Is the North or South Island of New Zealand better to visit on a tour?

For any traveller coming to New Zealand, which Island to visit is always something to be carefully considered. You will want to see as much as possible of this fantastic, diverse and magical country. In such a small country as New Zealand there's plenty to see and its spread pretty evenly over both islands. This can make the decision of which to choose on a shorter time frame really hard. Ideally you'd travel to both islands at your leisure on one of our national tours. That, of course, may not fit everyones time or budget.

We recommend if you have less than three weeks to travel to New Zealand, trying to fit both Islands in will be too rushed. So take your time and enjoy all the good things about one of the Islands...and start planning your next visit.

If you need to choose between the North Island and the South Island then this information guide should help you make a decision.

Highlights of the North Island

Reasons why the North Island is better to visit on tour. We could go on and on with a huge list but we have stuck to the main reasons we think the North Island is best to visit when you come to New Zealand.

1. Maori Culture

2. Geothermic Activity

3. Beach Culture

4. Big Cities

Rotorua Blaine Harrington3.900
Maori Culture

If you are interested in learning about the traditional culture and interacting with the indigenous Maori population then places like Rotorua, in the North Island, would be a great place to start. Most of the Maori population live in the North Island, well as is the case for the entire New Zealand population. Maori tourism has a long history in places like Rotorua and it's easy to visit a Maori marae (traditional village) and experience a hangi (traditional meal cooked underground) and see kapa haka performance


Tours which have a strong cultural element:

 10 Day Auckland to Wellington Comfort Tour

20 Day Auckland to Christchurch Comfort Tour

Tamaki Maori Village Dinner And Cultural Show

Geothermal activity

New Zealand was formed and continues to be formed, by the collision of two tectonic plates that have pushed the landform from under the ocean. This collision creates incredible geological events including the mountain ranges, active volcanoes and earthquakes that periodically occur, especially on the North Island. Areas of weakness on the earth surface create areas of geothermal activity to come to the surface. This is the case in Rotorua where you can safely enjoy and observe this natural wonders like the hot pools, coloured lakes and geysers.

Tours that take you to Rotorua in the North Island:

7 Day Best of the North Island Auckland To Auckland Summer Tour

15 Day Grand Traverse Auckland to Queenstown Tour


Beach Culture

The North Island is subject to warmer weather throughout the year than the south. North of Auckland the climate is sub-tropical and temperate even in winter. Warm ocean currents also make getting into the sea much more inviting here. Being an island nation the coast is never too far away, and going to the beach is something all locals are familiar with. It's a place to socialise and relax at, as well as do more active activities like surfing and swimming. The beach becomes an extension of people's backyard, something owned and enjoyed by everyone.

Big Cities

Nearly a quarter of the New Zealand population (4.4 million in total) lives in the greater Auckland region. The diversity of the population (Asian, Indian, Polynesian, Maori and Pakeha (European descent)) means many of the common home comforts for visitors are present. It creates an interesting cultural and creative mix other smaller cities in the North Island and especially the South Island can't match. Wellington also has this feel and is the capital of New Zealand with very interesting Parliament buildings. The South Island outside of Christchurch has neither the ethnic diversity nor the total population (approx 1 million). Most of our National tours start in Auckland, so a great place for you to fly in and start your tour in New Zealand.

Highlights of the South Island

Why the South Island is best to visit on tour. You have probably all heard the South Island is more epic in New Zealand. Here we break down the reasons to visit the South when you come to New Zealand.

1. Big Mountains

2. Fiordland's

3. Wide Open Spaces

4. Queenstown

Lake Wanaka Julian Apse 900x601
Big Mountains

While the North Island has its share of ranges and some big volcanic mountains like Ruapehu, Ngaruhoe, Tongariro and Taranaki, they don't really compare to the Southern Alps which run almost the length of the South Island. The alpine landscape becomes a focal point and the high east-west passes across the alps make for spectacular road or rail trips. Big mountains make for great ski fields and opportunities for tramping / bush walking and rafting down the rivers that flow from the mountains.

Milford Sound Fiordland Rob Suisted 901

The south-west corner of the South Island is dominated by deep and rugged valleys carved by rivers and glaciers. This place is called Fiordland after the glacially filled valleys which have been filled by a rising sea level. It's spectacular and awe inspiring country. It's the type of country that is invariably featured on TV commercials with helicopters sweeping through the bush covered valleys. Milford Sound is the most readily accessible fiord. Doubtful Sound is just as spectacular and is much larger and more remote.

Tous that take you to Milford Sound:

Milford Sound Cruise and transfers from Queenstown

Milford Sound Encounter Nature Cruise

Wide Open Spaces

It's often remarked that without the concentration of population and city infrastructure and motorways, the landscape in the South Island feels less complicated and more natural. The scenery is so immediate and on a grand scale. You just have to stop and stare to feel good and feel like you are interacting with the environment here. Best of all those big landscapes mean that you feel small and you will often have them all to yourself. 

snowboards 3

Check out our South Island only tours here: South Island tours

Click here for more information on how to best explore the North Island or the South Island.

Check out our other popular articles:




Queenstown Julian Apse 900

Winner of the most famous town in the South Island and maybe in New Zealand goes to Queenstown. This adventure capital of New Zealand and the birth of modern Bungy Jumping Queenstown is an adrenaline junkies playground. You can happily come to the South Island and base yourself in Queenstown for days of skiing, snowboarding. Bungy Jumping, Jet Boating and partying! On our South Island tours, we visit Queenstown, normally giving you a couple of days here to do a few adventure activities. Queenstown is great to visit in the winter when snow is on the mountains and you can take a day out snowboarding or skiing. A very compelling reason to visit the South Island on tour! 

 Here are our tours which spend time in Queenstown:

10 Day Best of South Island Christchurch to Christchurch Winter Tour

21 Day North and South Christchurch to Christchurch Summer Tour

Adventure activities you can do in Queenstown:

Shotover Jet

1 Day Wilderness Jet and Funyaks

Tours to get you there

Explore more of NZ’s best National Parks

28 Day Ultimate Explorer Auckland to Auckland Tour

Quite possibly the best thing you can do in New Zealand. Grab life with both hands on this in depth, all-points covered action and adventure wilderness experience. This trip guarantees to show you the best of the North and South Island and the experience of a lifetime. .