New Zealand – North Island vs South Island – A Photo Journey


New Zealand has many must-dos. Above all, New Zealand is for everyone. It has something of interest for everyone ranging from nature lovers to adventure junkies to culture fans. If you have the time and luxury visit both North and South Islands of New Zealand. However, if it is an Either-Or situation, then a choice between the North Island and South Island is always a tough choice to make.

This post is my take on what can be done if you were to visit only the North Island or South Islands. This photo journey is to showcase the range of options this island nation has to offer to us, travelers.

The snow blankets the entire Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
The snow blankets the entire Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Adrenalin rush: South Island you go

New Zealand offers some of the best vantage points and adventure escapades that one can imagine. Be it bungee jumping off a bridge at Kuwarau Gorge or flying in the air at Queenstown or doing a zip line across the rugged mountain, some of the best places are in the South Island of New Zealand.

A hotbed of many activities, the regions to head to are Otago, stretching from south of Aoraki Mount Cook all the way to the southeastern cost covering Lake Wanaka, the Crown range, Queenstown, Dunedin and all the towns in between.

Sky Diving in New Zealand South Island
Stunning views of snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes as you jump off a plane

Read MoreSouth Island – Must Do Things

Cultural high: North Island it is

The North Island is definitely the more populous one. With more than 2/3 of the nation’s population residing in the cities and towns of the North Island, the cultural diversity is high too.

The Maori population residing in the North Island have strong roots to the land and there are a number of sacred and culturally important centers dotted around the North Island. Wellington, the capital has many museums and cultural centers to absorb the Maori culture.

Maori Painted Warrior
Maori Painted Warrior, Source – Pixabay

There are plenty of opportunities to observe their culture and of course the Haka- war dance. Check out Bay of Plenty, Auckland, Waikato, and Northland regions.

Snow and Sea: South Island is perfect

Like fraternal twins, the north and south islands of New Zealand are connected, albeit have different personas. Less populous and with more natural wonders, South Island is the home to the famed Southern Alps. Be it the famed Aoraki Mount Cook or the humongous Franz Josef or Fox glaciers the south is a perfect blend of tall mountain ranges and glaciers that slowly melt into the sea.

Southern Alps - New Zealand South Island
Imposing the Southern Alps that follow you for most of the South Island tour

The southern Fjords, where mountains and glaciers melt into the sea, are another highlight of the South Island. Milford and Doubtful sounds are the more popular tourist destinations to see this natural wonder. Just over 400 million years old, they are much younger than their northern counterparts.

Milford Sound - New Zealand
Milford Sound – Where it rains almost 300 days of the year

If pristine landscapes dotted with snow-capped peaks and glaciers melting into the sea are your thing, head to Otago and Fjordland areas of the South Island. You won’t be disappointed.

Volcanoes & Geothermal Regions: North Island has the Earth’s power

Inundated with mud pools, active volcanic activity, hot springs, and geothermal formations, North Island is the best for your earthly wonder fix.

Read MoreNorth Island – A 4 Day Trip Itinerary

Rotorua is New Zealand’s most active geothermal region. With the Wai-o-Tapu geothermal wonderland and surrounding dormant volcanoes, this volcanic national park area gives you a sneak peek into the Earth’s inside.

Wai-o-Tapu the largest geothermal nature park
Wai-o-Tapu the largest geothermal nature park

From strong sulfur smells to bubbling mud and various gasses that tint the waters and air, the geothermal region is an overload on your senses.

Wildlife spotting: South Island has lots to offer

The South Island is all about nature. It offers a lot for adventure seekers and nature lovers. If you are a wildlife enthusiast and are itching to experience some interesting wildlife then pack your bags and fly to South Island.

New Zealand Fur seals taking a nap ashore
New Zealand Fur seals taking a nap ashore

The entire south coast, especially around Dunedin, is abundant with wildlife, ranging from seals, little Penguins, and albatrosses. Kaikoura, which literally means Crayfish, is known for its namesake as well as many other marine mammals.

The coast along the Kaikoura is aplenty with whales, fur seals, and dolphins. Most being permanent residents of the region year long. The Fyffe House, an 1800’s cottage is built on a foundation of whalebones; a grim reminder of the whaling industry and a bloodied past. A couple of hours drive from Christchurch, this small region is sandwiched between the snow-clad Kaikoura ranges and the deep Pacific Ocean.

If Kayaking with Dolphins or spotting a whale any time of the year, finding sunbathing seals or the flapping penguins are your holiday high, South Island has the right ingredients.

Warm beaches, waterfalls and scuba dives: North Island gives you a warm welcome

The North Island is a much warmer and home to some stunning coastlines. Filled with more tourist and swim-friendly beaches, the slightly warmer waters and white sands add to the beauty of the region. The North Island has some amazing beaches all along the Northland, around the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Islands.

Cathedral Cove or Te Whanganui-A-Hei is one of the most picturesque beaches of the North Island
Cathedral Cove or Te Whanganui-A-Hei is one of the most picturesque beaches of the North Island source: Pixabay

A stark reminder of days of marine navigation, whaling for whale oil and big fishing centers, the towns around the North Island beaches are varied and interesting. A lot of rivers along the different ranges meander through dense forests and plunge several meters to create stunning waterfalls. For a country that receives so much rain all year long, there is seldom a time when the water flow is not abundant.

Bridal Veil falls with a popping rainbow - A 55-meter plunge of the Pakoka River
Bridal Veil Falls with a popping rainbow – A 55-meter plunge of the Pakoka River

From hot water beaches to some exciting options to explore the underwater world, the warmer waters of the North are a beach bum and sea explorer’s hangouts.

Food and Wine: There is no clear winner

When it comes to food and wine, there is no clear winner among the two islands. North Island has some of the best cafes and gourmet food places. Primarily due to its urban hubs, Auckland and Wellington have some trendy places to eat in.

Read MoreVegetarian Food in Paris

Both the North Island and South Island have wine regions and produce both reds and whites. In terms of variety and volume, the Marlborough region in South Island is the place to explore if you are a wine connoisseur. All along the route from Queenstown to the Fjordlands, you will encounter numerous and colorful wineries.

The wine region of New Zealand South Island
The wine region of South Island

While not identical, these twin islands of North Island and South Island have quite a few overlaps in terms of culture, adventure, nature. New Zealand is a beautiful country and needs to be explored at leisure.

Read MoreVegetarian Food in Turkey

Now that the islands have been comparatively detailed, what is it for you, North or South?

This is a guest post by Ambika Subramanian.

Ambika SubramanianA travel enthusiast with a keen sense of planning and adventure. I have traveled extensively since I was a child with each experience being memorable and truly unique. For me, writing is an avenue to share the thoughts I have within me. Currently based in Sydney, I am planning future exploration expeditions. Text, places, visuals and people get the creative me charged up. To read more visit: ZingMyWay or follow me on @ambyzing on Instagram.


  1. My dream to explore New Zealand I don’t have much knowledge about NZ. But when I see cricket matches its beauty is awesome.

  2. A very interesting read for me as I haven’t been to New Zealand yet, which is ranking quite high on my list. I think I would like to visit both islands if possible and maybe spend more time on the South Island as I love snow-covered peaks. Thank you for sharing, I learned a lot from your blog post.


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