The Top South Island Activities for Families
Whales, horses and kiwi birds; trains, ski planes and go-karts; mountains, rivers and beaches… The South Island truly has enough to stimulate even the shortest of attention spans. Treat your family to an adventure together with some of the family activities on the South Island that we have compiled into one easy list. No matter your tribe’s style or budget, there’s sure to be something to inspire in this list of things to do on the South Island with kids.
While you’re here, you might also want to check out The Travel Guide to New Zealand for Families.
Things to Do on the South Island with Kids: Watch the Video
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1. See Whales in Kaikoura
It’s hard not to be impressed by sperm whales diving deep into the ocean. See them by joining a family-friendly whale watching cruise in Kaikoura (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). See more locations for whale watching on the South Island in the 5 Best Places to Spot Whales in New Zealand.
Location: Kaikoura, Canterbury. For more Kaikoura activities, head to the 7 Things to Do in Kaikoura with Kids.
2. Enjoy a Scenic Train Ride on the TranzAlpine
What kid doesn’t love riding the train? Make it a moment for the whole family by riding the train on one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys. Take the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth through the majestic Arthur’s Pass (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). Learn more about taking the train in our New Zealand train guide.
3. Have a Downhill Blast on The Luge
All ages can enjoy The Luge, either self-driving these gravity-fuelled go-karts or younger family members can sit on an older driver’s lap. Check out Luge tracks atop the Skyline Gondola in Queenstown. Plus, see more wacky activities like this in the 9 Newest & Weirdest Extreme Activities in New Zealand.
Location: Queenstown, Otago. Plan more of your visit in the 10 Things to Do in Queenstown with Kids.
4. Land on a Glacier in a Ski Plane
Just because you have little ones in tow, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on New Zealand’s glacier experiences. One of the most accessible options for families is a ski plane landing on the Tasman Glacier in Mt Cook (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)!
Location: Mt Cook, Canterbury. Add this activity to the itinerary along with the 7 Things to Do in Mt Cook with Kids.
5. Explore Caves and Giant Arches in the Oparara Basin
Location: Karamea, West Coast. For more activities nearby, see the 7 Best Things to Do in Karamea.
6. Walk Among Parrots, Robins and Kiwi on Ulva Island
Time travel to the Jurassic-like Ulva Island (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). The bird sanctuary just off the coast of Stewart Island offers short walks to the soundtrack of parrots cackling in the trees and the sight of robins hopping on the floor. You might even be lucky enough to see a kiwi in the wild!
Location: Stewart Island. See more Stewart Island experiences in the 10 Things to Do on Stewart Island with Kids.
7. Relax in the Hot Pools or Jump on the Waterslides at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools
Thanks to New Zealand’s many natural mineral hot springs, it’s not too difficult to find a hot pools complex. A top choice for families is Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools thanks to its waterslides, water playgrounds and more. See the locations of more hot pools in the 10 Best Hot Pools in New Zealand.
Location: Hanmer Springs, Canterbury. For more activities here, see the 10 Things to Do in Hanmer Springs with Kids.
8. Enjoy a Short Walk to Hokitika Gorge
Get your fix of stunning South Island scenery at Hokitika Gorge, which happens to be on an excellent family-friendly walking trail. Kids love crossing the swingbridge and following the trail all the way down to the blue river. See more photo spots like this in the 10 Picture Perfect Bridges in New Zealand.
Location: Hokitika, West Coast. Add some of the 10 Best Things to Do in Hokitika to your itinerary too.
9. Clamber Up McLean Falls in The Catlins
The Catlins is full of free attractions that are easy to explore with kids. One of our favourite natural attractions is McLean Falls where you can climb the terraces to a swimming pool at the top. For more waterfalls to visit with children, check out the 12 Most Wonderful Waterfalls in New Zealand.
Location: The Catlins, Otago/Southland. Explore more of the area with the 10 Things to Do in The Catlins with Kids.
10. Get High Up in the Trees on the West Coast Treetop Walkway
Join the native wood pigeons in the trees on the West Coast Treetop Walkway (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). The elevated walkway features towers and lookouts to take in the views of the surrounding coast, lake and forest.
Location: Hokitika, West Coast. For more activities nearby, see the 10 Best Things to Do in Hokitika.
11. Do Horseback Riding in Peel Forest
Knowing that many children love animals, a really special experience for them is horse riding. Family-friendly rides can be enjoyed with Peel Forest Horse Trekking near Geraldine. More South Island locations can be found in the 11 Best Horse Treks in New Zealand.
Location: Peel Forest, Canterbury. See more experiences nearby in the 10 Best Things to Do in Geraldine.
12. Meet the Farm Animals at Walter Peak
Speaking of animals, another way for kids to interact with them is on the Walter Peak farm tour. Take a historic steamship to the high country farm where you’ll gain a fun insight into sheep shearing, cattle rearing and more (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday).
Location: Queenstown, Otago. See more family-friendly activities in the 10 Things to Do in Queenstown with Kids.
13. Go On a Jet Boat Journey in Haast
While there are plenty of jet boat thrill rides on the South Island, an interesting family-friendly alternative are jet boat excursions. For instance, Waiatoto River Safari takes you on a scenic journey from the Tasman Sea to the valleys of the Mt Aspiring National Park with a picnic included (more on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Location: Haast, West Coast. See more family activities in the 8 Things to Do in Haast with Kids.
14. Go Off-Roading in Greymouth
Hit the exciting off-road trails of bush, bog and pastures with On Yer Bike in Greymouth. Try the self-drive option of riding 4×4 buggies with passenger seats for kids or go on a Hagglund ride with the youngest members of the family (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Location: Greymouth, West Coast. For more stuff to do here, see the 10 Things to Do in Greymouth with Kids.
15. Do the Tasman Glacier Walk
While the three-hour Hooker Valley Walk is a popular choice in Mt Cook, families looking for something better suited to kids should choose the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Track. It features spectacular views of the Tasman Glacier and its lake full of icebergs.
Location: Mt Cook, Canterbury. For more unmissable activities, check out the 7 Things to Do in Mt Cook with Kids.
16. Let the Kids Loose at Christchurch Botanic Gardens
You can always rely on public parks and gardens for somewhere for kids to burn off energy. They’ll love Christchurch Botanic Gardens, for example, with its duck ponds, interactive water features and playgrounds. Don’t miss the free-entry Canterbury Museum just next to the gardens.
Location: Christchurch, Canterbury. Explore more attractions like this in the 10 Things to Do in Christchurch with Kids.
17. Feed the Alapacas in Akaroa
Location: Akaroa, Canterbury. Plan more of your trip to Akaroa using the 10 Things to Do in Akaroa with Kids.
18. Check Out the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
Free and stroller-friendly, the walk to see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks is a must for families. See oddly-shaped rocks stacked like pancakes along with powerful blowhole displays at high tide.
Location: Punakaiki, West Coast. There’s more to do here, which you can find out more about in the 9 Best Things to Do in Punakaiki.
19. Explore the Castle and Grounds of Larnach Castle
Location: Dunedin, Otago. Check out the 10 Things to Do in Dunedin with Kids for more activities.
20. See if You Can Walk Up the World’s Steepest Street
Another Dunedin highlight, Baldwin Street holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s steepest street! Challenge the family to walk up the street for a fun free thing to do.
Location: Dunedin, Otago. Add a visit to Baldwin Street to your 18 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Dunedin.
More Things to Do on the South Island with Kids
That’s it for our list of the best things to do on the South Island with kids but not the end of all of the things to do. Check out the destinations we didn’t cover on this list for more South Island activities for families:
- 10 Things to Do in Picton with Kids
- 10 Things to Do in Nelson with Kids
- 9 Things to Do in Takaka with Kids
- 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef with Kids
- 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids
- 9 Things to Do in Invercargill with Kids
And, of course, don’t forget to check out the 20 Best Things to Do on the North Island with Kids and the 50 Best Things to Do in New Zealand with Kids!