matter much to us where we sat as long as it wasn’t too loud. It would be three hours spent on the ferry so we had to get comfortable. We ended up on level four next to where the movies played. "Raising Helen" played and then some horrible children’s sort of movie came on that almost did my head in.
Lunch on the ferry was interesting as well. Tom queued in the disorderly dining room for fish and chips and by the time he got up there they were gone and they had no idea how long it would be for more. Tom bought a sandwich and a yogurt and we shared. Hunger crept up on us again and I decided to brave it this time. I queued for fish and chips and a bowl of soup for us to share. I couldn’t carry both at the same time so I brought the soup to Tom and went back for the rest. As I came around the corner with the fish and chips and salad someone opened the door going outside and most of my lettuce flew off of the plate and scattered everywhere on the floor. I was so annoyed by all of it that I just stood there and shook my head and walked off.
The three hours went rather quickly. I took a blissful 15-minute nap before lunch. The ferry weaved through the islands of the Marlborough Sounds. The captain announced that there were little whales off to the sides of the ferry so we went to take a look. There were a pod of them swimming through the water at the side of the ferry. It was very exciting, indeed! Pictures of them just don’t do justice. You could see mountains in the distance on the South Island which only intrigued me more. I was really looking forward to the rest of our holiday—glaciers, mountains, rugged coastline and then a flight back to Auckland before returning home.
Once foot passengers were let off the ferry we boarded three rickety buses over to the terminal. We then had to retrieve our luggage that had been checked. When it finally arrived it was all stacked into the back of a truck that was unloaded haphazardly. People stood around waiting and as they pulled off bags people rushed up to get their bags. People tripped over each other and others were almost hit by luggage coming out of the truck. Of course we were early to the terminal so our bags sat right at the back. Once they finally came out we started looking for the car rental agency. Once again—nothing located at this terminal. A bus driver shouted out that anyone needing a lift to town or to car rentals needed to come with him on the rickety bus. I waited with our bags while Tom went over to the Interislander terminal to Hertz to get our car. It didn’t take him long to pick me up in a Toyota Avensis. Tom reserved a room for us in Hokitika for the night on the Internet the night before (once our ferry problems were solved). This put us in a good location the next day to visit Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. We had a long drive ahead of us, so off we went to explore the south island.
**Fares are set on a flat rate for year round travel. NZ$45 per adult, NZ$25 per child, NZ$120 per car and NZ$10 per bicycle for 2006.
**Refunds are not allowed, but rescheduling your trip is allowed within three months of your original booking date.
**The journey on Bluebridge from island to island is three hours and twenty minutes.
**Bluebridge had one ship, Santa Regina, when we sailed with them. A second ship, Monte Stello, was due to enter service late 2006.
**Bluebridge started passenger services in 2003 with its ship Santa Regina that came from France where it used to sail between Marseilles and Corsica on overnight journeys.
**Each foot passenger as allowed 30kg of luggage and after that it is NZ$10 per item.