The Highlanders host the Blues in Dunedin for their opening game on February 25.
"Nothing beats the derbies. For a Kiwi fan, and as a player, you watch them all," Smith said.
"Every time you play your mates, and guys you are trying to compete with to wear the black jersey as well. So there's more on the line than a line on the points table, individual battles, and spots up for grabs.
"That's what I love when the derby games roll up. It's make or break, and they are definitely games I earmark on the season – Where do we play them? That's a big game, got them at home and got them away.
"I can't wait. You can't beat those games, that's why you play rugby; smash your mate, try and beat them, see where you lie and I feel like those games are 80-minute games. You don't see many blow outs in derbies, they're arm wrestles the whole way."
But the introduction of the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika had brought new challenges to the season.
Smith said playing the Drua in Fiji was the most demanding environment to play them in, and things didn't change much when playing them in the Forsyth Barr Stadium because they had a dry ball to play with.
"Either way, what coin toss do you take? Do you play them over there in the heat, with all the passion and their fans, or do you play them at home with your crowd but a dry ball, so it's going to be an interesting game."
It was similar with Moana Pasifika due to how they connect with where they're from and their cultures who were well-coached, he said.
"Coming into their second year, I think the Drua and Moana will be better for that.
"They've now got a whole pre-season together again and able to attract more talent, so now we've got seven teams in the Pacific looking dangerous. And then you've got the Australians who are coming.
"Playing the Reds over there is a really tough game. Playing in Canberra, I've only won there once, and I've only beaten the Reds once, last year, in nine attempts over there. So it's a bloody tough place to play with a slippery ball.
"And then you've got the Waratahs at home. They're in the new stadium which is a fantastic place to play rugby and then you've got to go all the way to Perth."