Sunday, 22 March 2020

Bluebridge- Crossing Cook Strait


I've had quite a number of queries in the last few days with regards to our Cook Strait crossing so I thought I'd do a blog on our recent trip with Bluebridge Ferries. We crossed from Wellington to Picton on the 8am sailing last Thursday, 19 March.

We're making our way south again for winter, this time we'll be basing ourselves in Twizel in the Mackenzie District. We stayed at a very busy Plimmerton NZMCA Park for two nights while waiting for our sailing. Plimmerton is a good base to leave from, it's a 26km, 30 minute drive along the motorway (non-rush hour) to the ferry terminal.

NZMCA Members parked in the centre overnight
The NZMCA park is large and there's plenty of space for all the comings and goings as people travel up and down the country. If the parking spaces are taken up around the perimeter, you can park in the centre as long as you keep the gate and dump station clear.

Sunrise over the capitol
Our check-in was at 7am and in usual Evan's style we departed well in advance at 5:45am giving us some 'just in case' time. The 'just in case' went against us this time. As we were cruising along the near empty motorway we received a text from Bluebridge advising us that there was a 2 hour delay in departure which we later found out was due to weather conditions affecting previous sailings.

Of course this isn't a problem for those of us that have our homes on our back. We can make a hot drink, read the daily news, have breakfast (or lunch or dinner) while we wait in line.  We weren't the first in line but once we'd checked in, and being a bigger rig than most, we were directed to park at the start of Lane 1. All the other early birds and new arrivals were directed to the other side of the terminal to wait in line (see photo above).

It didn't seem too long before our ferry arrived into Wellington and the unloading began. We turned our gas bottle off (as everyone should when crossing the Strait), re-checked everything was ship-shape inside the van and then waited patiently inside the Ranger for the nod to move forward.

After the walk-on passengers had been escorted on board and several cars, smaller campervans & caravans had been loaded ahead of us, it was time for us to drive on following the excellent directions given to us by several high-viz Bluebridge crew along the way. Once in the hold everyone was turned around in the large turning bay at front of the ship and lined up facing the rear, for an easy drive off at the other end. Large stock and freight trucks had already been parked on the top deck. 

We had booked our crossing 10 days prior to sailing and had decided to book a private cabin this time which turned out to be fortuitous considering this fast changing world we're currently living in. And we were so pleased we did, at $40 a double with an ensuite toilet & shower, fresh towels and linen and free wi-fi, the cabin provided a nice little bolthole to retire to for the three and half hour journey. There are also single and family cabins available.

And as luck would have it we were in the most forward cabin, right in the centre of the ship. For me this was an excellent bonus because as a fair weather sailor, I like to see where we're going not we're we've been or even not see at all! It's just a pity there weren't little window wipers that you could turn on to wash away the salt from the previous sailings. 

Right on time (the new sailing time that is) we pulled away from Wellington and headed across the harbour. 

I left David relaxing in the cabin and checked out the facilities downstairs. Due to the recent travel restrictions there weren't too many people onboard although I suspect going by the number of motorhomes & caravans we saw later around the top of the South Island there would be a few more onboard crossing the other way, from Picton to Wellington.

Bluebridge have two ferries, the Strait Feronia which we were travelling on and the Straitsman which we pass just before we leave Wellington Harbour.

Once we are in Cook Strait I retired to our cabin, we'd had an early start and I thought I'd make the most of it and have a rest until we reach the other side. It was a relatively smooth crossing although the wind was quite strong. 

If you are at all worried about rough weather check the long range forecasts and select a day when there's either no wind (rare given that Wellington is known as the windy city) or there's a Northerly blowing, this flattens out the waves. If you are a fair weather sailor like me, then it's the Southerlies you need to watch out for. An early morning sailing can also be relatively smooth as you'll be well inside the Sounds or harbour before the afternoon sea breeze kicks in.

I moved to the front viewing area to watch as we approached the entrance to Tory Channel; East Head on Arapawa Island is on the right & West Head on the left (click to enlarge the photo & look for the small white lighthouse) is part of mainland Marlborough Sounds.

A few passengers; each group keeping a respectable distance from others- it certainly feels like there's an elephant in the room here- arrive to watch as we enter the Channel too. Arapawa Homestead is directly in front of us and I hear someone say there must be a road out here. No there are no roads, those are farm tracks, it's an island and the only way there is by boat.

I follow the signs and stairways up to the top viewing deck where there are fabulous views in front and down both sides of the Channel. 

There's even fewer people up on the top deck, it's breezy but warm in the sun.

The top deck overlooks the stern of the boat and the upper vehicle deck where there are very few trucks parked on this sailing. We leave the Channel entrance in our wake... we cruise past several salmon and mussel farms...

...and numerous secluded houses and holiday homes tucked into calm little bays & coves along the way.

...and then we turn into Queen Charlotte Sound and head south up the Sound...

...passing Waikawa first- a small settlement with a large marina- just over the hill from Picton. Passengers near me ask if that is Picton. 'No' I tell them, that's around that lower green headland centre left.

We sail around the point and directly ahead of us is Picton (as predicted). Crewmen move out onto the bow to ready the boat for docking.

Picton is a small picturesque seaside town tucked in below the surrounding hillsides and nestled on the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound. It's also the arrival point for many visitors to the beautiful South Island.

We head directly for Port Marlborough and the ferry terminal.

The Strait Feronia spins around and...

...we back in nicely along the wharf. The captain has obviously done this before. The call has been made to move to the vehicle decks and I have to quickly head down five flights of stairs...

...catching up with David on the last stairway before we make our way back to the rig.

And then without further ado, we're driving off, back onto familiar soil and our new home island. 

It's hard not to recommend Bluebridge, they run a slick operation with friendly and helpful staff and good systems in place which makes for a stress-free crossing. Thank you Bluebridge for another smooth sailing.

I know a few of my readers have asked about Bluebridge's pet policy. Pets are welcome on Bluebridge ferries, they can either be booked into one of the kennels or, as most travellers prefer, left in their vehicle. But please let Bluebridge know when you check in so that you can be given a 'Pets Onboard' mirror dangler. Please also read this information and the crew will park your vehicle in a well ventilated spot that is sheltered from the sun.

Bluebridge Key Facts-
  • Pets are welcome on Bluebridge 
  •  44 sailings a week
  • Around 300,000 passengers cross the Cook Strait with Bluebridge every year.
  • Ships have the capacity for around 400 passengers each (check this link for regular Covid-19 updates)
  • Sail four times a day Wellington to Picton including a 2.30am overnight sailing- and three times a day from Picton to Wellington
  • Free wi-fi, movies and kids packs on board

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