Some articles on this site contain affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to yourself. This helps towards the upkeep of this website for which I am very grateful.

This is without a doubt, the most common question I get asked about New Zealand

“Which is best; New Zealand North Island vs South Island?”

And it’s not really an easy question to answer as they are actually both really different. If I’m really pushed about my personal favourite, I’d probably edge towards the South Island as the photography locations were out of this world!

That said, I absolutely loved my time on the North Island too and I’d go back to either island in a heartbeat.

But since many visitors only have a few weeks of annual leave to explore in, often they have to make the tricky decision if to visit New Zealand’s North Island or South Island. I’m here to make that decision a little easier!

Today we’re going to compare both islands to help you decide which is the best island for you to visit to have the most incredible holiday!

Read more

New Zealand North Island vs South Island

We’ll be looking at different aspects of travel in New Zealand to help you make up your mind. Topics we’ll be covering…

  • The weather
  • The landscapes
  • The cities
  • The activities
  • The food and drink
  • Getting about
  • Culture
  • Geothermal activity
  • Hikes
  • Beaches
  • Wildlife

New Zealand North Island or South Island For Weather?

The North island enjoys subtropical summers and mild temperatures in the winter. The South Island is colder by comparison reaching minus figures regularly throughout winter.

new zealand bay of islands

Even if you travel the South Island in summer, you will need to pack plenty of layers as the weather is much more unpredictable.

In general, the west coast of the South Island has the most unpredicatble weather with the highest rainfall. The east coast is sheltered by the mountain range which runs the length of the country and therefore enjoys less rain and more sunshine.

If it’s snow you’re after then you are much more likely to find this is the South Island. You may even see snow on the highest mountains in the Summer.

new zealand south island vs north island  - milford sound in bad weather

So which wins North Island vs South Island for weather?

The North! (Unless you’re after snow…)

New Zealand North Island vs South Island For Landscapes

Let’s set something straight, BOTH islands are incredibly beautiful.

“New Zealand’s scenery is boring and ugly” said no one EVER.

The landscapes are very different with the South Island offering rugged snow-capped mountains, gushing waterfalls, majestic fjords and glacial lakes with the brightest turquoise water, framed by colourful lupins.

new zealand north vs south island - road with mountains

The landscapes in the North Island are more pretty than dramatic. With the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel peninsula offering secluded coves, beautiful sandy beaches and rainforests. There are of course mountains but they are not as rugged or dramatic as those in the South, One exception is the Tongariro National Park which should be must-see if you visit the North.

new zealand north island bay of islands

So which wins, the North island or South island for landscapes?

The South Island (but both are VERY pretty.)

New Zealand North Island or South Island for Cities?

Whilst New Zealand does have some great cities, I’m not convinced it would be the main reason for anyone travelling to New Zealand. But that said, if you are more of a city-person than a country bumpkin then there is probably a clear runner here.

new-zealand auckland itinerary

The North Island is more populated than the South so here are where you’ll find the biggest cities, Auckland and Wellington.

If you’d rather base yourself in a city and take day trips then Auckland would be a brilliant location as there is so much to do and see within 2 hours of the city including Waitomo caves, The Bay of Islands, Coromandel peninsula, Hobbiton, Rotorua, Raglan, Waiheke Island

Christchurch in the South was unfortunately devastated by an earthquake in 2011. The process of rebuilding the city is still underway. It is however a good base for exploring the east coast and the lakes region.

Queenstown in the south is more of a town than a city but was my favourite urban place in New Zealand. It has an alpine resort feel to it even in the summer and you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Queenstown in either season.

So which wins, the north or south island for cities?

A clear winner – The North!

New Zealand North island vs South Island for Activities?

If it’s adventure and adrenalin fueled activities you’re after then the South Island probably wins. That said, there’s plenty of opportunities to throw yourself out of a plane or dangle yourself over a river by rope on either island!

new zealand north island vs south isalnd for activities - wind sailing lake taupo

But the South Island is the king of adventure sports with skiing, mountain biking, sky diving, bungy jumping, white water rafting, kayaking and more on offer. Queenstown in the South offers the highest bungy jump at 134 metres (rather you than me…)

But there are plenty of more tame activities on both islands if you are a wimp like me!

On the South island, take a boat trip to explore one of the beautiful fjords, go whale watching in Kaikoura, wine tasting in the Marlborough region, kayaking in Abel Tasman, relax at one of the many hot spring spas and take a hel-hike on a glacier.

new zealand south island vs north island activities heli hike glacier

On the North Island you can take a mud bath at Hells Gate, hike the Tongariro crossing, learn about maori culture at a cultural village, go dolphin swimming in the Bay of Islands and explore the Hobbiton set of The Lord of The Rings films.

new zealand north island vs south island activities hobbiton tour

So which wins, the north or south island for activities?

The South (but there’s plenty to do on the north island too…)

New Zealand North Island vs South Island for Food and Drink

You’ll find lots of delicious food across both islands. New Zealand has so many sheep you will be sure to eat lots of lamb and mutton for dinner. In the coastal regions, there will be lots of sea food on offer.

Read more Foods you must try in New Zealand

But where the South Island really stands out is for it’s wineries. The Marlborough region is one of the most popular wine regions in the world and if you enjoy your Sauvignon Blanc, you simply must take a wine tour here!

new zealand south island wine tours

So which wins, North or South island for food and drink?

The South (for the wine!)

New Zealand North Island or South Island for Getting About?

Mostly the main roads on both islands are in good condition however due to the high mountain ranges in the South Island, The North Island is easier to get about.

Sometimes in the South, You may only be a few miles from your destination but you have to take the long route avoiding the mountain ranges which can take a few extra hours! That said, you can be sure your journey will be scenic..!

I would encourage anyone to hire a campervan when you travel either island. It offers so much flexibility and there’s something lovely about being able to pull up anywhere with a view to have a picnic!

So which wins, the north or south island for accesibility?

The North!

New Zealand North Island vs South Island for Maori culture

The best way to learn about Maori culture is to visit a Maori living village. There are plenty of these in the North island with Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Maori village being the most well known.

There is only once Maori village cultural centre on the South Island at Ko Tane near Christchurch. Here you can sample tradition hangi food and see cultural performances similar to those at Whakarewarewa.

new zealand north island cultural maori village

Which wins, the North or South island for Maori culture?

The North!

New Zealands North Island or South Island for Geothermal Activity?

If it’s geothermal activity you’re interested in then you’ll find more of this in the North Island. Here you can learn about geology at the Geothermal parks such as Wai-O-Tapu where you can wander around bright coloured lakes and bubbling pools of mud and even see geysers erupt.

new zealand north island wa-o-tapu geothermal park

For hot spring spas, you will find these on both islands. They are particularly nice for relaxing sore muscles after all the long hikes, bike and kayak trips you’ll no doubt want to try in New Zealand.

Which wins, the North or South Island for geothermal activity?

The North without a doubt.

New Zealand North Island vs South Island for Hiking

There are amazing hiking trails in every corner of New Zealand, you won’t be short of some great walking trails. However, there are 10 trails that stand out that have been named as the ‘Great Walks of New Zealand.’ Many of these treks run over several days though you can often access part of them for a day trek if you do not have enough time.

new zealand north island tongariro crossing

3 of these great walks are in the North Island and 6 in the South. The additional great walk is found on Stewart Island just below the South Island.

The Great Walks of New Zealand – North Island

North Island

South Island

Read More | Hiking in New Zealand

So which wins the North or South Island for hiking?

The South wins for sheer choice and variety.

New Zealand North Island vs South Island for Beaches

New Zealand has many beautiful beaches. The beaches in the North and South are quite different. In the south you’ll find more long sweeping beaches with huge waves and wild weather. In the north you’ll find more quiet coves and subtropical beaches. However, you’ll also find similar pristine beaches and coves in the Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island

new zealand north island cathedral cove coromandel peninsula

Which wins, the north or south island for beaches?

It’s a close call but the North probably wins out because of The Bay of Islands

New Zealand’s North Island vs South Island for Wildlife

There are a multitude of opportunities to find wildlife in New Zealand.

In the North Island, you can swim with dolphins and go whale watching in the Bay of Islands. You can also go searching for native kiwi birds at Otorohanga kiwi house and native park.

new zealand south island  kaikoura whale watching

In the South you will find whales, dolphins and seals near Kaikoura and in the fjords. On the south east coast, you may find yellow eyed penguins.

Which wins, the north or south Island for wildlife?

The South wins!

So which wins overall? New Zealand South Island or North Island?

Well according to the above categories, the North Island is taking the edge winning 6 out of 11 categories with the South Island scoring points in 5 categories.

That said, New Zealand’s South Island still remains my personal favourite.

So let’s summarise and see if we can find the best island for you…

Visit New Zealand’s North Island if you;

  • Want warm weather
  • Want to explore New Zealand’s geothermal activity and Maori culture
  • Want to see beaches and cities

Visit New Zealand’s South Island if you;

  • Want to see the most dramatic beautiful scenery
  • Want to indulge in adventure adrenaline-fuelled activities
  • Want to see the penguins and seals
  • Want to explore glaciers, do some trekking or indulge in wine tasting

So which did you decide? Tell me in the comments below!

In the meantime, here are some more articles you may want to read…

If you liked this post and found it useful, you can save it or share it with your friends on social media with the icons and pins below!