North vs South
If you’ve visited New Zealand before, you’ll know there’s a big difference between the North Island and the South Island. It’s one of the most frequently asked questions for people booking New Zealand for the first time – should I go North or South? Or should I do both? And how long does it take to see both islands?
The short answer is yes, do both islands if you can. How long does it take? Well that all depends – you could spend months travelling around New Zealand and still not see it all.
Most flights will arrive in Auckland in the North Island, although some flights from Australia may land in Christchurch (South). In the north you have the beaches and bays, surfing and other watersports, geothermal areas (like Rotorua), vineyards and plenty of culture. There’s the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi, Bay of Islands and the cultural hub of NZ in Rotorua. There are bush walks, mountain biking trails, ski fields, large cities and small coastal towns. Of course, there’s also Wellington, home of parliament and the famous Te Papa museum.
Lake Rotoiti, Roturua | Julian Aspe| Tourism Rotorua
In the northern part of the South Island, you’ll find spectacular bays and fiords, with long stretches of deserted beaches, uninhabited islands and plenty of sunshine hours. The Abel Tasman National Park is quite simply stunning. In Blenheim and Marlborough, there are vineyards galore producing some of New Zealand’s finest wines.
Marlborough Sounds | Image: Marlborough NZ
As you head down the coast, you’ll pass through whale territory off the coast of Kaikoura. It’s well worth heading out to see them. In Christchurch, you can do a spot of shopping, visit the many attractions and enjoy the excellent restaurants.
Venturing further south, you’ll discover all those postcard-perfect spots that draw thousands of visitors every year (except 2020, thanks Covid!). Spectacular mountain vistas, beautiful lakes – some turquoise in colour, beautiful native bush alive with the sounds of endemic birdlife, waterfalls, rivers, history and more … it’s impossible to adequately describe New Zealand’s beauty.
Just out of Queenstown, the Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds offer up dramatic scenery with waterfalls plunging over cliffs, bush clad hills and seals lazing on the rocks. You may also see dolphins here too.
Milford Sound, Fiordland | Rob Suisted
Finally, in Dunedin you’ll find a bustling city with a hip student vibe. There’s architecture, art, museums and more to discover. The Otago Peninsula is an excellent spot for seeing wildlife and the albatross colony.
But wait, there’s more. Stewart Island, often overlooked, is an experience in itself. It’s a favourite with animal and bird lovers. With far fewer visitors and inhabitants than the other islands (and much smaller), Stewart Island is fantastic for those who love getting out in nature.
Image: Penguin Place
So with that in mind, you can understand why you can spend months exploring and still not see it all. Many visitors to New Zealand opt to self-drive but get a nasty shock at how windy and narrow some of the roads are. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, for example, is pretty heavy going.
Of course, we highly recommend cruising New Zealand. It saves on the long car trips, pouring over maps and wondering why New Zealand seems to have a major lack of street signage! Instead, you wake each morning in a new port fresh and ready to explore.
You can choose just the North or just the South but we really recommend doing both if at all possible. The islands are incredibly diverse so it’s a shame to miss out on either.
Now, as you know, the cruising world is a moving platform at this point of time and things can change very quickly. However, with both Australia and New Zealand talking about travel bubbles in 2021, this may well be the first international destination to open up. We’re happy to keep you up to date with cruises to New Zealand as they firm up – just give us a call and have a chat or email us for more information.
Header Image: Aoraki Mt Cook National Park | Miles Holden