Is the North or South Island more mountainous?

Learn whether the North Island or the South Island of New Zealand is more mountainous and when is the best time to see mountains with snow.

When you fly over New Zealand, it is not difficult to see which island has the most mountains: The South Island.

So if you are looking to see mountains in New Zealand, the South Island should be your destination of choice because it is more mountainous than the North Island.

Mountains on the South Island

The Southern Alps on the South Island of New Zealand run from the northeastern tip of the top of the South Island near Nelson Lakes National Park to the southwestern tip where the fiords are located near Milford Sound, with the highest mountain peaks being located in the Mount Cook and Queenstown areas.

About 60% of the South Island is covered by mountain ranges with peaks over 1,500 meters (4,921 ft) high.

The Southern Alps stretch for 500 km (311 mi) down the South Island and have 23 peaks over 3,000 meters (9,843 ft) high.

Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki, is 3,754 meters (12,316 ft) high. The second highest peak is Mount Tasman at 3,504 meters (11,496 ft).

You can see Mount Cook when you visit and walk in Mount Cook National Park or when you drive by Lake Pukaki. An easy walk to do to see several mountain peaks is the Kea Point Track.

Mount Tasman can be seen from Lake Matheson on the West Coast.

And then deep down in the South, in Fiordland, you’ve got these mountains with steep valleys, jotting out of the water to form the fiords.

The eastern part of the South Island is pretty flat between Christchurch and Dunedin, but the landscape becomes a bit hillier as you enter the Catlins and drive further down south toward Invercargill.

South Island mountains in New Zealand

South Island mountains in New Zealand

But north of Christchurch, there is a mountain range running near the Kaikoura coast: The Kaikoura Range.

And there are also mountain ranges in the northwestern part of the South Island: Paparoa, Victoria, and Nelson Ranges.

Mountains on the North Island

Mountains on the North Island come in the form of (semi-dormant) volcanoes in Taranaki and the area south of Lake Taupo in the center of the North Island.

While there are other mountains around the North Island, the volcanoes are the tallest mountain peaks, comprising of the following mountains:

  • Mount Ruapehu at 2,797 meters (9,176 ft)
  • Mount Taranaki (also known as Mount Egmont) at 2,518 meters (8,261 ft)
  • Mount Ngauruhoe at 2,287 meters (7,503 ft)

There are also mountains running in a long chain from Wellington to the East Coast. These ranges include the Tararua Range and the Kaimanawa Range.

When to visit New Zealand to see mountains

If you are looking to see mountains with snow in New Zealand, you must visit during the winter months of June, July, or August, and head either to the South Island or visit the volcanoes on the North Island.

Depending on how warm it is, snow will hang around on the higher mountains of the South Island well into October. So you can also visit New Zealand in spring to see snow on the mountains.


To enjoy mountainous scenery by air, I highly recommend catching a domestic flight sometime during winter and flying from and to the following locations:

These flying routes combined with good and clear winter weather are guaranteed to take your breath away.

Pilots are sometimes nice enough to narrate during such scenic flights and explain what you are seeing and where. And if your flight is ahead of schedule, pilots may even deviate a bit from the flying route (with permission, of course) to provide you with a complimentary short scenic flight. You must be very lucky to be on such a flight, though.

Another option to enjoy mountains from above is to catch a scenic flight with, for example, Air Safaris near Lake Tekapo on the South Island of New Zealand. However, such scenic flights are generally limited to a certain region and do not cover the entire country.


To see mountains in New Zealand, definitely visit the South Island.

And to enjoy snow on the mountains, visit New Zealand during winter, and head either to the volcanic region in the center of the North Island or to Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, or Central Otago on the South Island.


This article falls under Travel Guide.

Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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