Population: Over 1 million
Size: 151,215 sq km
Major cities: Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Queenstown
New Zealand has been a favourite destination of holidaymakers and travellers for decades, thanks to its spectacular scenery, welcoming people and rich, diverse culture. It regularly features in newspaper and magazine lists of the world’s best places to visit, including those compiled by travel experts such as the Lonely Planet.
The South Island usually features heavily in any just-got-back-from-holiday ravings about New Zealand. Which isn’t really surprising, given that it does feature arguably the country’s most spectacular scenery (the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, the mirror-like waters of Fiordland, the turquoise waters and sandy beaches of the Marlborough Sounds and so on and on and on) as well as some of its most dedicated adrenaline-junkie activities (sea-kayaking, bungee-jumping and jet-boating to name but a few!)
But there is a much gentler side to the South Island as well, and it’s this combination of the spectacular and the soothing which we think explains its enduring appeal to inhabitants and visitors alike.
The relatively small population of the South Island means that there is always more than enough space for everyone – it’s possible to get a golden sandy beach all to yourself here – and perhaps it’s the lack of queues, traffic jams and hassles in general that creates the wonderfully laid-back lifestyle.
The small population, however, does mean that some parts of the South Island can feel remote. Some people revel in the solitude, but if you prefer something a little more sociable, make sure you head to the one of the main centres – Nelson (a beautiful, artist-dominated town at the sunny top end of the South Island) Dunedin (known as New Zealand’s ‘Student City’) Christchurch (the biggest city in the South Island, currently in the middle of an exciting rebuilding and revival programme after the earthquake of February 2011) and Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure tourism capital and all-round party town.
While a big part of the South Island lifestyle focuses on the great outdoors, there’s also a huge emphasis on good entertainment, good food, and great wine. So whether you prefer freshly cooked fish and chips sitting on the jetty after a day out sea-kayaking or walking, or treating yourself to a night out in a restaurant after a leisurely day spent wandering around a few museums, galleries or vineyards, there’s something here for everyone.