When booking your tailor made holiday to New Zealand, ask me what I think the best of New Zealand is. Depending on your time and budget restraints, North Island v the South, what’s it to be? Which is best in terms of scenery and experience?
There is a question which New Zealander’s love to ask of visitors to their country – ‘which do you like best, the North or South Island?’ Perhaps some will have a very definite answer to this but for me it’s tricky. When I am on the North Island I am adamant that absolutely this is my favourite. However, once I’m on the South Island my allegiance changes and the opposite applies.
The reason for this is not because I’m fickle but because the two islands, although only 20 km apart, are totally and astoundingly different. Perhaps nothing illustrates this distinction better than a relatively recent announcement by the Lonely Planet publishers that from now, each island will have a separate guide book dedicated to it.
In both islands you will be received with amazing Kiwi hospitality. In both you will be blown away by the heart-achingly beautiful things which surround you. The incredible diversity of both means you can potentially find everything you are looking for as well as many things you didn’t even know you wanted to find.
However, when measuring directly certain attributes there are definite winners.
Mountains – although the North Island isn’t bereft of mountains the South Island definitely comes out tops here. The Southern Alps wriggle down the centre of the island, acting as a playground for wilderness seekers, hikers, skiers, 4 wheel drive enthusiasts and other adventurers. Mount Cook or Aoraki (meaning ‘cloud piercer’ in Maori), 1 of 16 South Island mountains over 3000m, claims the highest peak title at 3754m.
Maori culture – the reason why only 15% of New Zealand’s Maori population inhabit the South Island is historical and complex. If you are hoping to experience Maori culture then your best bet is the North Island where organised shows and exhibitions are common. However, for something more authentic, just get yourself out there and be open to opportunities.
Wilderness – almost 33% of Kiwis live in the urban sprawl of Auckland and, of the remaining 67%, 15% live in Wellington – the nation’s capital – or its environs. These statistics should make it patently obvious that outside of the big cities, solitude and wilderness can easily be found. However, the South Island, where only 25% of the population reside, can offer more extreme wilderness and has great tracts of land, such as Fiordland, where no-one lives at all, unless you count the extensive wildlife.
Wine trails – as any wine buff will tell you, the produce of New Zealand has enjoyed vastly accelerated recognition in recent times and, as a result, some visitors to the country are here just to follow the ‘wine trail’. New Zealand has ten major wine growing regions, the majority of which are understandably situated in the milder climate of the North Island. However, the South Island has one big claim to fame here which the North Island doesn’t – home to the most southerly latitude wine producing region on the planet.
Glaciers – a definite win for the South Island. The Southern Alps were carved by glaciers and today the townships of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier receive multitudes of visitors from all over the world wanting to get up close and personal with the glaciers. Opportunities to get out onto the glaciers abound with companies offering hikes for every ability level, exploring ice caves and other-worldly glacial features. Alternatively you can take a helicopter ride or skydive over them and, if this all seems too adrenalin fuelled, a short leisurely stroll can take you directly to the advanced glacier faces.
My friend Deneice about to jump – an exhilarating experience…
Volcanoes and geothermal activity – a clear North Island award. There are no live volcanoes on the South Island whereas the North Island has several including the very obviously active White Island which sits in the Bay of Plenty; more often than not seen sending out streams and clouds of steam and smoke. Visits to the island are possible and preceded by a briefing on emergency evacuation procedures as well as being handed a hard hat and gas mask.
For geothermal activity, Rotorua is unquestionably the most popular and well known although this doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best. For something a little less organised, visit Hot Water Beach and dig yourself your very own hot pool.
So, if you are lucky enough to be going on holiday to New Zealand, where will you choose North Island or South Island? Personally, dump me anywhere on either of these two islands and I’m in heaven. I have an on-going love affair with this remarkable country and each time I visit I find another 100 reasons to gaze with adoring eyes on all she has to offer – North or South Island of New Zealand – both take my breath away.
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