Struggling to decide whether it is best to visit the North Island or the South Island of New Zealand? Here are 10 reasons to visit the South Island.
When I was a little girl, I must admit I was very curious, but I was also a silly girl – still am, by the way.
Whenever people told me to do something or go somewhere, I'd say, "Give me 10 good reasons why I should do that or go there."
Most of the time, the people who told me to do something or go somewhere, could never give me those 10 reasons. They'd come up with 3 reasons at the most.
I like challenging people or giving them food for thought.
So I thought, why not turn the tables on myself and give you 10 good reasons why you should visit the South Island of New Zealand? So here goes...
New Zealand has a total of 14 national parks, 9 of which are located on the South Island:
Needless to say, you'll find the best nature that New Zealand has got to offer on the South Island. In addition, most of the great walks start and end on the South Island.
Because it is almost impossible to visit and enjoy all of these national parks during one trip, make sure you at least visit Abel Tasman national park, Mount Cook national park, and Milford Sound in Fiordland national park for the most impressive scenery.
Coquille Bay in Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand
To save some time when visiting Abel Tasman national park, you could catch a water taxi from Marahau or Kaiteriteri, have it drop you off on one of the beaches, and then walk back the whole way or part of the way if you have arranged for a water taxi to pick you up again.
This way you can easily do part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track without having to spend days in Abel Tasman national park to enjoy its beauty.
Where Milford Sound is concerned, you could book a Fly-Cruise-Fly tour, which would fly you from Queenstown to Milford Sound, see you join a boat cruise, and then fly you back all in half a day.
This would save you time from having to drive to Milford Sound which can take up to 4 hours from Queenstown or 2 hours from Te Anau. You can use the map on the South Island driving distances page to find more distances and driving times between cities and town on the South Island.
The 10 highest mountains in New Zealand are all located on the South Island. The highest mountain is Aoraki / Mount Cook at a towering 3,754 m.
This might not come as a surprise to you if you know that the Southern Alps run from the top of the South Island all the way down to the bottom of the South Island.
The Southern Alps have at least 223 named peaks higher than 2,300 m.
The permanent snowline on the Southern Alps is around 2,100 m, so you can expect to see snow on some of the highest mountains even in summer.
New Zealand has 3,144 glaciers. The 5 largest glaciers are all located on the South Island:
Glaciers come down as low as 700 m on the Easter flank of the Southern Alps and 400 m on the steeper Western side.
Both Fox glacier and Franz Josef glacier, which are located on the West Coast of the South Island, are easily accessible.
You can do (free) short walks to see the glaciers, or book guided glacier walks with tourist operators on the West Coast, although I think these days you are only allowed to touch the ice; not walk on it.
Reflections of snow on mountains on the South Island
When I joined one of those tour groups back in 2001, I had the privilege of doing a glacier hike at Fox Glacier and actually walking on ice.
Fiordland national park on the South Island is New Zealand's largest national park, but also a large wilderness area.
Only a small piece of Fiordland national park is seen by tourists in the form of walks on the Milford Track and boat tours on Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Lake Manapouri.
This area does not only have large lakes, but also tall mountain peaks and waterfalls tumbling down into the fiords. It offers some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand.
If you want to visit the area, Te Anau would be the likely city to stay and start your adventures.
Four of the 5 largest lakes in New Zealand are located on the South Island:
Lake Pukaki on the South Island of New Zealand
And the largest lake on the North Island (and in New Zealand) is Lake Taupo; Lake Taupo would come in on number 1 in the preceding list of largest New Zealand lakes.
So for fun on the water, you must visit the South Island.
While you'll be able to find patches of color here and there on the North Island, it is not as good as on the South Island, especially in South Canterbury and Otago (Southern Lakes region).
If you do not know where those regions are located, driving from Christchurch to Queenstown will have you visiting most of the locations that have trees that turn yellow in autumn.
The South Island has 21 ski fields, compared to 4 on the North Island.
So naturally, the South Island ski fields are not only less busy, but you'll have more choice and depending where you go skiing in New Zealand, see spectacular New Zealand winter scenery.
The most popular ski fields on the South Island are:
South Island mountains with snow in October
Ski fields start to open at the beginning of June, which is also the time snow starts to fall in New Zealand, with some ski fields remaining open till well into October depending on the weather and snow conditions.
Marlborough, which is located on the South Island, is New Zealand's most significant wine-producing region. Hawke's Bay and Gisborne on the North Island come in on a good second place.
You can easily get to Marlborough from the North Island by catching a ferry from Wellington to Picton.
In addition, Central Otago on the South Island is becoming well-known for its wineries and award-winning pinot noir wines. For example, you can find several wine-tasting rooms and restaurants in Gibbston Valley.
So if you're into wine-tasting, the South Island could give you what you're after.
While the North Island has Wellington as the capital of New Zealand, the South Island has Queenstown as the adventure capital of New Zealand.
The scenery around Queenstown is not only gorgeous, but Queenstown itself is built for and around tourism. Many adventurous (bungy-jumping, jet-boating, etc.) and less adventurous (hiking, biking, winery, scenic flights, etc.) tours can be booked from Queenstown.
Queenstown is busy, but it is also a must-see place on the South Island.
How can I mention the South Island without mentioning sheep?
The South Island is more rural than the North Island, so naturally there are many farms and there are many sheep. In addition, many farms are located in high-country areas.
You might even have to stop and wait for sheep to get off the road when driving on rural roads or "drive through" them like I did when I drove on the Hakatere Potts road.
So if you want to see sheep, you're guaranteed to see a good few on the South Island.
Roaring Bay in the Catlins in New Zealand
While the North Island has the best beaches in New Zealand – in my opinion – the South Island beaches are not too shabby.
Head to the top of the South Island for beaches, especially Nelson, Kaiteriteri, and Golden Bay.
Then take Highway 6 down to the West Coast to enjoy the rugged beauty of the New Zealand coastline.
And finally, drive across to Dunedin on the East coast and visit the beaches of Otago peninsula. When you are done, drive down South through the Catlins and along its coast to see more beaches and bays.
See? I was able to give you more than 10 reasons to visit the South Island...
Okay, I cheated a bit, because the North Island definitely wins in the best New Zealand beaches category.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
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