Have you planned a trip to New Zealand and don’t know which island you should visit or prioritize? I am here for you! I have created the following guide that highlights the main features of the two major islands that make up New Zealand: the North island called Te Ika-a-Maui and the South island called Te Waipounamu.
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What are the two main islands of New Zealand?
As mentioned, New Zealand is an archipelago of two main islands that covers 270’000 square kilometers and hundreds of other isles, situated in the Southwestern Pacific ocean. The country offers a variety of awesome landscapes from geothermal wonders to glaciers. New Zealand is the perfect place for nature and outdoor activities enthusiastic! Due to an overall population of only 4,5 million inhabitants, the country is very wild and preserved. Consequently, New Zealand is home to such unique fauna and flora!
In terms of size, the South Island (Te Waipounamu island) is a little bit larger than the North one (Te Ika-a-Maui island) but three times less populated. Indeed, the North Island is home to Auckland (the biggest city in the country with 1,5 million people) and Wellington (New Zealand’s capital). By comparison, the biggest city on the Southern island is Christchurch with only 380’000 people.
The two islands can easily be visited from one to another either by plane from Auckland to Christchurch for instance or by ferry from Wellington to Picton. There are two ferry operators: Bluebridge and Interislander. As this is a very popular route, I advise you to book in advance.
North island of New Zealand in three words
The North Island of New Zealand is well-known for its geothermal activities such as mud pools, geysers, and hot springs. Rotorua and Taupo are the best hubs to experience the geothermal wonderland and colorful landscapes.
The volcanic plateau dominates the North Island of New Zealand. The island is home to the famous Tongariro National Park which includes one of the most renowned treks in the country (Tongariro Alpine Crossing). New Zealand is a paradise for hiking lovers!
New Zealand has over 15’000 km of varied coastline. Consequently, the North Island of New Zealand is a great place to enjoy wonderful long sandy beaches. They are mainly located above the Auckland region. On top of that, the climate is arider than the one on the South Island.
South island of New Zealand in three words
New Zealand is one of the most humid places on Earth which create amazing tropical rainforest. As a result, the South Island of New Zealand has the greenest landscapes packed with lots of fjords and sound! In other words, the island is home to the famous Milford Sound as well as the mystical Doubtful Sound.
New Zealand’s Southern Alps have numerous glaciers. The most famous ones are Franz Joseph and Fox glacier. Almost all glaciers are easily accessible to hikers or mountaineers, which offers amazing experiences!
rich underwater world
Amazing ocean fauna has found a home along the coast of the Southern island. Kaikoura and Akaroa are the ultimate hubs to encounter sperm whales, humpback whales, and Hector dolphins. Do you know hector dolphins are the smallest dolphins in the world and are only seen around New Zealand?
My personal opinion about the two islands
The first thing to know is that in case you have enough time available, I would highly suggest exploring both islands as their landscapes are so different from one another. This is actually what we managed to do during our journey through New Zealand and we feel so lucky!
Check out my ultimate New Zealand travel guide here for all details including a 3-week itinerary day by day!
However, if you have a limited time ahead of you or don’t want to rush things out, you should prioritize between the North Island and the South Island of New Zealand. I know it is always difficult to make choice when it comes to travel and trust me, I don’t like it either.
After three weeks on New Zealand’s roads, I can give you honest feedback about my travel journey. As mentioned, I confirm that both islands are very different from each other. Therefore, the variety of landscapes makes them both worth visiting. However, if I have to choose, I would say you should prioritize the South Island of New Zealand. The island offers many activities to do and various wild scenery. Nevertheless, you will surely miss the geothermal wonders and great beaches that New Zealand North island has to offer. But you will be back I am sure!
“No worries, no matter which island you decide to visit, you will love your time in New Zealand!”
To summarize, New Zealand is a unique country with one of the most beautiful and preserved landscapes. I sincerely hope you will be able to visit the country in its entirety one day. But before that, I hope I have helped you decide which island to visit for your trip to New Zealand.
Moreover, if you want to get more New Zealand inspirations, you should click here to see all my related posts, including detailed itineraries day by day for the North Island and the South Island of New Zealand.
Finally, feel free to contact me at any time, if you have any questions. I would be happy to share it with you!
Sending you lots of love,