Travelling in New Zealand: North Island or South Island?
Is the North Island or the South Island better? I am going to New Zealand for three weeks, which island should I visit? Is the North Island or South Island more beautiful? I often hear these kind of questions, so I decided to create this blog to hopefully help you make this decision. I will already say this, both islands are beautiful and absolutely worth visiting! If you are going to New Zealand for more than 3 weeks, I recommend visiting both islands.
The North Island is known for its volcanic activities, Maori culture, cosmopolitan cities and warm weather. The North Island is the most densely populated island in New Zealand, with about three quarters of the inhabitants living there.
The volcanic activities can be seen (and smelled) in many places on the North Island. Rotorua is the most famous place for this, here you will find a thermal wonderland with geysers, mud pools and a large geothermal park. Tongariro National Park near Taupo is another place where you can admire the volcanic activities. This can be done, for example, by walking the Tongariro crossing, one of the most beautiful day hikes in New Zealand. Another option is to visit White Island, you can take a helicopter flight and walk on the island. White Island is home to one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes.
You can taste the Maori culture on both islands, but on the North Island it is just a bit easier. In the north of the island you will find the Waitangi Treaty Ground, this is the place where the first treaty between the English and the Maori was signed. This is now a museum where you can enjoy Maori performances, art galleries, sculpture studios and traditional Maori-Waka (canoe). Rotorua is the place where you can experience a traditional evening. There are several tours that take you to a local village. There you can enjoy a delicious traditional meal combined with song and dance. You will also hear local folktales and myths and see how they live. Finally, I recommend the Te Papa museum. Here you can (among other things) learn a lot about the Maori culture and it is presented in an interactive and fun way.
Eight of the ten largest cities in New Zealand are located on the North Island. The largest city, Auckland and the capital city, Wellington are the two best known and largest cities among them. In addition to these two cities, Hamilton, Tauranga, Lower Hutt, Palmerston North and Napier are also larger cities on the North Island. In these cities you have of course, many shopping opportunities, cafes and restaurants, but it is also the right place for art and culture. Not only can you find art galleries and museums, street art is also very popular in New Zealand. So make sure to keep your eyes open!
The North Island of New Zealand has a sub-tropical climate, it is always a bit warmer than the South Island and the more north you go, the warmer it gets. Their seasons are the opposite of what we have in Europe, their hottest months are January and February and the coldest July and August. The winter months are very mild in the north, while the South Island has a lot of snow, (there is, however, also one ski area on the North Island). Spending the summer months on the North Island is a very good option as there are so many summer activities to do.
Destinations on the North Island
The South Island is known for its rugged nature, adrenaline activities, spotting marine animals and fantastic hiking. The largest and best known cities on the South Island are Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown.
You cannot miss the rugged nature on the South Island. From high mountains and blue lakes to forests and glaciers. The most famous location on the South Island in terms of nature is Milford Sound. This world famous fjord is easily accessible and totally worth visiting. In fact, the route to Milford Sound is even beautiful! New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt cook, is also located on the South Island. And did you know that the most accessible glaciers in the world can also be found here? They are Fox Glacier and Franz Josef glacier, both located on the West Coast on the South Island. And then the lakes … make sure to visit Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, these are the bluest lakes I’ve ever seen and they are very impressive.
The South Island, and specifically Queenstown, is known for its adrenaline activities. Queenstown is also known as “adrenaline capital of the world”. Think of activities such as skydiving, bungee jumping, rafting, jet boat tours, zip lining and lugeing. Most of these activities can also be done on the North Island, but nowhere else besides Queenstown you will find so many adrenaline activities together. Book your adrenaline activity here.
Spot marine animals
The South Island is a perfect place to spot marine animals and even swim with them. You can see dolphins, seals, sea lions, penguins and whales on/around the South Island. Some of these animals, such as the dolphins, can also be seen around the North Island. The best places to see these animals are Kaikoura, Akaroa, Milford Sound, and Stewart Island. In Kaikoura and Akaroa it is possible to swim with dolphins (in their natural environment) and in Kaikoura it is even possible to swim with seals. Read more about marine animals in New Zealand here.
Personally, I think hiking is the best way to enjoy all the fantastic nature on the South Island. There are hikes in all shapes and sizes. You can do walks of half an hour on flat terrain, but also multi-day hikes through the mountains and everything in between. There are also beach areas such as Abel Tasman where you can hike. Arthur’s Pass is seen as a hiker’s paradise with many options in beautiful surroundings. Take a look at these other blogs about my 5 favorite day hikes in New Zealand, the 10 Great Walks and the Te Araroa trail.