One of the first decisions you are likely to face when planning a New Zealand vacation is which island – North or South – you will spend most of your time visiting. It’s not really an easy question to answer, as each one has a lot to offer. Still, unless you have a lot of time, it’s best to focus your time on one or the other. Here are some things to consider to help you decide.
How much time do you plan to spend in New Zealand
Obviously, the more time you spend in New Zealand, the more you can see. However, New Zealand is actually quite a large country. If you are only going to be here for a week or two and want to see both islands, you will spend a lot of time traveling and what you will see will be quite limited. In that case, it would be better to focus your time on a single island. After all, hopefully, you’ll be back some other time!
If you have more than two weeks to spend in New Zealand, with careful planning you could see a reasonable amount of both islands. However, the shorter the distance you decide to travel, the more you will be able to appreciate the areas you visit.
Where will you arrive and depart in New Zealand
Most international visitors come to Auckland on the North Island. If you want to explore the North Island, that makes things pretty straightforward. However, if you want to go to the South Island, keep in mind that getting there by car will take a couple of days (including the Cook Strait ferry crossing between the North and South Islands).
By far the best option, if you arrive in Auckland and want to explore the South Island, is to take an internal flight to Christchurch. These can be very cheap (as low as $ 49 per person one way) and fast. Flight time is only one hour and twenty minutes.
What time of year will you be in New Zealand
If you are going to be in New Zealand in the spring, summer or fall (September to May) months, both islands offer good weather and you can enjoy the great outdoors. However, winter can be quite different between the islands. The North Island can be wet and stormy, although not necessarily that cold. The northern tip of the North Island can even be quite mild.
The South Island is generally colder and drier in winter, with lots of snow in the deep south.
What types of landscapes do you enjoy
The landscape is quite different between the northern and southern islands. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that you are in different countries!
- North Island: Mountainous; volcanic (including active volcanoes in the central part of the island); beaches and islands; forests and shrubs.
- South Island : mountain range of the Southern Alps, snow (in winter), glaciers and lakes.
What kinds of things do you want to do in New Zealand?
Both islands offer a lot to do, and you can actually do anything quite well. There are more of some things on one island than the other.
- North Island: ocean and water sports (swimming, sunbathing, sailing, diving, fishing, surfing), hiking, camping, city entertainment (nightlife, restaurants, especially in Auckland and Wellington).
- South Island: alpine sports (skiing, snowboarding, climbing), boat rides, rafting, kayaking, hiking and trekking.
It is not easy to decide which island to spend most of your time on. They are both wonderful!