The South Island is the larger of the two major islands of New Zealand, the other being the more populous North Island. The Māori name for the South Island, Te Wai Pounamu, meaning “The Waters of Greenstone” (greenstone being jade), possibly evolved from Te Wāhi Pounamu, which means “The Place of Greenstone.” The island is also known as Te Waka a Māui which means “Māui’s Canoe.”
The South Island is often called “the Mainland.” Today this expression is used humorously, although still with pride by Mainlanders. While South Island is a somewhat larger land mass than the North Island, only about a quarter of New Zealand’s 4 million inhabitants live on the South Island. However, in the early stages of European (Pākehā) settlement of the country, the South Island was preeminent, with the majority of the European population and wealth focused there due to gold rushes. It was not until the early 20th century that the North Island population overtook the South, with 56% of the population living in the North in 1911. In Māori legend, the South Island existed first, as the boat of Maui, while the North Island was the fish that he caught. However, the South Island has never been the main site of Māori population.
From the golden sands of Able Tasman National Park in the North, to the Antarctic waters in the far south, South Island has a vast surfable coastline. Here the West Coast/East Coast divide is more noticeable than for North Island, with the West Coast deserving its wild and dangerous reputation. All of South Island has cold water.
South Island New Zealand Surf Spots