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North or South Island

North or South - the visitor's dilemma

New Zealand might have a small population but it's a large country in terms of size and the time it takes to travel around it.

New Zealand covers 270,500 sq kms of land - that's more than the United Kingdom (243,000 sq kms). It is about the same size as Colorado, United States.

The main highway, State Highway 1, is a tad more than 2,000kms long.

So unless you've got plenty of time to explore the country at leisure, you're probably going to have to face the short-term visitor's dilemma - do you spend a week in the North Island or in the South Island?

Arguments can be made for either island but don't risk trying to do a 'greatest hits' tour of both - you'll end up tired, frustrated and wishing you'd flipped a coin to decide.

Without doubt, the North Island is more suited to those who like big city life. Auckland has about 1.4 million residents and is the business centre of the country while Wellington is the administrative capital of the country. Both are full of great restaurants, bars and cafes and have the country's best shopping centres.

The South Island is 30% bigger in size than its northern counterpart but has way fewer residents - making it ideal for visitors who want to get away from the bustle of city life and want to surround themselves with open spaces.

To make the most of the North Island in a short time, you need to decide whether to use Auckland as your start point, or Wellington.

From Auckland, you can head north to the Bay of Islands or south to the natural beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula, and onto the Maori cultural attractions of Rotorua.

If you make Wellington your start point, you'll be able to either head up the west coast to cities like Wanganui or New Plymouth, or take State Highway 2 through the farming region of Wairarapa. You won't be disappointed with either route and will enjoy small rural towns and small cities.

Wellington itself is worth three or four days of full-on exploration and is particularly suited to singles or couples without children - its nightlife is arguably the best in the country.

A partial solution to the North/South dilemma is to arrive in Wellington, enjoy its charms and attractions for a couple of days, and then take the Cook Strait Ferry to Picton, a lovely town at the northern end of the South Island.

Follow that with a drive along the east coast, through Kaikoura (where you can check out whales from boats) and onto Christchurch, a city that is being reborn after the earthquake of 2011.

Alternatively, start your South Island holiday in Christchurch and then take the TranzAlpine train across the island to Greymouth on the west coast.

Otherwise, you are better off to fly direct to Queenstown and use it as your base for a week in the deep south, making the most of day trips and a further trek to Fiordland.