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.


Find a surf school on the South Island, New Zealand.


South Island New Zealand Surf Spots


Surf Location Breakwater (jetty) at the Buller River outside of town
Best Swell Direction Anything out of the west
Best Tide Incoming
Best Wind Direction East
Best Surf Season Year-round, but like all South Island it breaks super cold in winter
Wave Quality Breakwater/ Jetty
The Surfers Crowded
Boards Longboard, shortboard
Paddle Out Moderate
Skill Level Intermediate
Bottom Sandy
Watch Out For… Rip, rocks
Water Condition Clean and clear

Surf Location Just north of Kaikoura
Best Swell Direction Southeast, South
Best Tide Incoming
Best Wind Direction West
Best Surf Season All seasons produce waves with summer being small and warm, and winter being big and cold
Wave Quality Arguably the best right-breaking wave in the country
The Surfers Not very crowded, expect good local surfers and an easy vibe if you show respect
Boards Shortboard
Paddle Out Moderate
Skill Level Intermediate to Expert
Bottom Rocks
Watch Out For… Sharks, rips, frostbite
Water Condition Clean and clear