One of the odder coincidences of physical geography is the fact that there are two double islands, roughly the same size, positioned at each other's antipodes, or farthest-distant point. The islands of England and Ireland in the Northern Hemisphere and the islands of North Island and South Island in the Southern Hemisphere are just such a coincidence. The first two islands comprise the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (or Eire), and the second two islands comprise New Zealand. Among these four islands, there can be no doubt that South Island is the least polluted and most spectacularly scenic of them all.
There is much competition to make such a claim. The island of England, politically constituting England, Scotland, and Wales of the United Kingdom, is dotted with country villages set alongside rivers and lakes. There are not very tall but nonetheless rugged mountains in the north, and endless miles of rocky coastline that seem mystical. Ireland, too, is a paradise of greenery, with far fewer people than populous England and even more quaint villages scattered among its low-lying hills and forever green fields. North Island in New Zealand sports a balmy climate and the beaches to make use of it; one beach alone is more than 150 kilometers long, and with relatively few people on its shores, one can pretend one is at the very end of the earth. Volcanoes, large lakes, and quickly flowing rivers traverse the land. Given the beauty of these three islands, what makes South Island so special?
Plenty. For those who like mountains, South Island is sure to please. Mt. Cook at 3,764 meters is its highest peak, with 16 others above 3,000 meters. Naturally, many local and foreign mountain climbers come here for the challenge of these Southern Alps. In addition, there is an extensive glacier system, endless forests, and innumerable lakes throughout this highland area. Some of the world's best mountain scenery is available within the 500-kilometer long chain of the Southern Alps.
Perhaps you prefer the sea? South Island is not only an island, but many tiny islets can be found off its coastline. Great deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling can be had, though the waters here are cooler than those of North Island. (Remember, in the Southern Hemisphere, as we go north, it gets warmer.) As fewer people live on South Island than on North Island, those who crave solitude and pristine beaches will be amazed at their luck here. With almost no heavy industry on South Island, the air, water, and land are all free of pollution. The local seafood is therefore clean, plentiful, and never-ending.
Do healthful climates interest you? South Island is the place to be. Its temperate climate sees little snow except in the highlands and mountainous areas. Like Ireland and England, there are no extremes of temperature, either. Summers are warm, not hot, and winters are brisk rather than freezing. The fresh air is sometimes humid from the abundant rainfall of this area. Every season invites the nature lover to get out and be active in the countryside.
Of course, South Island is not for everyone. For those who need busy, crowded, noisy, and polluted cities, this Southern outpost will surely disappoint. For those who enjoy pressure and stress, South Island will leave them empty-handed. And for those who would rather stay at home or in an office in front of a computer screen or in the thumping, smoke-filled dance floors of discos, some of the world's best natural scenery will never entice them away. For the rest of us, though, South Island is the world's best-kept secret. If Nature's paradise sounds alluring, make a point of visiting South Island.