North vs. South: how to choose which New Zealand island to visit.

Heading to New Zealand but only have enough time to visit either the North or South Island? Here's how to decide which.

So, you’re headed to the land of the great white cloud! But, what’s that? You only have enough time to visit one of New Zealand’s fascinating islands? It’s not an easy decision that's for sure! They’re two very different places, each with their own scenery, wildlife and unique cities to discover. Obviously, you should definitely try and see both islands if you can, but with limited time, fitting in both the North and South isn’t always possible.

If you know what you want to see on your New Zealand holiday that can help to narrow it down. Focus on your ‘New Zealand’ bucket list to help make the choice. Are you interested in soaking in Milford Sound and maybe exploring Lake Wanaka? Or does cosmopolitan Auckland and the sunny Bay of Islands sound more your style? Do you want to check out geothermal Rotorua? Maybe take a soak at Hot Water Beach? Or would you rather play it cool at Franz Josef Glacier? There are a few differences between the North and South Island that can help you pick the perfect destination for you.

If you’re after a cultural fix, head to the North Island. Both islands are full of incredible history and tradition, but the North has the edge as it was the first island to be settled by the Maori. You’ll find a wealth of culture here, with plenty of museums and cultural activities available. In Rotorua, Tamaki Maori Village is a must if you want to experience a traditional hangi dinner and cultural performance. Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village is also worth a look. If you’re headed to the Bay of Islands, visit The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where a treaty was signed between the Maori and the Europeans.

The Southern Alps which span across the centre of the South Island, make it the place to go for snow fun. This mountain range contains some of New Zealand’s highest peaks.

The South is also home to Franz Josef Glacier and New Zealand’s highest peaks are found in the Southern Alps, which are stunning in themselves if you manage to see them on a glacier hike or scenic flight. With alpine scenery comes a network of braided rivers – one of only two countries in the world with braided rivers, brilliant blue glacier-fed lakes, and some of the most accessible glaciers.
there’s no doubt that the South Island has the most dramatic mountain scenery.

You can’t forget Milford Sound either, perhaps the most spectacular natural attraction in New Zealand. Embark on a cruise here and take in the sheer cliffs, pouring falls and resident marine life!

With an area called the Bay of Islands, you know the beaches in the North Island have got to be good. The Coromandel Peninsula is home to some beauties, including Hot Water Beach where you can dig your own hot tub! Cathedral Cove is another favourite that’s on many travellers’ lists. If you’re after something more secluded, Onetangi Beach on Waiheke Island is perfect. This island is just a quick ferry ride from Auckland and has plenty of gorgeous beaches to explore.

Adventure capital of the world Queenstown is in the South, so it’s only natural that this island takes the crown for adventure activities. There’s skydiving, bungee jumping, white water rafting, even canyoning and zip lining available. The hard part is choosing which activity to do!

If you still can’t decide between the two islands, consider the major attractions and highlights on each. The North is home to Hobbiton (for all Lord of the Rings lovers), geothermal magic, Waitomo Caves and the glowworms and the Tongariro National Park, where you can complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The South offers the incredible natural attractions of Milford Sound, the Fiordland National Park, Franz Josef Glacier and Abel Tasman National Park. It’s also great for wildlife encounters at Marlborough Sounds and Kaikoura.

So, has that made your decision clearer? Are you heading to the northern beaches and Hobbiton? Or the South’s national parks and Milford Sound? Or maybe you’re wishing you could extend your trip and visit them both… go on, we know you want to!