14-Day Family Itinerary for the South Island
You and your tribe have two weeks to explore New Zealand; what’s the best way to go about it? First, just travel one of the two main islands. Second, spend plenty of time in each destination. If a family road trip on the South Island of New Zealand is on your bucket list, then you’re in the right place. This South Island family itinerary for two weeks hits the South Island’s major highlights without being too exhausting with kids in tow.
In this South Island family itinerary for 14 days, each destination includes family-friendly activities and accommodation recommendations. We even share a few tips on the best ways to get around the South Island for families. Scroll down and start planning the ultimate family vacation on the South Island.
How to Get Around the South Island in Two Weeks with Kids
Most families come to the South Island to experience the great Kiwi road trip. With that in mind, renting a car or campervan allows families to have full flexibility and comfort. 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 – Enjoy complete freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this family two-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. 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. Tour companies like Trafalgar, AAT Kings, Active Adventures and Thrifty Tours welcome children on their tours. Find out more in The Best 10-12-Day Tours of the South Island.
- Train – This itinerary includes a return train journey between Christchurch and Greymouth on the TranzAlpine. Find out more on the Train Network in New Zealand.
- Domestic flights – The below itinerary begins in Auckland and ends in Queenstown. Both cities have international airports and are well connected with domestic flights. If you’re leaving from Auckland, you will need to consider booking a domestic flight from Queenstown to Auckland.
Day 1 – Christchurch Airport to Christchurch
Travel time: 15 minutes
Welcome to the South Island of New Zealand! It’s important for the whole family to take it easy for the first few days of our holiday, especially if you’re coming from far and are feeling jet-lagged. With that in mind, we recommend taking a short shuttle ride or taxi into the city of Christchurch for some easy-going activities.
In the city, explore the Botanic Gardens with the little ones, who will love the duck ponds, interactive water features and running around gorgeous gardens. Next to the gardens is the free-entry Canterbury Museum with all sorts of artefacts and stories from the region surrounding Christchurch.
Check out the list below, if you have more time to spare in Christchurch.
Family Activities in Christchurch
- Ride the chairlifts, find the fairy doors or zipline over the trees at Christchurch Adventure Park (more details on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Do the treetop obstacle course of Adrenalin Forest (Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Take a day tour to see New Zealand’s largest blue penguin colony (Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Experience the Polar regions at the International Antarctic Centre (Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Ride the Christchurch city tram (Viator and Tripadvisor).
For more details on each experience and others, see 10 Things to Do in Christchurch with Kids.
Family Accommodation in Christchurch
- Country Glen Lodge
- Southern Comfort Motel
- Quality Hotel Elms
- Rydges Latimer Christchurch
- Christchurch TOP 10 Holiday Park
For more details on our top recommendations, check out the 10 Best Family Accommodation in Christchurch.
Day 2 – Christchurch to Greymouth
It is scientifically established that kids love trains… Or it might as well be. And adults will be impressed too by the TranzAlpine, a train ride frequently ranked as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. The journey takes you through the Canterbury Plains to the dramatic mountain and river scenery of Arthur’s Pass and beyond.
After descending through the 8.5km (5.3-mile) long Otira Tunnel, the 4-hour journey brings you to the rugged West Coast of the South Island. Your final call is Greymouth, where we’ll go through things to do here tomorrow.
Family Accommodation in Greymouth
- Charles Court Motel
- Greymouth Seaside TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Greymouth Motel
- Greymouth Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels
- Breeze Motels
For more information on our top recommendations, check out the 10 Best Family Accommodation in Greymouth.
Day 3 – Explore Greymouth and the West Coast
Get a taste of the West Coast by exploring in and around Greymouth. An awesome adventure is that with On Yer Bike, offering a range of kid-friendly off-roading tours through native forest and farmland. Find out more on Viator or Tripadvisor. Alternatively, join a tour to West Coast highlights like the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks or Hokitika Gorge, available with Explore West Coast (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). Otherwise, if you want to explore independently, there are plenty of vehicle rental companies in Greymouth.
Family Activities in Greymouth
- Go on an off-roading adventure with On Yer Bike (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Experience the West Coast like it used to be at Shantytown Heritage Park (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Tackle one of Greymouth’s short walks
- Take a trip to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
- Or take a trip to Hokitika Gorge.
For more details on each activity, check out the 10 Things to Do in Greymouth with Kids.
Day 4 – Greymouth to Christchurch
The train back to Christchurch doesn’t depart until the afternoon (usually around 2pm), so you have plenty of time this morning to do any additional activities you might have missed in Greymouth yesterday. Get inspired with our list of 10 Things to Do in Greymouth with Kids.
Then you have the whole TranzAlpine journey to enjoy back to Christchurch, where you can check back into your Christchurch accommodation. Additionally, book your train journey or find out more information on Viator or Tripadvisor.
Day 5 – Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Travel time: 2h45mins
After plenty of time to get over the long journey to New Zealand, it’s time to hit the road down the South Island to 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 pie from the Fairlie Bakery is mandatory before you finally arrive in Lake Tekapo where you can soak in the blue lake and Southern Alps scenery 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, head to the 10 Unmissable Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.
Family Accommodation in Lake Tekapo
Day 6 – 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 as you follow the vibrant turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki to a tiny village in the shadows of New Zealand’s highest mountain.
In Mt Cook Village, you have a selection of stunning short walks to enjoy, 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 7 – 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 your way. It could be checking out the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre with its 3D dome cinema, relaxing with a family-friendly meal with grand views, or walking the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Track.
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 8 – Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Queenstown
Travel time: 3h10mins
Although today’s journey to Queenstown is a long one, there’s plenty of exciting sights to break up the journey.
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, you and the little ones 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 9 – 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. It could be zipping through the trees with Ziptrek Ecotours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), learning about New Zealand’s unique wildlife at the Kiwi Birdlife Park (on Viator and Tripadvisor), or 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 10 – Explore Queenstown
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.
If your family wants a taste of Queenstown adrenaline, try the family-friendly Kawarau Bridge Zipline and watch mum or dad do the Kawarau Bungy?! Find out more about the Kawarau Bridge Zipline on Viator and Tripadvisor.
We also recommend a day trip to Arrowtown where you can pan for gold, indulge in the many candy and ice cream shops, and more. Check out the 10 Amazing Things to Do in Arrowtown for ideas.
For more information on all of the activities mentioned and more, head to the 10 Things to Do in Queenstown with Kids.
Day 11 – Queenstown to Te Anau
Travel time: 2 hours
Today you make your way to Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park. Start with a picturesque lakeside drive down Lake Wakatipu, stopping at the lookouts for scenic family snaps. You can get refreshments in Kingston and Lowther before continuing onto Te Anau.
In Te Anau, a short but excellent activity includes visiting the free-entry Te Anau Bird Sanctuary where they have New Zealand birds in rehabilitation. There’s also the Trout Observatory if you want to see fish, crayfish and other lake-critters in their element.
If you have more time, the Te Anau Glowworm Caves are well worth checking out, accessible by boat which includes a guided cave tour among glowworms and underground waterfalls. Check it out on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Family Activities in Te Anau
- Delve into the Te Anau Glowworm Caves (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Watch the birds at the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
- Check out the fish at the Trout Observatory
- Let the kids loose at the Lions Playground
- Visit Lake Manapouri and play on Frasers Beach
For more ideas, check out the 5 Te Anau Must-Dos.
Family Accommodation in Te Anau
- Birchwood Cottages
- Anchorage Motel Apartments
- Bella Vista Motel Te Anau
- Aden Motel
- Fiordland Great Views Holiday Park
Check out the 10 Best Family Accommodation in Te Anau for more recommendations.
Day 12 – Te Anau to Milford Sound
Travel time: 1h30mins
While most travellers rush to Milford Sound and back in one day, we find that the best way to experience it as a family is to take your time. There are a ton of child-friendly short walks and stunning natural attractions to enjoy on the way to Milford Sound.
Recommended short walks on the road to Milford Sound include the Lake Mistletoe Track, Mirror Lakes Walk, Lake Marian Falls Track, the Lake Gunn Nature Walk and The Chasm. Find out more about these walks in the 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids.
Family Accommodation in Milford Sound
When you get to Milford Sound, check-in at the one accommodation available there, Milford Sound Lodge on Airbnb (don’t forget your FREE NZ$45 of Airbnb credit on us) or, if you’re in a campervan or have a tent, stay at one of the glorious campsites along the Milford Road. Find out more in the 10 Best Accommodation in Milford Sound.
Day 13 – Milford Sound to Te Anau
Travel time: 1h30mins
We recommend enjoying an activity this morning before the tourist crowds arrive. You and your family will be some of the lucky few who will get to see Milford Sound at a more peaceful time of day!
One option is a scenic cruise of the famous fiord where the boat dips under waterfalls, sails by seal colonies and takes in the breathtaking landscape carved by glaciers. Compare all of your options in the 6 Best Cruises in Milford Sound.
Another cool way to take in the glorious views of Milford Sound is via a helicopter tour. Milford Sound Helicopters (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) departs from Milford Sound Airport, offering families several flight options. Flights are suitable for all ages and infant seats are available.
Family-friendly Activities in Milford Sound
- Look out for wildlife and see spectacular waterfalls on a Milford Sound cruise
- Stop by the Mirror Lakes
- Enjoy the forest and lake scenery of the Lake Gunn Nature Walk
- Check out the underwater observatory with Southern Discoveries (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- See spectacular waterfalls on the Lake Marian Falls Track.
For more details on each activity and others, check out the 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids.
Then, you have the spectacular scenery of the Milford Road to enjoy from a new angle on your way back to Te Anau, stopping by some of the scenic walks you might have missed on the way up. Check back in at your Te Anau accommodation.
Day 14 – Te Anau to Queenstown Airport
Travel time: 2 hours
After two weeks on the South Island, it’s time to wrap up this adventure with any of the activities you might have missed in Te Anau before heading to Queenstown Airport.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time to return your rental vehicle. There are connecting flights between Queenstown and Auckland if you are flying out of Auckland, otherwise, flights to Australia leave from Queenstown.