Families with active older kids will love the range of outdoor, nature-focused, and adventurous excursions available on this 10-day South Island itinerary. Start in Queenstown for exhilarating, family-friendly activities like luging and jet boating. Explore the vast fjords of Fiordland National Park and glowworm caves at Te Anau, then hit the road and loop north toward Christchurch, spotting penguins in Oamaru, hiking to waterfalls in the Catlins, and whale watching in Kaikoura along the way.


  • Ride the luge and go jet boating in Queenstown
  • See penguins in Dunedin and Oamaru
  • Go whale watching in Kaikoura
  • Be amazed by the glowworms of Te Anau

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Queenstown, Gondola & Luge Queenstown
Day 2 Macetown 4WD Tour, Dart River Jet Boat Queenstown
Day 3 Drive to Te Anau, Te Anau Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 4 Milford Sound Cruise & Picnic Te Anau
Day 5 Drive to Invercargill Invercargill
Day 6 Drive to Dunedin, Explore Dunedin & Otago Peninsula Dunedin
Day 7 Drive to Oamaru, View Penguin Colony Oamaru
Day 8 Drive to Christchurch, Antarctic Centre & Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 9 Day Tour to Kaikōura with Whale Watching Christchurch
Day 10 Depart New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown, Gondola & Luge

Views over Queenstown
Views over Queenstown from the luge track

Welcome to Queenstown! Upon arrival, your private driver will meet you at Queenstown Airport and transfer you to your accommodations to get settled in. Known as New Zealand's adventure capital, this bustling South Island town offers a wide range of exciting activities that the whole family will love, including bungee jumping, jet boating, zip lining, and more.

This afternoon, stretch your legs and get some fresh air after your flight with a ride on the Skyline Gondola above the city for fantastic views over Lake Wakatipu, Coronet Peak, and the Remarkables mountains. After admiring the spectacular vistas, descend the mountaintop in style via a ride down the two hilltop luge tracks. Younger children can ride tandem with their parents, while older kids can brave the winding track solo. 

Day 2: Macetown 4WD Tour, Dart River Jet Boat

Go jet boating on the Dart River

In the morning, hop in a 4WD vehicle and head north from Queenstown into the hills. Follow an old miners' wagon trail to Macetown, a historic gold mining settlement dating back to 1862 that's now a tourist attraction and protected reserve. You and your kids may recognize some of the landscapes you'll see en route from their starring roles in "The Lord of the Rings" films. In Macetown, kids will enjoy exploring the relics of this well-preserved settlement and getting the chance to pan for gold in the Arrow River. See who's the first to get lucky and strike gold!

In the afternoon, journey into Mount Aspiring National Park for an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride. Whiz along glacier-fed rivers while your guide shares Māori legends and historical information about the area. The tour includes a chance to stop and walk in beech tree forests, spotting more filming locations from "The Lord of the Rings." Whether or not you and your kids have seen the films, the landscapes are impressive.

Day 3: Drive to Te Anau, Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Cruise on Lake Te Anau

Today, collect your rental car in Queenstown and head toward Te Anau, following the shores of Lake Wakatipu, with the Remarkables towering ahead. It's about a two-hour drive to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park. Self-driving is ideal for families as you can stop whenever the kids need a break.

Discover the magical Te Anau Glowworm Caves on a tour, which starts with a cruise across Lake Te Anau. As you enter the caves, your guide will take you along a limestone pathway, pointing out whirlpools, intricate rock formations, and a staggering underground waterfall. Board a small boat to glide through the darkness, surrounded by the blue-white pinpricks of thousands of glowworms on the cave walls and ceiling. Kids will love learning about the unique geology of caves, and parents will probably learn something new, too.
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Day 4: Milford Sound Cruise & Picnic

Kids, large and small, will love the majesty of Milford Sound

Leaving Te Anau this morning, you'll enter Fiordland National Park. There will be many places to stop along the way to enjoy the views of steep-sided mountains plunging into lakes and fjords and for kids to stretch their legs and have a quick run around. Make sure to stop at the Mirror Lakes to see beautiful reflections of the Earl Mountains. Drive deeper into the Darran Mountains and keep an eye out for native kea, the world's largest alpine parrot. If you do see one, kids will likely be able to get quite a close-up look as kea are known for their bold, inquisitive natures.

Continue through the incredible, hand-built Homer Tunnel that passes through the mountains and emerges in a valley that descends sharply toward Milford Sound. The only lights are from cars traveling through, which is sure to excite intrepid kids. On a rainy day (which it often is in Fiordland), hundreds of waterfalls can be seen cascading down the mountainside.  

At Milford Sound, board your small cruise boat for an informative and personal tour of Milford Sound. Kids will love getting a close-up look at wildlife, including New Zealand fur seals basking on the rocks. Marvel at the awe-inspiring Mitre Peak, with its steep triangular peak rising high above the reflective waters of the sound. Return to Te Anau along the same road, stopping at different viewpoints along the way.

Day 5: Drive to Invercargill

Explore Bluff's giant chain-link sculpture

Today, spend the day driving to Invercargill, New Zealand's southernmost city. While the drive is only 2.5-hours non-stop, taking your time allows you to visit many great places along the way. On the way out of Te Anau, stop at Lake Manapouri, New Zealand's second-deepest lake. Check out the Clifden Suspension Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand—kids love jumping up and down and making it swing! Other places you might want to stop include Gemstone Beach (where kids might actually find garnet, jasper, quartz, and sapphires) and Colac Bay, a surfing village where you can enjoy views of Rakiura Stewart Island.

After arriving in Invercargill, the capital of Southland, head to the nearby coast. Oreti Beach is especially fun for kids of all ages, with a wide stretch of sand for pottering and making sandcastles on to adventure activities like horse riding, kayaking, and surfing. Bird-loving kids should head to the Awarua-Waituna Wetlands, where you may see rare Siberian tattlers, greenshanks, and sanderlings. You might also want to visit Bluff, the southernmost point of the South Island, which is famous for its oysters and its larger-than-life sculptures.

Day 6: Drive to Dunedin, Explore Dunedin & Otago Peninsula

See yellow-eyed penguins in Dunedin

Today, drive along the Southern Scenic Route via the Catlins to Dunedin. While the journey would take 3.5 hours non-stop, it's recommended that you take your time as there are so many places to stop along the way in the Catlins. Active kids will enjoy walking along easy trails to amazing waterfalls like the three-tiered Purakaunui Falls. Other spots that kids will enjoy are cavernous Cathedral Cove, only accessible at low tide; the gushing water of Jack's Blowhole; and photogenic Nugget Point Lighthouse, precariously sitting at the edge of a rocky point.

After reaching Dunedin, take some time to explore the city or the Otago Peninsula. Kids will especially enjoy checking out the penguins, fur seals, sea lions, and albatross at the Royal Albatross Centre, the world's only mainland albatross colony. Dunedin city itself has plenty of imposing neo-Gothic architecture and, of more interest to most kids, lots of colorful street art.

Day 7: Drive to Oamaru, View Penguin Colony

Moeraki Boulders

Follow the Otago coastline as you depart Dunedin and drive up to Oamaru. Don't miss stopping at Moeraki and its famous Moeraki Boulders, popular with even hard-to-impress kids: more than 50 large, spherical boulders litter Koekohe Beach. They're an amazing sight and took around four million years to form to their current size.

A highlight of Oamaru is an evening viewing at the Blue Penguin Colony. Oamaru's blue penguins nest close to town, under the cliffs along the harbor foreshore. During evening tours, prompt your kids to sit quietly in a hide beside the penguin's natural environment and wait for the arrival of these intrepid little birds, who form "rafts" to cross the dangerous inshore waters and avoid lurking predators.

Day 8: Drive to Christchurch, Antarctic Centre & Historic Tram Dinner

Ride the historic tram in Christchurch

This morning, drive to Christchurch, stopping en route at TimaruTemuka, or Geraldine, where you can visit a gourmet cheese factory. Christchurch is New Zealand's second-largest city, and there's much to entertain kids here. Hang out in peaceful green spaces such as Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens (younger kids will also love the Margaret Mahy Playground), take a boat tour down the Avon River / Ōtākaro led by guides in Edwardian costume, or ride one of the city's 19th-century trams past Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum.

If you're making a good time, make a trip to the International Antarctic Centre at the airport to learn about life in this remote continent through a range of interactive experiences, many of which are geared toward kids, such as the Lego area. All members of the family will love the 17°F (-8°C) Storm Dome, the 4D Theatre, and feeding time in the penguin enclosure.

In the evening, if the kids aren't too tired and don't mind sitting still for a fancy meal, enjoy a memorable dinner in a historic colonial-style tram that makes the rounds to central Christchurch's top attractions. Sit back and relax as you enjoy the central city views and a four-course meal from your window-side table. This activity is best suited to older kids.

Day 9: Day Tour to Kaikōura with Whale Watching

Go whale watching in Kaikoura

Leave the car behind today on a day tour to Kaikōura, in North Canterbury. The scenic 2.5-hour drive from Christchurch crosses the Canterbury Plains. Spend some time around town, check out the pebbly beach, and visit the fur seal colony, where kids will love seeing dozens (possibly even hundreds) of the creatures lounging on the rocks. You can get quite close, but remind the kids to keep a safe distance, especially if baby seals are around.

In the afternoon, board a catamaran for an exciting whale watching tour. Kids aged three and up will enjoy looking out for the giant sperm whale as well as seals, pods of dusky dolphins, and endangered wandering albatross. Learn all about Kaikōura's unique ocean habitat from friendly guides. 

Day 10: Depart New Zealand

Farewell Christchurch

Depart New Zealand today from Christchurch Airport. Depending on the timing of your flight, there may be time to enjoy some last-minute activities before you leave. If you didn't have time to visit the International Antarctic Centre on day eight, this is a good option for today as it's located at the airport. Alternatively, hang around the city center until it's time to leave, checking out the riverside Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial to victims of the February 2011 earthquake. When the time comes, drop your rental car at the airport and catch your flight home. Farewell, for now, New Zealand!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for a family trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore other ways to spend 10 family-friendly days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of South Island Active Family Adventure - 10 Days
Map of South Island Active Family Adventure - 10 Days