New Zealand's South Island is a dream destination for active families, with a variety of adventure sports, outdoor activities, and nature reserves that will keep every member of the family entertained. This 10-day itinerary that starts in Christchurch and ends in Queenstown will take you through the Southern Alps, where you can stargaze at Aoraki / Mount Cook, cruise on Milford Sound, see glowworms at Te Anau, ride the luge in Queenstown, and more.


  • Take a sightseeing tram in Christchurch
  • Stargaze in an International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Cruise on Milford Sound
  • Ride the mountain luge in Queenstown

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Sightseeing & Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Mount Cook Village, Evening Stargazing Mount Cook Village
Day 3 Boat Tour to Tasman Glacier, Helicopter Glacier Tour Mount Cook Village
Day 4 Drive to Wānaka, Free Time & Hiking in Wānaka Wānaka
Day 5 Lake Wānaka Cruise & Nature Walk, Puzzling World Wānaka
Day 6 Drive to Te Anau, Te Anau Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 7 Milford Sound Day Tour Te Anau
Day 8 Drive to Queenstown, Cruise, Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 9 Skyline Gondola & Luge, Dart River Jet Boating Queenstown
Day 10 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Sightseeing & Tram Dinner

Kayak on Christchurch's Avon River / Ōtākaro 

Welcome to Christchurch! Your driver will be waiting at Christchurch Airport to take you to your hotel. Take some time to settle in before heading out to explore the South Island's biggest city. Christchurch has many kid and family-friendly activities and destinations, including central-city Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens, and the Margaret Mahy Playground for younger kids.

Take a tour down the Avon River / Ōtākaro led by guides in Edwardian costume, paddle your own canoe on the gentle river, or ride one of the city's 19th-century trams past Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum. There's something for all levels of activity (and jet lag) on your first day. In the evening, if you and the family aren't too tired from your arrival, get your trip off to a memorable start with a ride and dinner at New Zealand's only tramcar restaurant (best suited to older kids). Enjoy the central city views while indulging in delicious food in a unique environment. 

Day 2: Drive to Mount Cook Village, Evening Stargazing

Stargaze at some of the darkest skies in the world

Pick up your rental car this morning and hit the road: destination, Mount Cook. Self-driving is ideal for families as you can stop whenever your kids need a break. Located about four hour's from Christchurch, the drive to Mount Cook Village winds through the heart of the South Island and through the pastoral Canterbury Plains. Handy stops along the way include GeraldineFairlie, and Burkes Pass, with a curious collection of Americana and classic cars. Pass Lake Tekapo and Tekapo famous for their stunning lake and mountain views and colorful lupine flowers in summer.

Mount Cook Village sits at the base of Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak at 12,315 feet (3,754 m), and beside Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take some time to rest after the drive before heading out again for dinner. The Alpine Restaurant at the Hermitage Hotel offers tasty buffet food and spectacular views of Aoraki / Mount Cook from every seat. Families with younger kids might want to book an early dinner.

If your kids have the energy to stay up after dark, stargazing is a must-do activity in this area. Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and the nearby Mackenzie Basin have been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve for their clear, dark skies. Take a stargazing tour; a guide will take you to an outdoor viewing platform with state-of-the-art astronomy telescopes and binoculars to help you spot constellations, planets, the Milky Way, and distant galaxies. Kids will love seeing things they've learned about in science class in real life.

Day 3: Boat Tour to Tasman Glacier, Helicopter Glacier Tour

Take to the skies for a trip to the Tasman Glacier

Glaciers are fast disappearing around the world, so give your kids the chance to see them while they're still around. Take a cruise on Tasman Glacier Lake, where you'll see the country's largest glacier, the Tasman, as well as 500-year-old icebergs up close.

Later, enjoy a thrilling 35-minute scenic helicopter flight that includes a landing on the Tasman Glacier. It may be your kids' first time in a helicopter, and it's always such a thrilling adventure. Enjoy the magnificent scenery of the national park and land on the glacier, feeling what it's like to have 2,000 feet (600 m) of ice beneath your feet. Children under the age of four travel for free on a parent's lap, with safety belts, but children over four must have their own seat.

Day 4: Drive to Wānaka, Free Time & Hiking in Wānaka

Explore Wānaka at your own pace

Drive to Wānaka this morning, a direct journey of around 2.5 hours, but you can stop wherever appeals to your family. Twizel was the location of many "The Lord of the Rings" movie scenes: ideal for movie-loving kids and adults. Show kids where wool comes from by catching a live sheep shearing show at the Wrinkly Rams café in Ōmarama, and admire the views at Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand's highest roads (3,185 feet/ 971 m). 

Despite its small size, Wānaka offers a wide variety of family-friendly activities. In winter, it is one of New Zealand's premier ski destinations, being very close to the Treble Cone and Cardrona ski fields. Mount Aspiring National Park sits to the west of the lake and offers wonderful walking tracks for all abilities. Fishing, sailing, and waterskiing are popular pastimes on the lake, and the many beach access points provide great spots for picnicking and relaxing. Take some time to explore Wānaka after your arrival.

If your family would prefer a gentler afternoon activity, head to the 10-acre (4 ha) Wānaka Lavender Farm, where you can admire beautiful lavender fields, meet friendly farm animals, indulge in lavender and honey ice cream, and sample Lakes honey and the many lavender products made on site—sweet-toothed kids will be in heaven.

Day 5: Lake Wānaka Cruise & Nature Walk, Puzzling World

Moh Waho Island on Lake Wanaka
Moh Waho Island on Lake Wanaka

A must-see spot in Wānaka that's suitable for everyone in the family is Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve. Accessed by a 35-minute boat ride, this is one of five islands in Lake Wānaka.  Mou Waho's most famous feature is probably Arethusa Pool: a small lake on the island has its own island inside. You can catch the best views of this island-on-a-lake-inside-an-island-on-a-lake from the top of Tyrwhitt Peak on Mou Waho. The total cruise time is 1.5 hours, so this is a great morning activity. Depending on the planting season, your kids can help the reforestation of Mou Waho by planting a tree.

In the afternoon, visit another Wānaka family favorite: Puzzling World. Spend a couple of hours in alternative dimensions, checking out the multi-level outdoor maze, optical illusion rooms, holograms, living walls, wave ceilings, stone carpets, hanging waterfalls, and other fun, funny, and downright wacky features.

In the evening, consider heading out of town to the Cardrona Hotel, a traditional pub roughly halfway between Wānaka and Queenstown that dates back to the gold-mining boom of the 1860s. Kids can live out their Wild West fantasies, and parents will enjoy a good meal at one of New Zealand's oldest and most iconic hotels. The beer garden is the perfect place to wind down after a long day: order some mulled wine for the parents while the youngsters sit around the open fire pits toasting marshmallows.
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Day 6: Drive to Te Anau, Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Boat through glowworm caves in Te Anau

This morning, head to Te Anau, crossing the Crown Range via the highest sealed road in the country and descending toward Queenstown. Continue along the shores of Lake Wakatipu toward the Fiordland National Park. Handy stops to let the kids get some fresh air include tiny Kingston, home to the Kingston Flyer steam train, or Mossburn, with its cool deer statue (and a single malt Scotch distillery for the parents). Te Anau rests on the shores of the 133 square mile (345 sq km) lake of the same name. It's the gateway to Fiordland National Park and offers plenty of family-friendly and nature-based activities.

After settling into your accommodation, take a cruise across Lake Te Anau to visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. Kids over five will especially love exploring this 12,000-year-old underground cave network, another opportunity to bring a science lesson to life. You'll be guided along a limestone pathway, from where you'll see whirlpools, rock formations, a staggering underground waterfall, and the blue-white pinpricks of thousands of glowworms on the cave walls and ceiling. 

Day 7: Milford Sound Day Tour

Majestic Milford Sound
Majestic Milford Sound

Leave your car behind today for a guided excursion to Milford Sound. Parents can enjoy the views, too, without worrying about navigating and watching the road. On the journey into Fiordland National Park, the tour will make several stops, so don't worry about your kids getting uncomfortable. Highlights include the Eglinton Valley, with views worthy of a scene from "The Lord of the Rings," the Mirror Lakes, Lake Gunn, the boulder-filled Hollyford River, and the waterfalls at Falls Creek. Get your kids to keep their eyes open for kea, the world's largest alpine parrot known for its curious and cheeky nature.

Before reaching Milford Sound, you'll pass through the hand-built, completely dark (except for the vehicle headlights) Homer Tunnel, a feat of engineering that will impress kids and make all but the hardiest adult driver feel a bit nervous. Emerge on the other side near Milford Sound, where, on a rainy day (which it often is in Fiordland), hundreds of waterfalls cascade down the mountainside.  

In Milford Sound, board a small cruise boat, which allows you to get closer to the wildlife (such as fur seals basking on the rocks) and the waterfalls that gush from the mountains when it's raining. Kids will love playing chicken with the waterfalls—and will often end up getting wet, so bring some spare clothes! If the weather's clear, marvel at the awe-inspiring, iconic Mitre Peak, with its steep triangular peak rising high above the reflective waters of the sound. On the return trip to Te Anau, you'll retrace the same journey but make some different stops to experience the landscape from different angles. 

Day 8: Drive to Queenstown, Cruise, Farm Tour & Dinner

Learn about life on the farm at Walter Peak

This morning, drive across vast tussock lands on the journey back to Queenstown, a small town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu surrounded by the Remarkables mountains. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and there is a huge range of adventurous outdoor activities that kids and adults will both love, from mountain biking to parasailing, as well as gentler pursuits to give everyone a bit of a break. 

In the evening, step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship for a ride on Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Fill up on a delicious barbecue dinner featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads, followed by dessert and New Zealand cheese. There will be something for everyone to enjoy eating. Watch demonstrations about high country life on the farm and watch sheepdog herding before returning to your boat and joining a sing-along with the ship's pianist as you admire Queenstown's evening skyline.

Day 9: Skyline Gondola & Luge, Dart River Jet Boating

Queenstown Luge
Queenstown Luge

Today, try out some of the adventure sports that Queenstown is famous for. Start with a scenic ride on the Skyline Gondola, soaring to over 1,400 feet (450 m) to Bob's Peak, where you'll see panoramic views of the Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and sparkling Lake Wakatipu. Once you (or, more likely, the kids) have had enough of the views, ride the peak's two hilltop luge tracks. Younger children can ride tandem with their parents, while older kids can brave the winding route solo. Get back down the mountain by gondola or hike or mountain bike back down. 

Later on, journey deep into the heart of Mount Aspiring National Park. Experience a unique combination of breathtaking scenery and an exhilarating ride as you follow braided, glacier-fed rivers by jet boat. Kids over five with a taste for adventure will love the exciting 360-degree spins. Learn about the area's rich history, the greenstone trail, and Māori legends. Step off the boat and into ancient beech tree forests, which you may recognize from "The Lord of the Rings." 

Day 10: Depart Queenstown 

Farewell Queenstown

Depending on your time of departure, there may be time to enjoy one last morning activity in Queenstown before you leave. Rent a kayak to paddle on Lake Wakatipu or take a family stroll along the lakeside paths. Drop your rental car off at Queenstown Airport before your flight and say farewell to New Zealand. Safe travels!

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Map of Active South Island Family Vacation: Christchurch to Queenstown - 10 Days
Map of Active South Island Family Vacation: Christchurch to Queenstown - 10 Days