Head to head: New Zealand

North Is­land VER­SUS South is­land

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - CONTENTS -

North Is­land or South Is­land? Hip cities and the ‘world’s great­est day trek’ ver­sus wild ‘tramp­ing’, search­ing for ki­wis and swim­ming with seals. You de­cide…


The North Is­land edges it when it comes to fes­ti­vals, such as Napier’s evoca­tive Art Deco Fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary, or the ri­otous Pasi­fika Poly­ne­sian fes­ti­val in Auck­land in March. There are more places to grab a sense of Maori cul­ture, too, es­pe­cially around the ‘Sul­phur City’ of Ro­torua, where a third of the pop­u­la­tion are Maori. The North Is­land has some epic short walks, such as the Ton­gariro Alpine Cross­ing day trek, across a vol­canic range lit with bright jade pools, or the overnight Cape Brett coastal walk­way, end­ing at the light­house ( right) of the same name. There’s top beaches, too, such as Piha, a west-coast es­cape re­sem­bling a Hawai­ian fan­tasy. You don’t have to leave Auck­land’s wa­ters to see whales and dol­phins – the Hau­raki Gulf is vis­ited by over a third of all known ma­rine mam­mals, in­clud­ing blue whales. To the south, the gloworm caves of Wait­omo are re­mark­able, while the west-coast town of Port Waikato is a great spot to see rare Maui dol­phins, the small­est of their kind. Of the eight Kiwi restau­rants on La Liste’s 2017 run­down of the world’s 1,000 best eater­ies, seven were in Auck­land, in­clud­ing Sid Sahrawat’s bound­ary-push­ing Si­dart. But it’s not all about the north’s fine-din­ing mecca – the hip­ster bars and night market food stalls on cap­i­tal Welling­ton’s Cuba Street make just as strong an im­pres­sion.


Cul­tural gems ex­ist in the South Is­land, too, but largely stem from its min­ing past. The west coast is rich in ‘gold rush’ ghost towns such as Waiuta, while plenty more dot the Old Ghost Road cy­cling route at Lyell. Then there’s Pa­paroa Na­tional Park’s new ‘Great Walk’ ( left), which opens in 2019 and loops lush for­est and the site of the Pike River Mine. But the South Is­land is one of the world’s great ad­ven­ture spots, from adrenali­ne­soaked Queen­stown to ‘tramp­ing’ (hik­ing) the leg­endary Mil­ford Track – 54km of fjords and peaks along Mil­ford Sound. Whether climb­ing the Fox Glacier or tak­ing on the five-day Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail cy­cle, you won’t be short of a wild es­cape. The South Is­land is known for its wildlife, from swim­ming with fur seals and dol­phins in Kaik­oura, to spot­ting sea lions and rare yel­low-eyed pen­guins in the bays of the Otago Penin­sula. Then there’s the kiwi birds ( left), with trips to Ste­wart Is­land, off the south coast, and vis­its to the nearby Ulva Is­land Bird Sanc­tu­ary a must for sight­ings. Lyt­tle­ton’s ac­claimed Roots eatery sums up the South Is­land’s fo­cus on fresh food, and while good wine ex­ists across New Zealand, Marl­bor­ough sau­vi­gnon blancs and Otago pinot noirs and are ar­guably the most iconic. For lo­cal treats, don’t leave Ste­wart Is­land with­out tast­ing mut­ton­bird, or Hok­i­tika with­out some white­bait pass­ing your lips.

If you want a mix of built-up towns, cul­ture, food, beaches and vol­canic land­scapes, the North Is­land might be the one for you. If you want a pure hit of na­ture and the outdoors, with good lo­cal food along the way, go to the South Is­land. But both are in­cred­i­ble, plus it’s only a three-hour ferry ride be­tween them. And guess what? The scenery from the Cook Strait ferry is amaz­ing, too.

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