The ferries that link mainland New Zealand and Stewart Island are catamarans for passengers only. We booked it well in advance in order to really get there on the day we had booked accommodation for.
Catamarans surely are rather stable boats but Foveaux Strait is known to be very rough very often. So if you have a sensitive stomach and are prone to seasickness it might be more sensible to take the airplane from Invercargill.
I even feel more inclined to recommend this because the sea being extraordinarily quiet, our crossing felt like shipping through much higher waves. I am sure sensitive people already get seasick on such a journey although no-one had problems on our trip. However, it was next to impossible to walk on the boat and it was highly recommended to stay seated.
The journey takes one hour only. (Well, it can be long in rough conditions…)
The operator is Stewart Island Experience which is part of RealJourneys.
The staff in Bluff (ladies at the counter) were some of the friendliest and helpful people you will meet in New Zealand.
There are three daily departures from Bluff at 9.30am, 11am and 5pm
Departures from Stewart Island at 8am and 3.30 pm in summer, and at 6pm during daylight saving (until 31 March), otherwise at 5pm, and in winter at 3pm/3.30pm.
Best you check out the daily schedules, they do not vary much.
Price (as March 2012): NZ$ 69 (one way), children NZ$ 34.50
Stewart Island Experience
PO Box 89, Stewart Island, NZ
Ph: +64 (0)3 212 7660
Fax: +64 (0)3 212 8377
NZ Freephone 0800 000 511
Public transport/bus connections
There are no public buses in Bluff. The only way for people without car to get to Invercargill and beyond is the suttle service provided by RealJourneys. They operate coach connections from
Queenstown, Te Anau and Invercargill to Bluff.
You cannot miss this terminal even if you take the first left turn to the port and Maritime Museum – because the Foreshore Road goes straight down to the ferry terminal. Further down the main street (Gore Street) on which you automatically drive when you come from Invercargill there is a sign which leads you straight down to the terminal.
There is a secure car park to the left – which costs only a few cents more than the unsecured carpark closer to the terminal. I think the walk is less than one hundred metres.
One day’s parking cost NZ$ 8 (as February 2012), three days was NZ$ 22.
You can book carparking (see on RealJourney's resp. the Stewart Island Experience website) and is recommended - but on the ferry booking website they say it is not necessary. We did not book and there were plenty of parking spaces available.
The ferry transports passengers only, no cars, so try to limit your luggage to one big and one smaller bag.