New Zealand; Is the North Island or South Island better?

Alright, my blog gets quite a few hits these days so I should maintain (begin?) some level of professionalism and give a balanced argument. However, I have no intention of doing that.

I’ve recently returned from driving a campervan around New Zealand and if you’re trying to choose which island to visit in New Zealand, north or south, the answer is simple. The South Island.

north or south island new zealand
Milford Sound

Why The South Island is better

Natural Beauty

All of New Zealand looks good, that’s what makes it so attractive to us backpacking folk. However, the South Island beats the North hands down when it comes to natural beauty. The North island is more forest, bush and beachy. The South island is what you hope and expect New Zealand will look like – glaciers, lakes, fjords, endless vistas. Any iconic image you’ve seen of NZ was probably taken in the South Island

Lake Matheson NZ
Lake Matheson (South Island!)


If I had to choose where to live in New Zealand, I’d probably choose the north island, but to travel? It’s a no brainer, head south. The North Island activities tend to revolve around the fact that they have the majority of the population. Big city life, nightclubs and beach visits. Personally speaking, I find that New Zealand north island tastes very similar to Australia. Now that’s not a bad thing, I lived in Australia a few years ago (come on, it’s an Irish right of passage these days). But if you want the true NZ experience, it’s not to be found up north.

north or south island new zealand
Kayaking at Milford Sound

The South Island however, it’s the home of the backpacker. Hiking, zip lines, kayaking, bungee jumping, skydiving, Queenstown has more activities per person than any other town in the world, so if you haven’t been here and done some adrenaline orientated activity with a dirty hangover well my friend, you haven’t traveled.

north or south island new zealand
Me on a helicopter ride in New Zealand’s South Island

The People

You don’t come to New Zealand to look at a concrete jungle, forget big city life. Part of the beauty of traveling is the people that you meet on the road. And although the South Island is much more sparsely populated than the north, the kinda people you meet on the South Island are just generally more awesome than the people in the North (sorry to offend, actually no I’m not).

johnny ward johny ward skydiving in New Zealand south island
Skydiving with some awesome people in the South Island

Backpackers in the south wanna ‘really travel’, they wanna see the true New Zealand. They wanna camp and sleep in a campervan, trek and bungee jump. They wanna drink cheap booze and have fun.

The North Island is more designer jeans and designer haircuts, which certainly has its place, but they’re not my people. At least not when I’m on the road.

The locals in the South Island are famously friendly, so get your traveling asses here asap and confirm my beliefs on the North South debate! Happy travels!

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