New Zealand Smackdown: North Island vs. South Island

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I've been playing around with this post for a long time in my head. But I've always avoided writing it because, really, how can I possibly chose sides when it comes to New Zealand? Picking a favorite island would be like picking a favorite child or puppy or ice cream flavor. You just can't do it.

Or can you? (Well, maybe not with the child example, but with New Zealand's islands, maybe.)

Kapiti Island, New Zealand

In order to try and decide which island is “best” — the North Island or the South Island — I'm going to look at 10 major aspects of New Zealand to see how they compare on each island. I think this will be a learning experience for us all. People always ask me which island is “better.” … Well, perhaps we're about to find out.

Let the smackdown begin!

Should You (1)


Let's start somewhere easy and non-debatable — size. Now, the whole country only covers roughly the same area as the state of Colorado, so there's not much land to really debate over.

Kaikoura, New Zealand
Kaikoura, New Zealand

But, here are the numbers:

The North Island is roughly 43,911 square miles.

The South Island covers about 58,384 square miles, and feels much bigger when you are traversing through it.

Smackdown winner: South Island

Tally: North Island — 0   South Island — 1


All of New Zealand is relatively accessible (whether by plane, bus, car, boat, or what have you), but some areas are easier to get to than others.

Road to Mount Cook
The road to Mount Cook

For example, the North Island has 4 of New Zealand's 7 international airports, including the one in Auckland, which handles most of the country's arrivals. Wellington, too, has a large airport that handles a lot of domestic and international flights. On the South Island, the biggest airport is in Christchurch, which, while sizable, doesn't handle nearly as many international flights as Auckland.

As far as buses go (which is the best way to get around the country if you can't rent a car or campervan), the two biggest carriers (InterCity and NakedBus) both service more cities on the North Island than the South Island (both make 34 major stops on the South Island, while InterCity has 41 stops on the North Island, and NakedBus has 59). Many of the buses on the North Island also tend to run more frequently. (Though, this could be because the North Island is smaller, has more cities, and isn't divided in half by a gigantic mountain range…)

Smackdown winner: North Island

Tally: North Island — 1   South Island — 1


Which brings us to the cities… This is a tricky one, because New Zealand is full of unique and interesting cities.

Oriental Bay in Wellington, New Zealand
Oriental Bay in Wellington

Roughly 76 percent of the country's inhabitants live on the North Island, with more than 30 percent calling Auckland home. But you know what? I don't really love Auckland. It feels like any other decent-sized city in the world; to me, Auckland lacks a bit of character. By contrast, Wellington (also a North Island city) is bursting at the seams with character. It's no secret that this is my favorite city in the world. The North Island is also home to fun cities like Taupo (a mecca for fishermen), unique stops like Rotorua (full of geothermal wonders), and wine-centric towns like Martinborough. And we can't forget the farming community of Matamata, which is home to Hobbiton!

On the South Island, the largest city is Christchurch, which, while still recovering after a big earthquake in 2011, is truly gorgeous. There's also the popular resort town of Queenstown, which will easily steal your heart if you're not careful. Then there are surprisingly cool towns like Dunedin and Invercargill, and coastal gems like Kaikoura. But, since the South Island is much more sparsely populated than the North, that means that there are also a ton of really small towns that may not have much to offer other than stunning views. (But really, do they need to offer anything else?)

Smackdown winner: Draw, because each island has some great towns and cities.

Tally: North Island — 2   South Island — 2

Cultural Offerings

New Zealand is an interesting country because it's two islands can sometimes feel like completely different worlds.

Rangiatea Church
Rangiatea Church

Looking to tap into New Zealand's native Maori past, the North Island is your best bet. Set aside an afternoon at Te Papa Tongarewa (the national museum of New Zealand) in Wellington, visit the Waitangi Treaty grounds in the Bay of Islands, or take in a cultural dinner and concert in Rotorua. The Maori culture is a very unique one, and it's worth your time to experience it while you're in the country.

On the South Island, the cultural focus is different. The South is home to the rugged “Southern Man,” and the cultural offering of choice down here is either sheep farming or rugby.

Smackdown winner: North Island

Tally: North Island — 3   South Island — 2


Green-lipped mussels in New Zealand
Green-lipped mussels

So what's the food like in New Zealand? Well, there's a lot of lamb and mutton (there are roughly 40 million sheep here, after all), fish and chips, and a delicious invention known as Hokey Pokey ice cream. New Zealand is also known for its Green-Lipped Mussels, and, of course, its wine. The South Island‘s Marlborough Region is said to produce some of the best wine in the world. But, since I'm not much of a drinker, I cannot personally back this claim up.

So what sets the islands apart? Well, the South Island might have a slight advantage, because Dunedin is home to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, and Queenstown is home to Fergburger. And, who doesn't love chocolate and burgers?

Smackdown winner: South Island, by a hair.

Tally: North Island — 3   South Island — 3


New Zealand may very well be the most diverse and beautiful country on the planet. Remember how I said the whole country was roughly the size of Colorado? Well, packed within that small area is just about every climate and landscape you can imagine. From beaches to rainforests to mountains to rolling green hills to volcanic deserts, this country seriously has it all.

New Zealand mountains

Lupins in Wanaka, New Zealand
Lupins in Wanaka

On the North Island, you have the beaches of Northland, the underrated Coromandel Peninsula, the East Cape, the geothermal oddities of Rotorua, the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park, the rolling green hills of northern farmland, coastal beauties like Castlepoint, and unique spots like the Putangirua Pinnacles.

While the North Island is gently rolling and seemingly perpetually green, things couldn't be more different on the South Island. The South Island is rugged, with the Southern Alps acting like a snow-capped spine that runs down the center of the island. Highlights here include the Marlborough Sounds, the rain-drenched West Coast, the Canterbury Plains, amazingly accessible glaciers like Fox and Franz Josef, the tallest mountain in New Zealand (Mount Cook), the Southern Scenic Route along the coast, the Southern Lakes region around Lake Wanaka, strange rock formations like the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki and the Moeraki Boulders, and amazing fjords like Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.

Smackdown winner: It's a tough choice, but the South Island gets my vote.

Tally: North Island — 3   South Island — 4


New Zealand isn't exactly associated with beautiful beaches in the way that other South Pacific islands (like Hawaii and Fiji) are — but it actually does have a lot of sand and sun to offer.

Pakiri Beach, New Zealand
Pakiri Beach

On the North Island, the beaches are more traditional white-sand affairs that you might associate with long romantic walks or horseback riding. There's 90 Mile Beach at the tip of the island (which is actually an official part of Highway 1), beaches in the beautiful Bay of Islands, beaches (including Hot Water Beach) on the Coromandel Peninsula, beaches in the Bay of Plenty, Golden Bay and Hawke's Bay, and Oriental Bay in Wellington. The North Island beaches enjoy a lot of sun and warmer temperatures, making the water more inviting year-round. The North is also home to New Zealand's most popular surfing beaches, including ones in Taranaki and Raglan.

By contrast, the beaches on the South Island tend to be a bit more blustery and cooler (with perhaps the exception of some of the beaches in Abel Tasman National Park). But the surf here can be bigger, and the wind-swept effect and mountainous backdrop can lead to some stunning coastal scenery. Popular beaches in the South include those along the West Coast, beaches in Kaikoura, beaches around Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula, beaches along the South Coast, and of course the lakeside beaches in towns like Wanaka and Queenstown.

Smackdown winner: Draw, because while the North Island has more traditional beaches, the South Island has some truly breath-taking ones, too.

Tally: North Island — 4   South Island — 5


New Zealand has some pretty awesome wildlife, both native and non-native. From whales to seals to kiwi birds, there's a lot to spot all over the country. Interestingly enough, though, most of New Zealand's wildlife has been introduced. It's only native mammal is a small bat, and its other native species are mostly birds.

Takahe on Kapiti Island
A rare takahe on Kapiti Island

On the North Island, you can find a lot of wildlife. Take a dolphin-watching cruise in the Bay of Islands, or go on a seal hike along the coast in Wellington. Take a jaunt over to Kapiti Island to see a lot of the country's native bird species, including the adorable kiwi bird, the mischievous kaka, the curious weka, and the extremely rare takahe. Or get up-close with the country's sheep population at the Agrodome in Rotorua.

On the South Island, keep and eye out for the cheeky kea bird, visit the penguins and albatross that call the Otago Peninsula home, go whale watching (or dolphin swimming) in Kaikoura, and play with some of the world's smallest and rarest dolphins (the Hector's Dolphin) in Akaroa.

Smackdown winner: South Island

Tally: North Island — 4   South Island — 6

Adventure Sports

Chances are, if you've thought about visiting New Zealand, you've also thought about some of its adventure sports. The country is definitely a daredevil's paradise, but has activities suitable to all sorts of sensibilities.

Auckland Sky Walk

On the North Island, top adventure sports include the SkyWalk and SkyJump in Auckland, sandboarding in Northland, black water rafting or canyoning in the Waitomo caves, zorbing in Rotorua, skydiving and bungy jumping in Taupo, doing a flying fox in Gravity Canyon, and skiing on volcanos like Ruapehu or Taranaki. There are also popular hikes here, such as the Tongariro Crossing, which is supposed to be one of the best day hikes in the world. Sounds like a lot on offer, right?

Well, actually, the North Island has nothing on the South Island when it comes to adventure sports. The South Island (more specifically, Queenstown) was the birthplace of such crazy activities as bungy jumping and jet boating, and is also home to some of the best ski fields in the country. Here you also have many hiking options, including on glaciers like Fox or Franz Josef, and plenty of climbing/canyoning opportunities. More into water sports? Try whitewater rafting or river boarding. Skydiving is also popular here in towns like Wanaka, as are other sky sports such as parasailing and paragliding. The South Island is all about adrenaline, and you can even try out stunt plane flying in Nelson or gliding in Omarama.

Smackdown winner: South Island for sure. Queenstown alone could sweep the points in this category.

Tally: North Island — 4   South Island — 7

The Locals

No country would be complete without its locals, and New Zealand is no exception. New Zealanders are some of the friendliest, funniest, most laid-back people I have ever met, and living with them for any amount of time will undoubtedly leave an impression on you (even if it just means converting you into a rugby fan).

Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland skyline

But can I really categorize the Kiwis by the island they live on? Well, North Islanders are usually seen more as city-dwellers, while the South Islanders tend to be categorized as farmers and/or adventurers. But, at the end of the day, that has nothing to do with the personality of the locals.

Smackdown winner: It's a draw, because all Kiwis rock, regardless of which island they call home.

Tally: North Island — 5   South Island — 8

Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea

Drumroll, please…

Final Tally: South Island wins!

You know, I'm actually a bit surprised. I didn't think it was possible for me to pick a “favorite” New Zealand island. It still may be hard to say, “Yes, the South Island is best,” because I really love the North Island, too.

In my mind, both islands are winners, and both are well-worth visiting.

RELATED: New Zealand Road Trip: The Perfect Itinerary if You Only Have 2 Weeks

What to Pack for New Zealand

There are definitely a few things you'll want to make sure to bring in order to help you check off these bucket list items. Things like:

Check out more of my New Zealand packing tips here!

READ NEXT: The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List

What's your opinion? If you've been to New Zealand, can you choose a favorite island? If you've never been there, which island would you be more likely to want to visit after reading this?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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139 Comments on “New Zealand Smackdown: North Island vs. South Island

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  1. Two things I would argue:

    Never had Fergburger, but there isn’t a single Burger Fuel on the South Island, which is shocking to me (not even in Dunners, the classic college town! I almost died when I found out!!) And the pies in the North Island are to die for.

    And locals on the South Island, oy, are known to be quite racists. Why do you think very few Maori live there? I heard some shocking comments in CHC (a big reason why it’s my least favorite part of the country).

    Even so, and coupled with my North Island pride (whoo!) South Island is just the total picture on why you visit NZ:-). That scenery! Those activities! You can never get enough.

      Interesting about the Burger Fuels… I guess I never noticed that they are missing from the South Island!

      I’ve never run into the racism on the South Island, but then again I’ve spent more time collectively in the North. In fact, I think it plagues the whole country, to be honest. I heard plenty of not-so-nice remarks from my Kiwi flatmates when I was living in Wellington. It sucks that every country seems to have this issue — even New Zealand.

        Love your blog. Racist New Zealanders? What are they hard on? People with different skin colours? Are they violent? Or making you uncomfortable and unwelcomed?

          I didn’t see any violence. Just some off-color comments every now and then, mostly based on skin color/cultural background. But it’s the sort of racism that you (unfortunately) experience just about everywhere in the world to some extent.

      Total disagree about racism, I have lived in both the North and South Island (chch) and never experienced any racism, while it does exist you cannot say it is more prevalent in the South. And Chch rocks, for the record.

      Love all your posts about NZ as I am a born and bred Kiwi! From Auckland and Have family that live down the east and west coast of the North Island. On the West Coast it is mostly Black-sand beaches with surf that has hosted some of the worlds biggest competitions especially in Taranaki. Also the beautiful golden sands off the city of Gisborne have always drawn me in as they have huge surf and lovely blue water that can enchant anyone! So overall would say that the beaches are better in the North. Not being biased because I know the South Island has many better things but the beaches I have grown up at have never let me down. Especially for a good old game of Beach Cricket!! xx

      The actual reason less Maori live in the South Island is that, traditionally, there have always significantly more Maori in the North even well before Europeans had discovered it. 10% of Maori (and growing) live in the South Island which is actually significantly higher than when Europeans first discovered it. There’s multiple reasons for this, the cooler climate and not being able to grow their traditional crops, lack of food once all the moas had all been killed and finally disease when the Europeans arrived. In the early 1800s there were only a few thousand Maori living in the SI – nothing to do with racism. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist – it exists everywhere and, on the whole there’s a lot less here than most places and I’d say Maori are treated better than most other colonised countries (e.g., Aborigines in Australia and native Americans in the US).

    Ah.. I’m never short of opinions and I’m glad you picked the South Island as it’s my favorite. My reasons are much less complex than yours – I like the weather better and the fact that there are fewer people.

    Which isn’t to say that I don’t like the North island. I had some awesome times there, too. I look at it similarly to how I look at Southern/Northern California – there are interesting things to do all over the state, but I *love* Northern California and I like Southern California. I *love* the South island and like the North island.

      Well, I actually *love* both islands, for different reasons. Which is why I wrote the post the way I did, breaking it down and assigning points. Otherwise, you’d never get me to pick a favorite! Lol.

      As always, thanks for your two cents, Rob!

    A very diplomatic way to approach how to select a ‘favourite’, although I agree with the result LOL

      Haha, thanks Linda! I just could never bring myself to declare a “favorite.” But I suppose now maybe I can?

    This was so informative as I have recently been thinking of moving to NZ from Chile and was having a hard time figuring out which city to move to. Great post!

      Thanks, Catherine! If you ever want some more insight on NZ cities, feel free to drop me an e-mail!

    Your posts on New Zealand are so great. I’m having a great time combing through them all, but this one makes me feel a little guilty…I’ve been to New Zealand twice, but both times only to the North Island! An extended trip there (to both islands) has been vaguely in the works for several years, and now the time has finally come. We’re headed there this December. I can’t wait to explore the rugby/adventuring/fiords/chocolate of the south island.

      Thanks, Briana! And yay for so many visits to New Zealand! Great to hear that you’re finally going to experience the South Island! I love the North Island (and Wellington, especially), but you can’t really “see” NZ without visiting the South, too!

      Have a blast in December. If you need any South Island tips, you know where to find me!

    You left out the best island in New Zealand! Waiheke Island

      Sorry! I also had to leave out Stewart Island, since I’ve never been there… But I would guess that Waiheke Island can probably be considered part of the North Island, just as many people consider Stewart Island to be part of the South.

    Amanda, you take such beautiful photos! Your writing on NZ has definitely moved it high up on my list of places to travel to.

      Thanks so much, Christine. πŸ™‚ If you ever make it to NZ, I’ll be eager to hear all about it!

    Amanda, before I fully read through to the end, I would’ve said straight-up that the South Island had already won you over. πŸ™‚ As I’m now seeing lots of posts and blogs about New Zealand, the itch to go back is ever stronger – even though I’ve already put the country into my RTW list for next year! Thanks for your post!

      The trouble I’ve always had with picking a favorite island is that my favorite city, Wellington, is on the North Island. But my favorite scenery is on the South. Most people seem to choose the South as their favorite though, I’m finding. Which is great. But I’m still of the opinion that you can love them both!

      And at least you know when you’ll be headed back to NZ… I have no idea, and it’s driving me nuts! I miss it already.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought every parent does have a favorite child! πŸ˜›

    We’ve been looking into New Zealand recently and I was getting overwhelmed by choosing which area we wanted to explore. In an ideal world we’d have time to see the whole island (and that might still be the case), but we were hearing so many positive things about both that we didn’t know how we’d ever decide. Seeing it broken down like this is super helpful… now we can make a decision based on the factors we find important!

      Haha, well, if parents DO have a favorite child, I’ll bet they’d never admit it!!

      I’m really glad this post might help you guys decide which island/area of NZ you might want to visit. Though, I will always be an advocate for seeing a bit of everything, because the whole country is so unique!

    Great breakdown, when I get to NZ I plan on visiting both for sure, but the South Island is more appealing for the sports (specifically for me sky diving) and I can’t wait to try it when I get there!

      Good that you’re planning to visit both! A lot of people just visit and go to one island (very often the South), but I think it’s important to see a little bit of everything!

      And, while I personally think skydiving would be better on the South Island because of the mountains, it’s also popular in Taupo and the Bay of Islands on the North Island — both also beautiful spots! I guess it’s all just a matter of preference.

    Awesome post! I was thinking of doing something like this recently, and I suspect the South island would win out too for me, just because I prefer the scenery down there (I’m a sucker for mountain ranges…). Great round up of everything they both have to offer, and I’d have to agree, both are worth visiting!

      Thanks, Laurence! I’m a sucker for craggy mountains, too (probably because I don’t exactly get to see them much living in Ohio), so the South Island definitely draws me in for that reason. Plus, I’m an adrenaline junkie, and there’s no better place to get a fix than in Queenstown!

    You’re getting me so excited about going to NZ in December!!

    Great Smackdown. I concur with your conclusion. Both islands are amazing but yes, if you could only do one on your travels, I would highly recommend the south Island. The north island may be the choice of most to live in, but I think the south island is the best choice to travel to. Although both rock!

      I like your suggestion that the North might be better to live in, but the South is better to travel in. I think I would definitely have to agree!

    I can’t believe I have to wait over a year to visit NZ! I want to go now πŸ˜€

    And gorgeous photos too!

      I want to go back now!! Lol. You will love it once you get there, though! Then you can have amazing photos of it too. πŸ™‚

    Interesting way of looking at it. I’m more excited about the South Island because I love the outdoors, but I won’t go if I’m not able to give both islands some time.

      I don’t think I could ever go to NZ and not spend some time on both islands (for example, when I won my Blog4NZ prize package, it was only for the South Island. But I made sure to add in time in Wellington (and the Kapiti Coast), too! It’s hard not to fall in love with both. But it may be easier to fall in love with the South.

    So far…I’m going to have to disagree and say I’m a bigger fan of the north island. Still have a lot left to see of both islands though.

      Yay, disagreement! Haha, I’ve been waiting for the North Island fans to weigh in! What makes you a bigger fan of the North?

    As a Kiwi from Christchurch, I’m proud of the South Island and glad to see it victorious πŸ˜‰ Great post, loved it!

      Kia ora, Mark! You and your island (and city, for that matter) certainly have a lot to be proud of. Glad you liked the post!

    Great post! I’m a North Islander living in Wellington but LOVE the South Island, Otago in particular. It is fantastic that you spent enough time here to write such a comprehensive and balanced comparison. Love the photos too.

      Hey Hayley! Jealoussss that you call Wellington home! Lol. But I’m so glad you enjoyed this post! I have spent about 6 months total in New Zealand spread out over 3 visits (one being a semester I spent abroad going to Massey in Wellington), and I’ve traveled extensively. So I’m glad that has shown through in this comparison. Though, I still have a ton of NZ left to see!

    It’s very nice to see how different the two islands can be, beautiful both of them. The last picture is just stunning.

      Both islands ARE beautiful, albeit in very different ways. Glad you liked this post, and the photos!

    New Zealand is the place where I really wanted to visit and if possible the perfect place for me to moved in. Doesn’t matter whether in south or north. I love this country.

      Sounds like you love NZ as much as I do! I’d love to move there someday, too!

    Love this article. Just stumbled it. I’ve only been to each island once, and had the same dilemma. My solution? I’m going back for a long visit!

    Your photos are beautiful–I have several posts on my NZ trip on my blog, too. Keep having fun.

      Thank you, Nancy! (And thanks for the add to your blogroll!)

      I like your solution — going back for a long visit! That’s always a great idea.

    Also, I’m going to add you to my blogroll, so my friends can see I wasn’t lying about NZ, lol.

    I was most relieved and pleased to see the South Island pick up the win. While I did love my few days on the North Island zorbing in Rotorua and black-water rafting in Waitomo – dour Auckland left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

    Compared to Queenstown, Christchurch, Franz Josef, and even sleepy Nelson – I just couldn’t pick the North. But apparently I need more experience with Wellington.

    Props for the Fergburger shout-out. God, I could murder one of their burgers right about now.

    Fantastic post πŸ™‚

      Thanks, Chris! I’m glad your favorite island won. πŸ™‚ Auckland isn’t my favorite either, but Wellington definitely makes up for it, as far as I’m concerned!

    Ferg Burger, is that a cokadoodle oink I see! it’s been a while since I’ve seen you ! Queenstown made my NZ visit , if you can’t do an adventure activity in Queenstown , then it can’t be done! Skiing at the Remarkables , the views were amazing!

      That IS a cockadoodle oink that you see! Haha. Probably my favorite Fergburger creation!

      I haven’t ever been skiing in Queenstown, but I imagine the views would be amazing. I’ve done plenty of other adventure sports there, though, and you’re right — you can’t really experience Queenstown without doing at least one crazy thing!

    Nice one dude, and although i completely agree the South Island is much more scenic and beautiful I have to state that there are amazing parts of the North Island that you have been unable to visit.
    If you have the opportunity to come back here I’ll let you know where to go and what to do that will amaze you and make you realize how nice the N.I is as well…. And Auckland is special but you need a car and to know what to do… but top effort bro

      Oh, I’m not saying that the North Island isn’t nice — it is! I love it, as well. I just have a thing for mountains and wide open spaces… which is perhaps why the South Island won this “battle.”

    My cousin is working in New Zealand as a nurse at the moment and he’s convincing me to go there soon. This post just gave me an idea on what to expect when i push through with the temporary plan. Well-written post with lots of interesting pictures! πŸ˜€

      Well good on your cousin for convincing you to visit NZ! It’s such a great country; you’ll love it!

    I think I would have a hard time choosing between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. They both seem to have so much to offer. Yet another reason I need to finally make that long plane ride down!

      New Zealand really does pack A LOT of punch for its size. Both islands are vastly different and unique, which really does make it tough to pick a favorite. But that’s why you just have to spend a bit of time everywhere!

    Loved this post! We recently visited New Zealand and were only able to fit in the North Island. Everyone we told said, “You missed the South Island?!” Not one, “Wow, isn’t the North Island great?!” But we loved the North Island and if (according to your post) the South Island is even more impressive, we may just have to visit again.

      Haha, it’s true that most people would be flabbergasted to learn that you visited New Zealand and didn’t make it down to the South Island. Though, if you told me you only visited the South and skipped the North, I would have told you you missed out on some great stops like Wellington! So there are definitely two sides to that coin. πŸ˜‰

      Great to hear that you loved the North Island. But yes, you really should return to explore the South, too!!

    You’re right, South Island has to come out tops. I guess Auckland’s lack of character is a millstone for the North.

      Well, Auckland IS pretty huge, population-wise. Not every city in NZ can be Wellington! πŸ˜‰ But yes, I suppose Auckland does sort of lose points for the North Island (for me, at least… I’m sure most steadfast Aucklanders would disagree!).

    Of course the South Island is the winner πŸ˜‰
    When travellers ask me which Island is better, I always answer they are so different one can’t compare, and at the end of the day it comes down to personal preferences. If you love the outdoors go South. If your looking for cultural heritage go North, and if you are looking to just enjoy an amazing country go both!

      Very good answers, Merav! I agree that you should definitely visit both!

    Great stuff! Fun post! I’ve never been to New Zealand (shameful for an Aussie I know) and have been mulling over a trip, so this is super helpful, thanks! Deserves another Stumble, I reckon πŸ™‚

      Thank you! (For the comment, compliments, and stumble!) You definitely should get over to New Zealand ASAP — especially if you’re just right across the Tasman!

        We’ve actually been based in Dubai/Abu Dhabi since 1998, and only return to Australia once a year, but we’re increasingly returning for a little longer each time, so NZ – as well as Tasmania – are definitely on the list! Thanks again!

    I just stumbled accross this post, and I feel that I need to make a case for the North Island πŸ™‚ Interesting but not surprising that most people seem to like the South Island more. As a Kiwi who grew up in the North Island (Wairarapa) but who has also lived ( Dunedin, 3 years) and travelled (lots of family down there) in the south I personally like the south and east coast of the North Island best. I currently live in Wellington, and if you ask me its the best city in NZ. I love the ruggerd Wairarapa coast, the little coastal gems like Castle Point, Akitio, Tora, White Rock, Glenburn, Ngawi and Lake Ferry. Some of the best wine in the world can be found in the Wairarapa in Martinborough and Gladstone, Not to mention the Hawkes Bay. The mountains of the south are big and cool, there are some equally impressive scenery in the north. You only need to drive the desert rd to see some amazing voncanos, if seeing isnt enough feel free to go skiing on them :), then you have the Tararua ranges just out of Wellington, the Ruahine Range, the Kaimanawas and not to mention the Coromandal. The East coast, where you wont find as many tourists, is amazing. its almost like a different world (in a very good way) with some of the prettiest bays and beaches anywhere in the world. Skipping right over Auckland, it has its merits, but if you ask me it smells funny πŸ™‚ , you have the winterless north, with its tropical (almost) beaches and hidden bays. All in all the North is is hugly diverse, once you get away from the main centres and the main road and take a little adventure out into the wilds.
    The south is great, my favourite parts are the Marlborough Sounds and Abel Tasman National Park …. the bits at the top. Hope everyone enjoys their travels in NZ.

      You certainly do make a great case for the North Island, and you’ve mentioned a lot of my favorite spots in the North — like Castlepoint, the Wairarapa, Desert Road, Lake Ferry, etc. And fo course Wellington! You say it’s the best city in NZ… I say it may be one of the best cities in the world!! πŸ™‚

    not many cities in the world have 2 coasts, over 30 islands, a 4 day walking track through native bush and a beautiful harbour!

    […] Her layout is easy to read and her photos are amongst the best you’ll find. Her regular Travel Smackdown and Thursday Traveler posts are great […]

    I love it! I kept track in my head as I went along, from my own experiences, and ended up right where you did! The North Island was nice, but the South Island is stealing our hearts. Aside from both being nice, they both offer very different experiences. I think I see the makings of our own article coming up… “A Tale of Two Islands…”, or something of the sort πŸ™‚

      If it weren’t for Wellington being on the North Island, I don’t think I’d have any trouble declaring my love for the South. Lol. But yes, both are great!

      I’ll keep an eye out for your own post comparing the two!

    Hi Amanda,
    i just found your blog, it’s so amazing!

    Later in May I will be starting my PhD in University of Canterbury. Can you give a comment about the earthquake series which occurred in the town few times before? Is it safe to bring a family (wife and two small daugters) into the town, considering the aftershocks are still continuing?


      Hi there, and welcome to my blog! πŸ™‚

      Christchurch has definitely had some tragedies in the past year, but only one quake so far was fatal and claimed lives. There is always the risk of further aftershocks, though, so I would make sure your family is aware of that before bringing them to live there. Just make sure you end up in a sturdy house (a wooden one is best!) and that you’re prepared for a quake. Most of the aftershocks have been small rumblings, but they could last for quite a while unfortunately.

    Thanks so much! This was crazy helpful! I’m in the research stages of potentially moving there for a year and am trying to figure out the best place to move to. This definitely helps…

    […] got settled into the hostel dorm, I started tweeting about how it was rainy and windy. Amanda from A Dangerous Business, who loves New Zealand more than anyone I know, suggested I check out the Te Papa Museum since it […]

    I am planning a short visit to NZ in Nov. Thanks to your info, I have now decided to visit the South Island…

      Awesome! Have fun in NZ! November should be a really nice time to visit.

        what a great thread to stumble upon. Thankyou all for this awesome travel info and for your fab blog! My girlfriend and I are currently planning a trip to NZ we fly into auckland on the 9th, then depart from wellington on the 25th…It may be the only time in our lives we get to see New Zealand so with that in mind we wanted to road trip from North to south ending in queenstown for 3 days of activities. Any thoughts at all on the ideal route/itinery given the time constraints would be greatly appreciated. we love scenery, food and wine. thanks again for this great thread! Really looking forward to seeing this stunning country!

          Hey J! Send me an e-mail ( with some more details about your interests/budget, and I’ll gladly give you some tips!

    I just discovered your blog and found it awesome! It is possible for me to be moving to Wellington in a couple of month. Nice to read your words about it because I have never been there. Could I contact you so you can tell me more about it? THANK YOU!!!

      Wellington is great! Such a fun city. And yes, feel free to shoot me an e-mail about it if you want!

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU sooo very much for taking the time to share with all of us! It is most appreciated by our family. Trying to plan a trip, especially on limited planning and visiting time, is a challenge and a little overwhelming, so your information and feedback was most helpful.

      You are very welcome! I hope this helps some of those planning decisions a bit easier for you!

    Hi- I loved this “smack-down” it gave me lots of ideas for our upcoming visit to both islands. We are spending most of our time on the South Island in late October and first half of November. What can we expect with the weather? What to bring for clothes? Really all kinds of weather? Can you give me a temperature range?
    Also- we have some parts of the trip booked but others would like to roam and find places to stay wherever we end up. Is that possible on the South Island at that time of year? Or should we have reservations?

      Hey Sue! Glad to hear that you got some good ideas from my post.

      October/November should be a really great time to visit. As for the weather, I would say to expect everything! It will be starting to get nice and warm up north by then, but it will still be chilly (especially at night) down south. So be sure to bring some layers with you!

      I don’t think you should have much trouble booking things as you go at this time of year. You’ll be past ski season, but not quite into the summer holidays yet. It actually should be a great time to travel in NZ!

    “There’s also the popular resort town of Queenstown, which will easily steal your heart if you’re not careful.”

    I wan’t careful πŸ˜‰ <3

    Love this post, Amanda! I’m headed to NZ in the fall and am trying to decide which island to spend more time on. This definitely helped!

      Glad to hear it helped, Susan! You really can’t go wrong in NZ, though. πŸ™‚

    This makes me want to move to New Zealand so Badly! Cannot wait to get out there next year! Thanks so much for the info as I have been trying to figure out where to go and what to do! South Island sounds like just what I would love!

      Glad to be able to help! You will love NZ!

    I am from the north, but after traveling the south on my bike for the last 7 months- the south wins hands down! I see you are returning here soon- what is on the list of to-sees?

      The South Island is indeed pretty awesome! And yes! I’ll be back in November for about a month! Lots on the to-do list on both islands! I’m doing a Lord of the Rings tour for 2 weeks, then going back to favorites like the Coromandel, Wellington, Queenstown, etc. And hopefully going to some places I haven’t been before like Abel Tasman and the Waitomo Caves. Activities on the to-do list include doing The Ledge bungee in Queenstown (it’s the only one I haven’t done there), hiking the Tongariro Crossing, kayaking to Cathedral Cove, and swimming with seals in Kaikoura. It’s gonna be an awesome month!

    I thought your blog was going to be about New Zealanders feelings about North vs South, and lemme tell ya, feelings run high! There was even a nascent secessionist movement in the South in the 70s. Weird thing about the West Coast is, and you will know this from having travelled there, but it is soooo much like another country! Coasters have always done things differently. The Labour movement began there, as did the welfare state practices that the rest of the country didn’t catch on to for another forty years, plus Coasters do realise there are laws they are meant to abide by: they just don’t follow them! A great example being a sparky I used to work with who is close to being legally blind – he peers at his circuit diagrams from very close up, and on this side of the Great Divide he bikes to get around. Whenever he goes home to the Coast though, he drives a landrover he’s been doing up since back in the day. No rego, no warrant. The local cop knows James, and knows he can drive all right, so he doesn’t do anything about it.

      Haha, yes, the islands really could be two separate countries! But this post is more to help people to decide which ones to visit. πŸ™‚

    I am only interested in breathtaking scenery and after reading this presentation the South is for me. I do not care at about towns which I avoid as much as possible including the best ones. The only major issue for me to go there is to have to drive on the left through towns. I read recently that a French guy with a rented car killed someone , and they would not let him out of the country if he did not pay the $19,000 the court ordered him to pay. Does that mean that rental car company do not offer full CDW and full liability coverage?

      All the rental car companies offer all the insurance – but just as in most countries, you don’t *have* to pay for the extra insurance. I don’t know anything about that case, so I’m afraid I can’t say anything about it.

      Driving on the left takes some getting used to, but it’s really not too bad as long as you pay attention!

    I go on vacation to relax and not to be stressed out . I have always put off going to NZ and/or Australia for that reason like many people I spoke too here in the US are also afraid to drive there. Our friend, who loved NZ did it once but is not going to repeat it. In todays world globalization, a small touristic county like NZ with 4.5 millions people in 2015 could have switch driving to the right like Sweden did it successfully back in September 2007 with 8 millions people that year. Sweden isn’t the only country to switch sides, of course. As recently as 2009, Samoa made the left/right shift.

      As much as I understand where you’re coming from, I also don’t feel like a country should be expected to change its driving structure (or anything else, for that matter) just to make things easier on foreign tourists. πŸ˜‰

      Don’t forget that there are plenty of other ways to see NZ, too! There are great group trips, and you can also get to all the major sites by using buses (which are very good in New Zealand).

    If NZ wants more tourists coming from outside the Commonwealth that’s the way to do it. If they are satisfied with its current number then there is no reason to change! Although I would be interested to visit your country, it is not a necessity for me and my wife! Although I live much closer than NZ I have never been to the English Virgin Islands in the Caribbean for that same reason, neither did I visit England (except London) when I lived in France.

    The accident I was referring to was a tourist from Papeete Tahiti.

    I read it on the local newspaper when I was there back in December 2014. After people who read it will think twice before going there to drive.

    I read also that the NZ government was (after that tragedy) planning to ask tourists to take driving lessons prior to renting a car ( something like that) .

    This is going to be another deterrent to come and drive there.

    Group tours are not only expensive but also not very flexible where you have to be on schedule to get up etc…

      Well, there’s no mandatory driving tests for tourists yet. The reason for suggesting that is that many of the people who go to NZ and rent cars do HAVE driver’s licenses, but live in big cities (like Singapore or Beijing) and never actually drive cars. There ARE accidents caused by tourists every year in New Zealand, but I don’t think it’s as dire a situation as you are making it out to be.

      Driving in a foreign country is not something everyone is comfortable doing, and that’s fine. But if you’re not open to seeing the country in any other way, then I guess you just won’t travel there!

        It’s not me who is saying it because I do not know the exact situation but this post confirmed my suspicions by someone who is familiar with this problem getting more dire that you think..

        Tourists should note that there is increased scrutiny of their driving due to a large number of crashes and fatalities involving tourists in 2014 and the early part of 2015, particularly in the South Island.

        Rental car companies will revoke contracts and tourists may find themselves unable to hire a car, or worse, end up in court to answer dangerous driving charges.

        Tourists causing carnage on New Zealand roads has become a serious issue – over Queen’s Birthday weekend four people were killed by foreign drivers in two fatal crashes.

        So what real progress has been made since then?

        The answer is none and until something is done, terribly sad stories like that of Shayla Cross’ grandmother will continue to grace television screens…..

          Nevermind that this really has nothing to do with the post you’re commenting on, but I’m not even sure what point you’re trying to make now? Are you saying you wouldn’t ever rent a car there because of people getting into accidents, or are you making an argument for stricter rules about tourists renting cars?

          Yes, car accidents are horrible. And yes, sometimes they involve tourists. But I’m afraid I don’t work for the New Zealand government (and am not from NZ at all, actually), so unfortunately there’s nothing I can do about it except write about how to be safe in NZ, like I did in this post:

            Hi Amanda again :In response to your comments “But I’m afraid I don’t work for the New Zealand government (and am not from NZ at all, actually), so unfortunately there’s nothing I can do about it ”

            Are you are involved in promoting tourism in New Zealand ???otherwise I do not see what’s the purpose of your Blog (if it is yours ???) apart for being informative and I commend you for that!

            So my comments were to POINT OUT that if New Zealand NEED ???? and/or WANT???? to attract more outside tourists .. driving there on the left is a major issue , which can be solved by switching side by lobbying the government or politicians running for office there , like the Pacific Resort Hotel in Aitutaki did per my suggestion with Air New Zealand to change the 5 days (Sunday /Saturday) turnaround flight from Los Angeles to the Cook Islands which is way too short for a 10:30 Hours flights.

            Otherwise you have to stay 12 nights which is too long for Raro and Aitutaki. I usually stay no more than 8 nights total in Tahiti, including 3 or 4 islands

            It would be much easier and quicker for the Residents to get use to the change (like the Swedish and Samoen) did than outsiders on short vacations used to drive on the right side of the road. The rental car companies would benefit tremendously from it

            I might use a tour if I can find a reputable small group company which can give you more flexibility. But I will not drive over there as many of the people I spoke too here in the US also won’t!

            For those who want to drive , Rental Company should offer a full coverage like Alamo and Dollar Rent a car do here in the US for tourists coming from Europe, for even less money that what they charge for US residents for the same coverage.

            Take care

    Great article! It kept us amused…. Us being – me on my first trip to the north island (from the uk) and my husband, Auckland born and bred. He wasn’t happy ? I thought he was going to punch the screen when we were only at “cities”. I can’t wait to go, the place looks beautiful.

      Haha! Hopefully he thought better of me by the end!

    The rain-drenched west coast- I’ve never heard a more accurate description of my home. And I always knew the south island was the best!

      It’s true – and yet the West Coast is still so beautiful!

    Interesting. I do wish you would tell us where each of your photos were taken and the name of the site/animals featured. Thanks.

    Thank you for your insights and pictures. When do you suggest is the best month to visit south island for scenery?

      The scenery is great year-round! There’s obviously more snow during the winter (July-October-ish), and fall colors are really pretty in April/early May. Totally depends on what kind of scenery you prefer, but you’re guaranteed mountains and cool coastlines year-round.

    Hi. I’ll be coming there for the first time late December through the first two weeks of January. I will probably focus on the South Island and will avoid Auckland as I don’t love big cities. I’d like to see some of the north as well though and I was wondering if you could advise which airport to fly into from San Francisco California. I could get an open jaw ticket but I usually prefer to do a big loop and fly out from the same airport since I think it’s usually cheaper. I have about 3 weeks to travel which is a lot of time but I don’t want to have to cross the straight more than necessary obviously since it could be hard and expensive to do I’m not sure. I guess the other airports to use would be Christ Church or Wellington. Those both seem like wonderful places that would make me happier than arriving in Auckland.

      Hey Sam! So, most international flights are still going to arrive in Auckland anyway, since it’s the major airport in New Zealand. You can easily connect from there to another city in NZ, though. I would recommend checking out Wellington if you want to see a bit of the North Island. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and has much more of a “small town” vibe than Auckland does.

        Thank you so much Amanda. Just a couple more questions on my very last minute plans.

        How many days do you think is good to have total if I’m going to explore the Island and a few bits of the North Island, including Wellington?
        I don’t yet know how hard, expensive and time-consuming it is to cross the Strait. As far as trying to avoid having 2 cross the straight multiple times , is there an airport that’s preferable over another one such as Christ Church over Wellington for example?

        (I know you can also fly into Rotorua Airport and others as well)

        . Thank you so much again.

          These are virtually impossible questions to answer, because it totally depends on what you want to see/do! I would say you need at least 2 weeks to explore both islands, but you could spend two months in New Zealand and still not see everything. πŸ™‚

          Crossing the Cook Strait is easy – ferries run daily, and the crossing time is about 3 hours. Or you could fly south, depending on where you want to go. The largest airports after Auckland are Christchurch and Wellington, though many people also fly to Queenstown.

    Oh and one final question I forgot. Would you fly in and out from the same airport or do an open jaw flight? Obviously this would depend on my itinerary but I just thought I’d ask anyway. Sam

      Like I mentioned before, you’ll almost be guaranteed to fly through Auckland anyway. (Even if you book a flight to Wellington, or from elsewhere in NZ out of the country, you’ll connect in Auckland since big planes really only arrive/leave from there.) So it really doesn’t matter! I usually book flights roundtrip to/from Auckland.

    Hi thankyou guys for all the info.
    I would like to bring my wife to New Zealand for a camperVan road trip(North Island only)
    We are from Malaysia so i think we will be touching down at Auckland Airport.
    Plan to have about two weeks in New Zealand. Perhaps spend about 10 days for a round-road trip from Auckland.
    Then another 3 days to spend in the city walk around.

    Wonder if my planing make sense?
    So I will be renting a Campervan In Auckland, then drop of in Auckland again.

    Interesting! We’re coming to an island off Auckland in 2021 if all goes as planned, and want to see as much nature as we can. Had planned to only do the north island, but may need to fly south for part of our stay after reading this and comments. I’ve known several Kiwis and none have been at all racist. Until Trump, I didn’t think there was much racism in my country. It seems to be a hidden character failure like petty theft.

      Each island in New Zealand is pretty unique, so if you’re able to visit both I definitely would!

      Racism is everywhere , in every country, when you have different ethnicities living together and they are ignorant and have no understanding of each others cultures or religions, thats what causes division, in order to remedy that we must learn about and respect all cultures, that is the recipe for true peace, ”

      love all not just thy neighbor”

    My country is not a competition, maybe you should find something more useful to amuse yourself with, somehow this annoys me and I’ve read a few

      Lol, well then feel free to go read other blogs, Denny! People always ask me which island to visit in New Zealand, and this was just a fun way to present my comparison of the two.

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