So, here you are on the South Island - the Mainland - home to around a million people. (Over three million live on the North Island and two-thirds of them north of Taupo, so there will be days when you think you have the huge and spectacular South Island all to yourself.) There's less traffic here, but you'll be traveling greater distances between major towns, and when you arrive at a few places, you may well think you have stepped back in time.

The stunning southern landscape - big, majestic, unforgiving - is dominated by the central spine of the Southern Alps, and anyone who lives here has enormous respect for its grandeur. You'll soon see why.

If you cross over from Wellington on the Cook Strait ferry, your introduction to the south will be at Picton, which sits at the head of the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. Nearby is Blenheim, at the heart of Marlborough's famous winemaking province. To the west lies Nelson, the sunniest place in New Zealand and home to more vineyards, fine beaches, and the most accessible concentration of top artists and craftspeople in the country.

The greater Nelson province is geographically made up of five distinct areas, each with its own character: Nelson-Richmond, the urban heart; Motueka, the horticultural heartland; Abel Tasman National Park, a paradise of bush-wrapped beaches and crystal-clear waters; Golden Bay, heaven cast between two great national parks; and St. Arnaud-Murchison, an alpine-lakes area in the heart of Nelson Lakes National Park.