Kristy’s itinerary for the South Island of New Zealand with kids in a campervan

Recently I shared my friend Kristy’s fantastic tips and tricks for campervanning around New Zealand with kids in a campervan – and as promised, here’s the itinerary and highlights that Kristy and her family explored in the South Island. Kristy is a “real life” friend of mine who blogs at Loulou Zoo (but we met before she even started blogging!) and this trip of hers has got her all enthusiastic about travelling – I’m so glad I can share all her information and thoughts now! I’m impressed that Kristy did this with two pretty young kids (her daughters are both under three) which makes me feel that anyone can do it. Over to Kristy!

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Kristy’s itinerary for the South Island of New Zealand with kids

Now I have shared my planning experience, I wanted to go over our itinerary and share the must visit places for those with toddlers, as well as some of the places I’d love to see next time (there will be a next time!).

South Island itinerary - New Zealand with kids in a campervan

Christchurch

We flew into Christchurch late at night and were due to pick up our campervan the next morning, so we stayed close to the airport. The Airport Gateway was great, only 5 minutes from the airport and they provided a free shuttle (both from the airport and back to pick up our van in the morning). There is a restaurant on site so we had a nice breakfast before picking up the van.

Our first port of call was to do our food shopping (after some initial driving around trying to find somewhere we could park the van!) and buy some “winter” clothes. Once we did all this (with some lunch thrown in of course!) it was late afternoon and we didn’t want to drive too far, so we decided on Rakaia (as it’s only a 45 minute drive from Christchurch).

Other great activities/sights: 

Orana Wildlife Park – this is an open range zoo where you can drive through the lion enclosure in a caged car and get close to lions! We really wanted to do this but you had to be a certain height to do that experience, so we decided not to go. There are heaps of other things to do there though, such as feeding giraffes and seeing rhinos close up.

Rakaia  

Upon driving into Rakaia we stayed at the Rakai River Holiday Park. This is such a lovely park surrounded by beautiful pine trees. They have great facilities and an awesome adventure playground (as well as giant chess and a pool), so perfect for families. After waking up and eating breakfast we had a big play in the playground so the girls could burn off some energy and then we set off.




Geraldine

Geraldine is such a gorgeous town and The Farmyard Holiday Park is an amazing place to stay if you have children. Seriously, if you have young children – you must go here!

There are SO many animals there (including a walk in handling area filled with rabbits and guinea pigs – warning – watch your shoes! – the big rabbit loves eating shoes), a massive adventure playground, giant chess, mini golf, tennis court and daily donkey rides. Add a super-friendly cat and peacocks and you have toddler entertainment organised for HOURS.

Other great activities/sights: 

Just out of Geraldine, there is a great place to stop for lunch called The Brewery Cafe. The girls were asleep as we drove past so we just grabbed a coffee, but the roaring fireplace was very inviting!

The drive from Geraldine to Lake Tekapo is absolutely stunning. A must do!

Lake Tekapo

All I can say is A-MAH-ZING. This place has totally breathtaking views. We stayed at the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park, which is right on the lake. We had a site overlooking the lake, so we reversed the van in so our back window had the most amazing views.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand - itinerary for the South Island with kids in a campervan

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Check out Mackenzie’s restaurant for awesome views, great (and reasonably-priced) food and drinks. They had lovely friendly staff made the girls feel very welcome.

We visited the hot springs, which despite a few reservations from me (it’s the whole cold thing), was well worth it. So refreshing and the girls loved it too … well after some initial crying upon entry! It’s not as cold as you think once you get out. We enjoyed a drink and dinner at the cafe there afterwards and then you can stargaze (which is amazing in Lake Tekapo) on the way home.

Other great activities/sights: 

Just when you think you’ve seen the best scenery – the drive from Tekapo to Mt Cook is awesome. Another must do!

Mt Cook

When we drove to Mt Cook we were planning on staying the night. Driving into the town you have the most amazing (I keep saying that) views of the mountains, it’s really breathtaking. When we arrived we visited the local information centre and asked what we could do there with the girls (and prams!). He suggested a few places that should be ok to take the prams, so we set off to the Tasman Glacier.

Once we arrived and started the walk it seemed fairly easy, then we encountered some stairs … then more stairs … I got sick of dragging the pram up them so I picked it up (toddler and all), however we kept finding more and more stairs so we abandoned the prams and started to climb carrying the girls. As I am afraid of heights, this got interesting near the top … the view was good, however it was very windy up the top and I was scared so I really didn’t look around much!

After our brief pitstop we then began the descent – carrying the girls down the rocky hill! I won’t lie, I was very glad when it was over. I’m thinking now perhaps we took the wrong walk, as Google tells me there is a walkway that is suitable for prams. But after all that we were exhausted – and confident we didn’t want to see anything else at Mt Cook. So we drove on.

Views around Mt Cook, New Zealand - South Island itinerary with kids in a campervan

Views around Mt Cook

Omarama

We arrived here from Mt Cook late in the afternoon and after a very awkward walk in and out of a local pub (cue uncomfortable stares), we had a bite to eat at a café. The staff at the café were very friendly and as we had no idea of where we were going, told us there was a Top 10 park down the road where we could stay. So we drove down there, booked in and were told there could be snowfall overnight on the mountaintops.

We woke up that morning to a thick blanket of snow covering everything! Best of all snow was still falling – which for us, not having seen snow before, was just so awesome.

After some frolicking (sorry, there is no other word to describe it) in the snow, we headed off (we were eager to head towards Queenstown!). Little did we know we would encounter some dangerous driving conditions.

We started out okay and there wasn’t much snow on the roads, however some sections started to get a little more concerning and we soon came across a snowplough. We thought that was handy and stayed behind him for sometime. However we soon came across a hairy situation, which involved ice, cars crashing into mountains, an entertaining snowboarding “crew” and a LOT of uncertainty … luckily for us we eventually emerged relatively unscathed and continued on.

Other great activities/sights: 

The drive from Omarama to Cromwell is through Lindes Pass and is really beautiful – and scary, as at some points the road is right on the edge of the mountain, but amazing scenery. Another great drive to add to the list!

Cromwell

We had read quite a bit about Cromwell and how there was great food and wine around the region, which was something I needed after our drive (well, the wine more so!). We were a little disappointed however when we asked at the information centre about where we could go for lunch with the girls – they didn’t have many options for us.

We took them up on their tip though of visiting the Cider House Bar and Cafe. This was great, nice food, toys for the girls and the owners were lovely. After stocking up on supplies at New World, we drove to Cromwell Holiday Park to stay the night.

At this point after hiking to glaciers and navigating snowy conditions, we thought a revision of the itinerary might be in order. There were a lot of things we planned on doing that weren’t actually that feasible with the little ones. At this point I did what any normal adult does – Google “things to do with a toddler in NZ”.

After finding some different information about getting to and around some attractions, we reviewed our itinerary and decided to travel north after Queenstown and perhaps make it to the Marlborough Region, instead of Milford Sound and the Fox Glacier. We’ll save them for next time, when the girls are older.

Other great activities/sights: 

Just out of Cromwell as we drove to Queenstown we passed Wild Earth Wines and Food, which looked really great and had awesome views. Another item on the next time list!

Queenstown  

I will say it again – just when you think you can’t top a drive somewhere, it just gets better! The drive into the centre of Queenstown (from Cromwell) is stunning.

We loved Queenstown. There is so much to see and do for everyone, such a relaxed vibe and awesome food. I think I enjoyed a “break” from cooking in the van as most places we visited didn’t really have places to eat out so I was head chef … which granted is the point of driving a campervan but everyone needs a holiday right?

We stayed at the Lakeview Holiday Park – which had amazing views, great facilities and helpful staff. The only thing to be aware of is it’s at the top of a very steep hill, so if you plan on walking everywhere this is very good exercise. Especially pushing a pram!

View from the gondola over Queenstown, New Zealand - Itinerary for the South Island

View from the gondola over Queenstown

There is plenty to do with young children and everywhere we went was very accommodating of the girls. They went out of their way to ensure they were comfortable (and happy!).

As we stayed there for a few days, I have a long list of things to do in Queenstown with young children:

  • Visit the playground at the bottom of the Queenstown gardens (maybe have a coffee at the restaurant there, great views!)
  • Take a walk through the gardens
  • Frisbee golf (also in the gardens, we didn’t actually do this but slightly older kids would love it)
  • A gondola ride and coffee at market kitchen (very child-friendly)
  • Visit Raeword Fresh  – for health nuts only – this store has a massive variety of organic and wholefood products so I stocked up (kombucha included)!
  • Dinner at Brazz (warm fire and toys included)
  • Coffee after dinner out by the fire at Botswana Butchery
  • Walter Peak farm cruise and tour – this was fantastic! They have a very interesting presentation about farming, you can feed animals and the food – oh please make sure you have the lunch, the extra $20 is well worth it (I promise). Best food I’ve eaten in a long time – totally unexpected on a farm tour!
  • Jump off a cliff at the Shotover Canyon Swing (the husband did this one, not me)

On the way out of Queenstown we stopped at Gibbston Valley Winery, which is well worth a visit! We had a cheese and wine tasting platter (yummo!) and then lunch. The kid’s lunch platter was a great idea and one of the best kids lunches I have seen (note they have highchairs but no toys or playground for entertainment, so take your own!). There is also a cheese store where you can stock up on all sorts of goodies. Which I did.

Other great activities/sights: 

When we left Queenstown we put the wrong address in the GPS and ended up in Arrowtown. This is one mistake I’m glad we made though, as it looked so beautiful! The main street is really cute and looks like it would be well worth a visit. Due to sleeping girls though, we pushed on!

We also passed Chard Farm Winery, another one with amazing views that would be worth a visit.

Lake Wanaka

The drive from Queenstown to Lake Wanaka is another great one. I’m not making this up – it really is that gorgeous.

We stayed at the Lakeview Caravan Park, which was the closest one I could find to the town centre. Once we parked up we went for a walk into the town, which has many cute homewares shops, cafes and restaurants. There is also an organics store and Mediterranean market, for those of you who are interested!

Sunset over Lake Wanaka, New Zealand - itinerary for the South Island

Sunset over Lake Wanaka

The view of sunset over the lake and mountains is awesome, so do as we did and stop for a (insert beverage of choice here) at one of the lake front bars, such as The Water Bar. A little further down the main street there is a huge playground (complete with giant dinosaur slide) to keep the kids amused.

Another fun thing to do in Wanaka is to visit the walkway along the lake, which has a timeline of interesting milestones in history along it. Find out when coffee was invented, when Rome was built … that kind of thing. Pretty cool.

Oh and finally, for Australians, it’s pronounced “Won-a-ka”, not “Waahnaka”. Not that I ever pronounced it that way …

Other great activities/sights: 

Driving out of Wanaka we saw some interesting attractions to try – Puzzling World, The War Museum and Warbirds and Wheels Museum.




Omaramu

Our original plan was to stay here overnight and try to see the penguins. We stopped in at a café and had lunch and looked for a place to stay. We headed towards the holiday park 10kms from the city centre, but once we started driving we saw a sign for Timaru that was 79km away and we decided to keep going … thinking maybe we could make it up to Marlborough after all if we drove a little further today!

Timaru

Once we got to Timaru we drove to the Top 10 Holiday Park and booked in, with the help of a very friendly receptionist. This park had the BEST facilities– the first bath the girls had all trip. Add heated flooring in the family bathroom and a hairdryer and I was happy!

This was just a quick stopover for us – when we woke up in the morning it was raining, so we just had breakfast and headed off early.

Kaikoura

The weather was a bit overcast when we arrived here, however on a sunny day it would be beautiful! We looked for somewhere to stay and after avoiding a park that looked a little concerning, we stopped in at the Top 10. I’m glad we did, as this is a really nice park – large sites, great bathrooms and a large games and TV room. Oh and a friendly cat, which the girls loved. The playground looked interesting too and was fairly big.

Again we visited the information centre and were told you had to be 3 years of age to go on the whale watching tours, which ruled us out. The lady was great though and told us where we could see seals close by, as well as a spot to go a little further north. As it was late afternoon by now, we decided to head off in the morning to see some seals.

We decided to visit the spot north of Kaikoura, which is called the Ohau Waterfalls. I can say that this was a definite highlight of our trip (and something Miss H has mentioned since we’ve been home). This spot is about 20 minutes north of Kaikoura on state highway 1. You can either park at Ohau Point and look over the ocean at the seals, or drive to the Ohau Waterfall. At the waterfall, there is a walking track that takes you through to the main falls – however you encounter many seals along the way! We saw at least 10 to 12 seal pups, up close – totally amazing.

If that’s not enough for you, seals are visible on the rocks all along that stretch of coast as you drive along.

Picton

After our seal experience (which was free, I might add) we drove to Picton for lunch and a look around. We had a great lunch at Cortado and then headed down to the playground (surprise, surprise) to have a look before we worked out where to stay.

Views on drive to Picton, South Island, New Zealand - itinerary with kids and a campervan

Views on drive to Picton

We found out about a farmstay near Queen Charlotte Sound that sounded interesting, so we headed in that direction. The drive from Picton to Queen Charlotte Sound was totally insane – winding roads, steep cliffs – but absolutely stunning. Yes, you guessed it – another must do drive in NZ!

Queen Charlotte Sound

We stayed at the Smiths Farm Holiday Park and were greeted with warm muffins and a bag of food for the animals. After devouring the muffins, we went to check out the farmyard – meeting the sheep, goats and one very large pig!

The next day we drove to Havelock (a gorgeous coastal village about 20 minutes away) and had lunch at the Slip Inn. Lunch was awesome, the coffee was very nice and they even had little goodie bags for children, which kept the girls entertained.

Finally the next morning it was time for us to leave and make the long drive back to Christchurch (nearly 5 hours) to hand over the campervan. We set off early in the morning (after saying goodbye to the sheep of course) and stopped in at the Vines Village to grab a coffee. This would be a great place to stop and have a look around if you had more time; there is a café, shops selling local goods and wine tasting from around the region.

Once we arrived back in Christchurch and handed back the van (after driving to a few different locations, as the address wasn’t in the map in the GPS!) we went back to the Airport Gateway hotel to finish off our holiday (and have a nice warm shower).

After all that I can honestly say I can’t wait to go back. Next time we would like to do the same on the North Island. And of course I need to visit all my “must see” destinations from this post!

Itinerary questions? Places Kristy missed?

Kristy’s itinerary traversing the South Island of New Zealand sounds brilliant to me, and I hope if you’re planning a trip there (especially with young kids) you can make good use of it. Got any questions? Did Kristy and her family miss a must-see place that you’d like to suggest? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

  1. Wonderful itinerary and photos. Now you’ve got the North Island to do …. which is fabulous too. Don’t miss the Wairarapa district.

    Cheers
    Tricia

  2. I would love to take my kids campervanning in NZ, this itinerary looks so good!

  3. Wow! You’re the inspiration for our plans to do a campervan trip with our 2 young ones (5 and 3)!
    Say, you didn’t include Nelson especially Abel Tasman. Was it due to time and distance or it’s just not suitable with the young ones? Asking cos we’re not sure if we should do Abel..
    Cheers!

    • Claudius, I love that Kristy has inspired your trip!! She’s on a road trip again at the moment and totally offline but I’ll make sure I let her know you have a good question here when she’s back next week. And enjoy your trip!

    • Hello Claudius,

      Yes mostly time and distance – as there was so much we wanted to see around the lower half of the South Island time didn’t really allow us to travel that far north as well! I think it’s about 7 hours from Christchurch so quite a distance (unless of course you plan your itinerary around other things to do in the area!).

      A lot of the activities (such as kayaking) are more for older children, but I recall there is a short cruise that might suit. And of course there are short walks you can do – or just enjoy the scenery!

      Enjoy your trip 🙂

  4. This is AMAZING. Thank you. We are a family of 4 – 2 daughters who will be 15 months and just 3 when we hope to spend at least 2 weeks in a camper van around South Island (next March). Can you tell me who you rented your van through and where the children sat? I’m having a bit of a wobble about the idea of them so far back in the van that I can’t reach or easily speak to them. And something I read said the rear seats often don’t have a window/view? Like you, we will try and drive during daytime naps, but they aren’t very long for the older one now.

    • Sounds like a fantastic trip Louise and with your daughters being so similar in age to Kristy’s I’m sure she will have some good advice, I’ll ping her to come and give you some tips soon!

    • Hello Louise

      The rental question is a funny one – most searches lead you back to the same place! We rented an “Alpha Campervan”, but the rental was actually through Britz (http://www.britz.co.nz/). When you google it you are taken to some comparison sites and then when you book you end up on one of the rental places (if that makes any sense!). It can be a little confusing!

      The van itself was a 6 berth Alpha Campervan (here is a link to the specifications: http://www.ausandnztravel.com/motorhome_rental/alpha_campervans/rv_hire_new_zealand_index.shtml).

      This van was very open between the front and rear seats, so I could see the girls and the chair swivelled slightly so you can turn a bit further. I could just reach them if I had to make an emergency dummy grab or snack exchange…but it was a stretch (mind you I’m quite short!). My older girl could see a little bit out of the side window (the younger one not!), but they could see out the front.

      As I said we just kept our driving to to nap times (where possible!) and tried not to travel too far in one go. I also loaded them up with snacks and water before we left!

      Another thing that I found helped if we did have to travel a bit further, was to have a stop to get a decent meal and then let them run around and explore where ever we happened to be – to try and wear them out a little more and hope they would rest again!

      Enjoy the trip, please let me know if you have any other questions!

      🙂

  5. Hi Kristy, thanks for your great post! Just wondering why you decided to go with the 6 berth rather than the 4 berth van? Did the second row of seats fold away when not in use? We’re starting to plan our trip for next year with a then 3 year old and 9 month old and loved reading all your great advice. Cheers, Cathryn

    • Hello Cathryn,

      Sorry I seemed to have missed this question!

      Really it was just for the extra space. The second row of seats did fold away so we used them to store things (which was handy for jackets etc!). We figured it was confining enough for all of us so wanted that little bit extra room. I would definitely recommend it.

      Let me know if you think of anything else!

      Kristy 🙂

  6. Great itinerary – just what we were looking for! Thank you for sharing. Can’t wait to plan our trip with our under-3 year old now…

  7. Hi Kristy, thanks for your post! Just wondering how the same trip would go with a 6 month old? And how long did this trip take you from fly in to fly out? Thanks!

    • Hello Kirby

      I think with a 6 month old you would be fine – as they aren’t moving around too much it might even be easier! I found my girls were easier to get to bed when they were younger as well, so that side of things would be better too. The only hard part would be food might be a little trickier for you at that age (it was easy for me as the girls eat anything now!) if your baby is on solids of course.

      It was 19 days from the day we left to the day we got home!

      I hope that helps 🙂

  8. Hi Kristy,
    We are heading to Christchurch in a few weeks for a campervan holiday, 2 adults and 3 children (11, 8 and 2). We are very excited!!
    We arrive just after lunch and pick up the campervan straight away, however we booked the first night in the Top 10 caravan park in Christchurch so that we can settle in and stock up before heading off the next day.
    Can you recommend where we should get our supplies/food in Christchurch to save us time searching on the day?

    • Hello Kelly

      How exciting! Enjoy your stay and be sure to let us know how you went!

      When we did our shopping we found somewhere purely by chance by heading in the direction we wanted to go! So I don’t know offhand where the best place to stock up is…so I recommend letting the campervan company know where your first stay is and asking them for suggestions – I found them to be so helpful!

      The other option is to email the Top 10 park in advance and ask them for advice, as I found all the Top 10 holiday parks very helpful too!

      Anywhere outside of the busier part of Christchurch is going to save you hassle trying to park the van (especially when you are getting used to it!!!).

      Good luck 🙂

  9. Hey Kristy,

    We’re pretty set on doing a campervan holiday this NZ in November with a 3 month old for our honeymoon! I think we might be slightly insane!

    Thankyou for all your advice on here. It has certainly helped.

  10. Hi Kristy,

    Sorry if I have missed this but can you tell me what time of year you did this trip?

  11. Biby Colven says:

    Hi Kristy,

    What a fantastic itinerary! We are planning a campervan holiday in December with our 5.5, 3 and 1 year old sticking to South Island. As we will only have 10 days what are the top places you think are a must see/do?

    Thanks so much for all your advice, makes it look like a piece of cake with toddlers!

  12. Nic Newton says:

    How long were you travelling the South Island for? You itinerary and ideas look fantastic, however, we only have 9 days…

  13. Simon Smith says:

    HI Kristy,

    Many thanks for posting these details – it is very much appreciated. It certainly sounds as if you had a fantastic time!

    My wife and I are going to the South Island next April, with our two boys, (will be 3 and 1.5) – so your details are extremely helpful!

    I have the same query as Nic Newton – how many days did you travel in the Caperva?

    Best,

    Simon

  14. Juliana Maddalena says:

    Hi, We only have 9 days in the south.
    Please how long was your itinerary?

  15. Hi Kristy,
    We are gong to NZ in january and will have our 11 month old, almost 3 year old and 6 year old with us. We have a few nights crossing with the ferry to stay in Wellington and then back to Blenheim to see other friends in the Marlborough region but we still have another 3 nights to do something after that. My kids love animals and farmstay or something unique would be great as we live on the Northern Beaches in Sydney – so ideally mountains and animals…any suggestions? Loved reading your itinary and when kids are older we will do campervan but just planning holiday parks or farmstays this trip.
    Thanks : )

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