The Best Reasons to Visit Both of New Zealand’s Main Islands
New Zealand consists of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, and whether you call yourself a nature lover, adrenaline junkie, foodie, wine or culture aficionado, you’ll find reasons to visit both.
While New Zealand’s North Island is the smaller of the two islands, it has more people and the country’s major cosmopolitan cities, including the capital, Wellington, as well as Auckland.
New Zealand’s famous wine scene is ripe on the North Island, and you don’t even have to venture far from the country’s largest city to start wine tours and tastings. Several wine-growing areas producing premium red wines and Chardonnay surround Auckland. Other wine regions cluster on the island’s east coast, producing a number of both red and white wines.
The North Island’s home to a population overall as well as a higher proportion of New Zealand’s Maori people, so it’s where you’ll find opportunities to experience Indigenous culture, including performances, hangi feasts and village tours.
The North Island is also known for natural wonders, many related to its volcanic activity, including landscapes punctuated by hot springs and geysers that provide dramatic hiking opportunities. Don’t miss the North Island’s longest river or its beautiful beaches, and the country’s rich sailing culture, black water rafting and other marine pursuits.
And film buffs can visit Hobbiton, the film set of the Shire from the 'Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' trilogies.
Larger in area, New Zealand’s South Island has fewer people, although it has well-known cities including Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown.
If you recognize the name of Queenstown, maybe it’s because of the town’s reputation as New Zealand’s – and one of the world’s capitals of adventure tourism. This is where bungee jumping originated in 1988, and today, beyond bungee jumping, Queenstown offers thrill-seekers skydiving, paragliding, heli-skiing, mountain biking, zip-lining, jet boating, white-water rafting in the summer.
The South Island is cooler and damper than the North Island, also offering adventurous visitors skiing and snowboarding in the winter, as well as famously picturesque landscapes, including the Southern Alps and New Zealand's highest peak.
In the island’s spectacular fjords, most notably Milford Sound, intrepid travelers can cruise or kayak surrounded by sheer cliffs and waterfalls.
You can take one of the world’s most scenic train journeys or drive the Great Coast Road to experience rugged coastlines and lush rainforests.
Or slow down to immerse yourself in the South Island’s agricultural settings, especially wine country: Oenophiles also have a rich wine scene to taste their way through in the South Island. Marlborough, at the northeastern tip of the island, is the country's largest wine-producing region, and especially famous for the varietal that put New Zealand on the map: Sauvignon Blanc. Other regions like Central Otago, Canterbury and the Waipara Valley, are known for pinot noir, and also produce other varietals.
On either island, you never have to look far for culinary experiences; farms on both islands produce New Zealand’s famous agricultural products, including signature local foods kiwi fruit and sheep, that feed a dedicated gastronomic culture throughout New Zealand.
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