7-Day Family Itinerary for the South Island
We’ll skip the part where we tell you that seven days exploring the South Island with kids is not enough time. If seven days is all you have, then we’ve put together this exciting but manageable South Island family itinerary for one week so you and your tribe can make the most of it.
Not only have we included some must-visit destinations on the South Island for this South Island family itinerary for 7 days, but we’ve included family-friendly accommodation and activity recommendations for everywhere you go! Start planning your South Island family vacation below.
How to Get Around the South Island in One Week with Kids
The South Island makes for the ultimate family road tripping destination. With that in mind, renting a car or campervan allows families to have full flexibility and comfort compared to using public transport or bus tours. However, parents who are on a tight budget might want to consider the national bus service, while those not keen on driving or organising their own itinerary might prefer an escorted bus tour. The best ways to get around, using the below itinerary, are as follows:
- Rental car or campervan – Experience complete freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this family one-week itinerary by renting a car or campervan. As this itinerary starts in Christchurch and ends in Queenstown, we recommend choosing a rental company that have depots in both cities – don’t worry, there are many. Start your research using The Guide to Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand.
- National bus service – InterCity offers the cheapest way to get between the destinations mentioned in this budget itinerary. However, you are restrained by bus schedules. Find out more about the passes available in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Bus Passes?
- Escorted bus tours – Let a professional guide drive your tribe around the South Island on a fully guided experience, often including accommodation and some meals. Companies like Thrifty Tours welcome children on their tours. Find out more in The Best 5-Day Tours of the South Island.
- Domestic flights – The below itinerary begins in Christchurch and ends in Queenstown. Both cities have international airports and are well connected with domestic flights. If you’re leaving from Auckland or Christchurch, you will also need to consider booking a domestic flight from Queenstown.
Day 1 – Christchurch Airport to Lake Tekapo
Travel time: 2h50mins
With only one week to explore the South Island, unfortunately, you don’t have much time to get yourselves adjusted to the new time zone. Get some tips from the 10 Simple Ways to Get Over Jet Lag to make yourself as fresh as possible for the drive to your first South Island destination, Lake Tekapo.
On your way out of Christchurch, stop by the town of Rakaia for refreshments and to see the giant fish sculpture. Next is Ashburton where the kids can burn off some energy in the Ashburton Domain. You’ll then come across the town of Geraldine with nearby attractions such as horse trekking, alpaca farm tours and the Talbot Scenic Reserve – all ideal for families. Find out more in the 10 Excellent Things to Do in Geraldine.
A traditional Kiwi pie from the Fairlie Bakery is mandatory before you finally arrive in Lake Tekapo where you can soak in the views of the blue lake and Southern Alps or soak in the hot pools of Tekapo Springs. The latter also includes a kiddies’ water play area, as well as large waterslides in summer and ice skating in winter.
Enjoy one night in your Tekapo accommodation (which you’ll need to book early due to the limited choice).
Family Activities in Lake Tekapo
- Have a splash a Tekapo Springs
- Take the kids up the ski fields of Mt Dobson or Roundhill in winter
- Do the easy Lake Tekapo Walkway
- Wow the family with a scenic flight from Tekapo to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
- Take a pic of the picturesque Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog statue
For more ideas, check out the 10 Unmissable Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.
Family Accommodation in Lake Tekapo
Day 2 – Lake Tekapo to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Travel time: 1h10mins
It’s a short(ish) and scenic drive to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park today as you follow the vibrant turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki to a tiny village in the shadows of New Zealand’s tallest mountain.
In Mt Cook Village, you have a selection of stunning short walks to enjoy with the kids, from glacier walks to bush walks. If your budget will allow, jump on an exciting boat tour to see giant icebergs on the Tasman Glacier Lake or take to the skies in a helicopter or ski plane (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). Whatever you don’t have time for today you can always do tomorrow.
Family Accommodation in Mt Cook
- Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge
- The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook
- Mt Cook Lodge and Motel
- Aoraki Alpine Chalet
- Aoraki Court Motel
For more details on each recommendation, take a look at the 8 Best Family Accommodation in Mt Cook.
Day 3 – Explore Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
You don’t have to leave the spectacular scenery of New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier just yet, as you have the whole day to experience Mt Cook as a family. It could be checking out the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre with its 3D dome cinema, walking the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Track, or one of the below recommendations.
Family Activities in Mt Cook
- See the Tasman Glacier on the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Track
- Roam around in the forest on the Governors Bush Walk
- Take the skies in a helicopter or ski plane
- Check out a planetarium and use powerful telescopes on a stargazing tour
- Whiz around a glacier lake with giant icebergs on a boat tour.
For more details on each experience, check out the 7 Things to Do in Mt Cook with Kids.
Day 4 – Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Queenstown
Travel time: 3h10mins
Today might be the longest drive on this 2-week South Island family itinerary, but there’s plenty of exciting sights to break up the journey between Mt Cook and Queenstown.
In Omarama, take a 30-minute detour to the Clay Cliffs for its otherworldly formations of pinnacles and narrow ravines. You can also sample part of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail if your kids a really active.
After Omarama is the Lindis Pass, which is often deemed the most beautiful road in New Zealand.
Stop by Cromwell for refreshments including fresh fruit that the town is renowned for. You might also want to try the go-karting at the Highlands Motorsport Park.
As you travel down the Kawarau Gorge towards Queenstown, stop by the Goldfields Mining Centre to pan for gold or jump on Goldfields Jet for an adrenaline-pumping ride down the river. Find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor.
By the time you get to Queenstown, the little ones (and yourself) will probably need a good rest, so check-in at your accommodation. You will experience more of the adventure town tomorrow.
Family Accommodation in Queenstown
For more information on each accommodation, check out the 10 Best Family Accommodation in Queenstown.
Day 5 – Explore Queenstown
Because there’s so much to do in Queenstown, we’ve given you two full days to tick the items off your family bucket list. How about zipping through the trees with Ziptrek Ecotours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)? Or what about learning about New Zealand’s unique wildlife at the Kiwi Birdlife Park (on Viator and Tripadvisor)? You could also try racing each other on the gravity-fuelled go-karts of The Luge (on Viator and Tripadvisor)!
Family Activities in Queenstown
- Get the adrenaline pumping on an exciting jet boat ride
- Zip through the trees on a zipline tour (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Learn about New Zealand’s birds at the Kiwi Birdlife Park (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Watch the sheep being worked on the Walter Peak farm tour (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Race each in downhill go-karts at The Luge (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
For more information on each activity, as well as a few more ideas, head to the 10 Things to Do in Queenstown with Kids!
Day 6 – Explore More of Queenstown or Do a Milford Sound Day Trip
If you’re desperate to see the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, Milford Sound, and its magnificent glacier-carved fiords then today is the day. Due to the 7+-hour drive there and back from Queenstown, we strongly recommend either taking a bus tour or a scenic flight to Milford Sound, which is much more manageable with kids than wearing yourself out with the drive. Check out our recommendations for tours in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau and 5 Best Scenic Flights to Milford Sound from Queenstown.
Alternatively, treat the family to another day of fun in Queenstown. For instance, have you taken the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship to Walter Peak farm yet? Watch sheepdogs working the sheep, see sheep shearing demonstrations and learn how wool is spun in this family-friendly experience. Find out more about Walter Peak on Viator and Tripadvisor.
For more information on all of the activities mentioned and more, head to the 10 Things to Do in Queenstown with Kids.
Day 7 – Queenstown to Queenstown Airport
Travel time: 10 minutes
After one week on the South Island, it’s time to wrap up this adventure with any of the activities you might have missed in Queenstown before heading to Queenstown Airport.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time to return your rental vehicle. There are connecting flights between Queenstown, Auckland and Christchurch if you are flying out of Auckland, otherwise, flights to Australia leave from Queenstown.