If you have two weeks or more to visit New Zealand you should definitely visit both islands as they are every different in climate, culture, geography and scenery and the activities you can experience. However, if you only have one week to travel around New Zealand, you're best choosing one island rather than stretching yourself so thinly you don’t do justice to either. 

But regardless of which island you choose you will have an incredible time. New Zealand is a hospitable country, sparsely populated by world standards, with outstanding scenery and an extensive menu of activities, many of which involve the outdoors. 

So, which is better – the North or the South Island? 

 

The answer really depends on what kind of activities you are interested in doing.

Rather than telling you one island is better than the other, we have compiled what we think are the highlights of both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, to help you decide which island to visit, if you can’t visit both. Don't hesitate to contact our experienced tour planners for help putting together the ideal Itinerary thats just for you.

Six reasons why you should travel to the North Island

 

1.    If you are looking for warmer temperatures and beaches, the North Island is for you.
If you're looking for warmer weather and accessible beaches the North Island is for you. Throughout the year, the North Island is much warmer than the South Island. North of Auckland in the Bay of Islands where you'll enjoy a sub-tropical climate that is even warm during the winter months. The Coromandel Peninsula is also famous for its many wonderful beaches.

2.    If you're looking to experience New Zealand's famous geothermal activity, the North Island is for you.
The North Island is famous for its geothermal activity brought about after two tectonic plates collided millions of years ago- the Australian and the Pacific plates. 

Check out the volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park; Mount Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. All three mountains can be climbed in the summer months, but make sure you are well prepared as the alpine conditions can change quickly. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the world’s great day walks.

The geothermal area stretches as far as the Coromandel Peninsula were at Hot Water beach you can dig yourself a hot water pool in the sand from the underground springs.

3.    If you want to experience our Maori culture, the North Island is for you.
The North Island Maori population has always been significantly larger than that of the South Island. For this reason, the north offers more opportunities to experience the Maori cultural performances as well as visiting a Marae (traditional Māori meeting place and their home) and eat a hangi (traditional Māori food cooked using heated rocks in a pit oven). 

If you are keen to learn about Maori culture visit Rotorua and Waitangi. Rotorua is a hub of ‘Māoridom’ (Maori culture) with nearly 40 percent of its population identifying themselves as Māori. 

Waitangi is a place of great significance for New Zealand as it was here the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and the Maori tribes was agreed. It enabled the Pākehā (New Zealanders who are of European descent) and the Maori people to live together under a common set of laws.

You can also visit New Zealand's National Museum - Te Papa in New Zealand’s capital city Wellington to learn more about Maori culture.

4. If you want to experience New Zealand’s exciting cities, the North Island is for you.
If you're keen on spending some time in big cities, then the North Island is right for you.  Over 70% of New Zealand's four million people lives in the North Island with over 30% of them living in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. 

Auckland and Wellington are two incredibly diverse harbour cities, each offering world class restaurants, arts and culture. They're distinctly New Zealand and are only a stones-throw away from beaches, hiking trails and stunning landscape.

5.  If you want to experience New Zealand’s wineries and vineyards, the North Island is for you.
The Hawkes Bay is home to New Zealand’s oldest vineyards and is the second largest wine region in the country with over 80 wineries, many of which are open to the public for tastings. A number of the vineyards have award-wining restaurants where you can taste the local artisan produce matched with local wines.
As well as the Hawkes Bay the South Island has a number of excellent wine regions too, including Marlborough and Central Otago.

6. If you want to experience Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, the North Island is for you.
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were filmed all over New Zealand, but there are two locations you must see if you are a fan. Just out of Matamata on the rolling hills is a farm with 39 hobbit-holes, the Hobbiton Village Movie Set built for the Hobbit trilogy. In addition, the Weta Workshop on Wellington is where much of the digital effects for the films occurred.

North Island NZ

Six Reasons You Should Travel the South Island

 

1.    If you want to experience mountains, the South Island is for you. 
The Southern landscape is dominated by the Southern Alps stretching 500 kilometres down the spine of the South Island from the Nelson Lakes National Park to Milford Sound.
The highest mountains in New Zealand in Mount Cook and is in the middle of the Southern Alps in the Mount Cook National Park. It was here Sir Edmund Hillary trained before conquering Mount Everest. The Tasman Glacier is also worth exploring.

2.    If you're looking to experience nature, wide open spaces and hike (or tramp as we say) in New Zealand, the South Island is for you.
If you're lucky enough to have travelled in the North Island before the South Island, you'll immediately feel like you're in a different place. It moves a bit slower, there’s less traffic on the roads and far less people. The South Island is bigger than the North Island, but with only a third of the population. So if you're looking for some tranquillity you're more likely to find it down here.

Some of the best multi-day Great Walks are in the South Island - the Routeburn Track, the Milford Track and the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. They are all distinctly unique and all stunning. There are a number of ways you can do these walks, either freedom walking staying in basic huts or with arranged accommodation and a guide.

As well as these great walks there are literally hundreds of day walks all over New Zealand in our National Parks and Regional Parks. 

3.     If you want to experience adventure sports, the South Island is definitely for you.
Queenstown is the "Adventure Capital of the World," with activities for the fearless. If skydiving, bungy jumping, paragliding, white water rafting or jet boating are on your bucket list you need to get there.
Destinations like Skippers Canyon, Glenorchy, Kawarau River and Milford are just a few of the incredible locations you can reach from Queenstown by helicopter, jet boat or a small plane.
    
4.    If you're coming to New Zealand to ski, the South Island is for you.
The South Island is New Zealand’s most popular ski destination with four epic mountains in the Queenstown region as well as several ski fields in the Canterbury region. Queenstown is a happening ski town in the winter with great après ski ambience.

5.    If you like fiords and sounds, the South Island is for you.
The South Island has some impressive fiords and sounds. When travelling from the North to the South Island on the Interisland Ferry you will pass through the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound as you approach Picton. It is part of the greater Marlborough Sounds.

Further south, the famous Milford Sound is in the Fiordland National Park. This can be explored by way of a nature cruise, kayaking, scenic flights or an overnight cruise. More remote is Doubtful Sound, a hidden gem that can be enjoyed on a day or overnight cruise.

6.    If you're coming to see New Zealand’s to see our lakes, the South Island is for you.
There is no shortage of beautiful lakes in New Zealand, with the largest being Lake Taupo in the North Island, yet the South Island has eight of ten biggest lakes in New Zealand.
Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu is worth a cruise, with an expedition up to the Walter Peak High Country Farm to get a taste of a New Zealand farming.

Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki in the MacKenzie Country are both glacial lakes with a remarkable turquoise colour, due to the minute particles of glacial rock suspended in the water.

These are just a few of the brilliant places and activities you will discover in New Zealand’s North and South Islands so make a decision and start ticking things off your bucket list.

Beautiful South Island

Since 2001 we’ve been helping visitors plan their dream New Zealand holiday. We aim to make visiting our beautiful land effortless. Let our expert holiday planners put together an itinerary for you, no obligation FREE of charge, or get some friendly advice on what small group tour would suit - Just follow the link and answer a few brief questions.