North Island vs. South Island New Zealand

We get asked A LOT about the difference between the North Island and South Island of New Zealand. They are very different, but both have a lot to offer

New Zealand is a small country in size but it packs a punch in terms of the volume and diversity of landscapes, activities and opportunities for exploration. The ideal vacation to New Zealand would allow you ample time to explore the whole country, including the North Island and the South Island.

However, reality wins and most of us are have limited time away from work so we must choose which locations will be the most enjoyable in the time we have available. The "highlights" are different depending on your interests!

New Zealand is know for its dramatic landscape which is amply displayed on the South Island. For this reason, some visitors decide that they will spend all of their time on the South Island and forego the North Island altogether.

Though the North Island is not as much of a "feast for the eyes" it offers unique opportunities to experience a different side of New Zealand, including Maori culture,  geothermal activity and cosmopolitan cities.

Both islands are well worth some of your holiday time!

Characteristics of the North Island

  • It has three times the number of people compared to the South Island.
  • It is the home of the cosmopolitan cities of Auckland and Wellington.
  • It is rich in Maori culture (Rotorua is one place to experience this).
  • It has slightly warmer weather and therefore more swimmable beaches.
  • It has LOTS of geothermal activity.
  • It is home to world class scuba diving (Poor Knights Islands).

Characteristics of the South Island

  • It is home to dramatic mountain scenery.
  • There are a lot of opportunities to see marine and bird life; penguins, seals, dolphins.
  • It is the home of Fiordland National Park; Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.
  • It is considered the adventure capital of New Zealand (Queenstown).
  • It is home of several of the Great Walks; e.g., Milford and Routeburn Tracks.
  • Main industries are tourism and agriculture.

We are happy to help you decide how much time to spend on the North Island and how much to spend on the South Island depending on your timeframe and your interests. 

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