If you're planning a trip to New Zealand, you're in the right place. This post should help you decide whether the North Island or South Island is best for you. If you'd like some personalized help planning your trip, check out our FREE Travel Planning Service.
Earlier this week, I was helping someone plan an adventure in New Zealand. We had decided that a hop on, hop off bus pass would work best for them, and were in the process of finalizing their itinerary on the North Island. Everything was looking good, but all of a sudden they started questioning which island was better - the North Island or the South Island?
If you only have one week to travel around New Zealand, you're best off choosing one island. Trying to visit both will result in you constantly rushing from one place to the next, and consequently not enjoying your trip.
Regardless of which you choose, you're bound to have an incredible time. Both Islands are stunning, both cater well to travellers and both offer a huge range of scenery, activities, tours, hikes and things to do.
So, which is better - the North Island or the South Island? The answer really depends on what kind of a trip you're looking for and what you're interested in doing while travelling New Zealand. Rather than telling you one island is better than the other, I'll instead give you 5 Reasons Why You Should Travel the North Island and 5 Reasons Why You Should Travel the South Island.
5 Reasons You Should Travel the North Island
1. If you're looking for warmer temperatures and accessible beaches, the North Island is for you. Throughout the year, the North Island is much warmer than the South Island. If you opt to venture up to the Bay of Islands, you'll enjoy a sub-tropical climate that is even warm during the winter months (check out the Bay of Islands adventure tour).
There are some stunning and windswept beaches on the South Island, but thanks to the ocean currents that affect the North Island, the water stays warmer throughout the year.
2. If you're looking to experience New Zealand's famous geothermal activity, you'll want to travel the North Island. New Zealand's geological characteristics were brought about after two tectonic plates collided - the Australian and the Pacific. Thanks to this event millions of years ago, New Zealand features a mountainous spine on the South Island as well as active volcanoes and other geothermic activity on the North Island.
If you want to experience this geothermic activity - the North Island is for you. Check out the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park in Ruapehu, the hot pools and bubbling mud spas of Rotorua and the famous Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel.
3. If you want to experience native New Zealand Maori culture, you should travel the North Island. The majority of New Zealand's native Maori population lives on the North Island, and this is where you can more readily attend cultural performances or visit a Marae and eat a hangi.
The treaty between the Maori and the Pākehā (New Zealanders who are of European descent) was signed in Northland at Waitangi, and there's much to experience at the treaty grounds. You can also visit New Zealand's National Museum - Te Papa - in Wellington to learn more about Maori culture.
4. Speaking of Wellington, 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 4 million or so population lives on the North Island, and over 30% of them live in Auckland - its biggest city. Auckland and Wellington are two incredibly diverse cities, and each offer world class restaurants, arts and culture. They're distinctly New Zealand, and as such are only a stones throw away from beaches, hiking trails and stunning landscapes - so a good mix of city and scenery too.
5. If you want to experience New Zealand by mountain bike, you should travel to the North Island. There are some incredible cycle trails and mountain bike trails all around New Zealand, but the best are on the North Island.
The New Zealand Cycle Trail network is a series of multi-day rides scattered about New Zealand. They take in some of the best scenery in New Zealand, and some of the best are on the North Island - the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail, the Timber Trail, the Westland Wilderness Trail and more. On top of that, Rotorua and Taupo are home to some of the best mountain biking in New Zealand.
No doubt there are some great trails on the South Island (looking at you Queenstown), but the North Island takes the cake.
Okay, that's the North Island covered - now let's talk about Te Waipounamu - the South Island.
1. If you fancy yourself a mountain man (or woman), the South Island is for you. The Southern Alps split New Zealand's South Island down the middle - these peaks are snow-capped throughout the year, and offer up heaps of photo opportunities and chances for getting up close and personal with some truly remarkable landscapes.
The North Island has some volcanic mountains in Tongariro National Park, but they don't begin to compare with the mountains of the Southern Alps.
2. Speaking of mountains, if you want to do hiking (or tramping as we say) in New Zealand, you should absolutely head to the South Island. Some of the best multi-day Great Walks are on the South Island - the Routeburn Track, the Milford Track and the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. They are all distinctly unique, and all bloody stunning (check out the highlights from each on this blog post).
Outside of these Great Walks, there are exceptional day hikes around the South Island. The hike to Sealy Tarns on the way to Mueller Hut and the walk up Ben Lomond in Queenstown stand out, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Speaking of icebergs, check out the walk to Tasman Lake in Mt Cook National Park.
3. Adventure sports are on offer all around New Zealand, but there seem to be more to choose from on the South Island. Queenstown bills itself the "Adventure Capital of the World," and while visiting you could skydive with NZONE, bungy jump, go paragliding, go white water rafting or cruise around New Zealand's rivers on a jet boat. And that's only the start of the list.
4. If you're looking to get away from it all, you'll have more luck on the South Island. Only about 1/3 of New Zealand's population lives on the South Island, so there is no shortage of wide open spaces to explore.
If you're lucky enough to travel the North and the South Island, after crossing the Cook Strait and arriving on the South Island, you'll immediately feel like you're in a different place. Things move a bit slower down here, there's less traffic on the roads and (dare I say it), the locals are just a bit more friendly.
The South Island is bigger than the North Island and there's less people -- so if you're looking for some tranquillity, you're more likely to find it down here.
5. If you're coming to New Zealand on a ski holiday, the South Island has more ski fields to choose from. I won't say they're better, as New Zealand's ski fields are all distinctly different, but there are certainly more to choose from on the South Island. If you based yourself in Queenstown, you'd have three epic mountains within only an hours drive. Or better yet, check out the South Island Snow Tour to experience six mountains in seven days.
Hopefully this provides a bit of insight to help you choose which island is right for you. Check out some of our New Zealand itineraries, small group tours or backpacker bus passes for ideas on how to get around New Zealand. Any questions? Don't hesitate to get in touch and we can help you plan your trip through our free Travel Planning Service.