This itinerary leads your family through some of the South Island's most striking scenery, with plenty of fun along the way. As you make your way from Christchurch to Queenstown, kids and adults alike will love getting up close to native seabirds, meeting farm animals, and swimming in thermal pools. Gondola, boat, and plane trips will further pack your week with family-friendly adventure!


  • Splash around in the thermal waters of Tekapo Springs
  • View rare albatrosses and penguins in their natural habitat
  • Take in panoramic views with a ride on the Skyline Gondola
  • Meet the sheepdogs on a working New Zealand farm

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch  Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Lake Tekapo, Tekapo Springs Hot Pools Lake Tekapo
Day 3 Drive to Dunedin, Royal Albatross Centre Dunedin
Day 4 Explore Dunedin, Penguin Place Tour Dunedin
Day 5 Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Gondola Queenstown 
Day 6 TSS Earnslaw Cruise & Farm Tour Queenstown 
Day 7 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch 

Take the family punting on the Avon River / Ōtākaro 

Welcome to New Zealand! Settle into your accommodation before heading out to explore Christchurch. Take the kids for some fresh air in one of the "Garden City's" famous green spaces, such as Hagley Park or the Botanical Gardens. For something more history-inspired, the whole family will enjoy a tour down the Avon River / Ōtākaro led by guides in Edwardian costume or a ride on one of the city's 19th-century trams past Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum.

A family must-see is the International Antarctic Centre. The kids' imaginations will be captured by the interactive exhibits—they'll learn how to survive a storm, work on ice, handle a husky, and care for a penguin. Close your visit with the 4D theatre experience, and you'll come away feeling like a seasoned Antarctic explorer!

Day 2: Drive to Lake Tekapo, Tekapo Springs Hot Pools

Flowering lupine on the shores of Lake Tekapo

This morning you'll collect your rental car and drive toward Lake Tekapo, a striking turquoise lake in the Mackenzie Country. Take a break in Geraldine, and you'll have your pick of cafés, shops, and restaurants, with something to please everyone. As you continue, the whole family can enjoy gorgeous scenery before the drive ascends Burkes Pass, bringing you into Mackenzie Country's basin and the picturesque town of Lake Tekapo.

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The afternoon brings relaxation for everyone at Tekapo Springs. Take a sauna, or ease into a thermal pool complete with massage jets and fountains while you enjoy alpine and lake views. Kids of all ages will love the Aqua Play Area, with its shallow pool (maximum depth of 3 ft/1 m), interactive water jets, fountains, and showers. This beach-accessible space provides parents a break while the kids play.

Day 3: Drive to Dunedin, Royal Albatross Centre

Moeraki Boulders
 Hop between the Moeraki Boulders

Today's drive will take you through stunning scenery to Mount Cook Village, where the family can explore New Zealand's highest mountain. Take a scenic flight or choose from one of the many short hikes. Families with younger kids can take the easy and beautiful Tasman Glacier Viewpoint track. Continue on to Twizel and stop at the Wrinkly Rams café to savor a coffee while the kids watch a sheep shearing demonstration. Farther south, the famous Moeraki Boulders are well worth the short detour.

Once you've reached Dunedin, make your way to Taiaroa Head to experience the world's only mainland albatross colony. Take a 60-minute tour with film and commentary to learn about these rare birds. The whole family will love the chance to view the nesting birds from the well-placed observatory. The kids can also get out the binoculars to see what other native wildlife has made its home on the Head.

Day 4: Explore Dunedin, Penguin Place Tour

Yellow-eyed penguin
The yellow-eyed Penguin

Start today off by taking the family to explore Dunedin city and its grand, Gothic Revival architecture. Wander the farmer's market in the Flemish-Baroque railway station and experience The Octagon's street art and booming restaurant scene. Then head out to the Otago Peninsula to spot penguins, fur seals, and sea lions. The kids will have fun climbing the turret and playing hide and seek at New Zealand's only castle, the fairytale-like Larnach.

This afternoon, encounter the endangered hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) when you visit Penguin Place, a private conservation reserve dedicated to ensuring the survival of this unique species. On your tour, you will learn about the dangers the penguins face, their life cycle, and the project itself. The kids will be excited to follow the guide through a system of covered trenches to viewing hides, allowing access to the habitat of these shy birds without disturbing them.

Day 5: Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Gondola

Hop on a cable car or gondola for views over Queenstown

Start your day driving through the heart of the historic Otago Goldfields. Stop off at the museum in Alexandra—kids will be fascinated by the stories and relics of the gold rush. Before you leave town, stock up on healthy snacks—Alexandra is now the "stone fruit capital" of New Zealand. Drive along the South Island's longest river, the Clutha, and through the Gibbston Wine Valley to arrive at Queenstown.

Once you're there, hop aboard the Skyline Gondola, the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere! Kids will be wowed by the height (over 1400 ft/450 m) while you enjoy panoramic views of the Remarkables mountain range, WalterCecil, and Coronet Peaks, and the magnificent Lake Wakatipu. Let Queenstown's stunning surroundings impress you!

Day 6: TSS Earnslaw Cruise & Farm Tour

Border Collie at work
Watch a sheepdog herding sheep

Today's four-hour trip will be an absolute highlight for kids and adults alike as you cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship. Stop off at the Walter Peak High Country Farm to enjoy a meal lakeside, while you soak up the alpine scenery and colonial-era atmosphere of the homestead. After you've eaten, wander the beautiful gardens. The kids will love the farm demonstration, which displays the incredible skill of sheepdogs at work.

Back in Queenstown, there is an abundance of outdoor activities to fill your afternoon. Take the family horse trekking, kayaking, or hiking, or try the ever-popular Skyline Luge if you missed it yesterday. If you're after a shorter indoor activity, you can't go wrong with the Time Tripper, an underwater aquarium and cinema experience that sweeps you through the history of Lake Wakatipu from dinosaur times to the present day. 

Day 7: Depart Queenstown

Meet the rare tuatara
Today your New Zealand adventure comes to a close. If you have some time before your flight, squeeze in one more family adventure. If the kids are older, give jet boating at Kawarau River a try. Younger kids will love getting to know New Zealand's "living fossil," the tuatara, at Kiwi Park wildlife refuge. Make sure you catch the Conservation Show and Kiwi Encounter while you're there. Afterward, drop your rental car at Queenstown Airport in time for your homeward flight. Safe travels!

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Map of New Zealand Family Road Trip: South Island Mountains & Lakes  - 7 Days
Map of New Zealand Family Road Trip: South Island Mountains & Lakes - 7 Days