Everything you need to know about taking a rental car on the Cook Strait ferries

Some ferry companies will let you take a hire car between the North Island and South Island while others won’t. Find out everything you need to know and sail safe in the knowledge that you’ll make it across the Cook Strait.

So, you’ve got your accommodation, activities and itinerary sorted. You’re well on your way to having your New Zealand adventure finalised.

But did you know, some rental cars aren’t allowed on the Cook Strait ferries?

If your rental car fits into this category, you’ll need to drop the car off in either Picton or Wellington, before travelling as a foot passenger.

However, many cars are allowed on board Interislander and Bluebridge (the two companies servicing the Cook Strait), so it’s easy to take your rental car with you – just as long as you know who to book through.

Blue and white Bluebridge ferry sailing between the North and South Island. Beautiful water and hills.

How to cross the Cook Strait ferry with a rental car

Rental cars that are allowed on the Cook Strait ferries

Most rental cars are allowed to travel on the Cook Strait ferries.

These include:

  • Ace Rentals (if you are returning to the original island of pick-up)
  • APEX Car Rental
  • Avis Rental Cars
  • Budget Rental Cars
  • Enterprise
  • Ezi Car Rental
  • Go Rentals
  • Mode Rentals
  • Omega Rental Cars
  • Scotties Rental Cars
  • Snap Rentals
  • Sixt Rental Cars

If you book one of these rental cars, simply purchase the appropriate ferry ticket.

Choose one that covers your vehicle and any additional passengers.

On the day, you’ll drive on board the ferry, before making your way up to the passenger area for the duration of the sailing.

How to make a booking online when you don’t know the details of your rental vehicle

When booking online through Bluebridge, simply choose the ‘I do not know vehicle registration’ box.

When you receive the details of your rental car you’ll need to update your booking details.

Rental car companies do not allow their vehicles to travel onboard the ship

Some rental car companies do not allow their rental cars to travel on the Cook Strait ferries.

If you book one of these cars, you will need to drop your car off before getting on the ferry in Picton or Wellington, before sailing as a foot passenger.

When you arrive on the other island, you’ll collect a new rental car for the rest of your travels.

You will need to swap cars between the North and South Island if you book with:

  • Ace rentals (if you aren’t returning to the original island of pick-up)
  • Dollar Car Rental
  • Europcar
  • Hertz
  • Thrifty

⚠️ What happens if I try to take my unapproved rental car on the ferry?

Your rental car company will charge you a fine and the insurance on your car may become invalidated.

Travelling as a foot passenger on Bluebridge or Interislander

If travelling by foot, you’ll check in (much like you would on a flight) one hour before departure.

Large bags will be loaded to the ferry on your behalf and you’ll be invited to board your ship, ready to set sail.

Then, once on the other side of the strait, you’ll head to the rental car office to pick up a new car again.

The pros and cons of taking your rental car on the ferry vs. travelling by foot

Take a rental on the ferry

  • No need to unpack/repack
  • Take lots of gear with you – anything that will fit in your car
  • Often more expensive
  • Limits the companies you can hire from.

Travel by foot & swap cars

  • Often more affordable
  • Board the ferry first
  • Limited baggage allowance
  • Unpack/repack your car
  • Refuel and check in for your car a second time.

Though the decision is yours, we generally recommend travelling with your rental car across the Cook Strait.

We find most people appreciate the convenience of hanging onto the same car for the whole trip.

But, whatever you choose to do, you now know what you’re able to do with each rental car company.

This information was correct at the time of writing this article. To be safe, we suggest confirming this information with your rental car company.

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