Taking a family road trip from Christchurch to Kaikoura will be one of the best ideas you’ve had. It’s the ultimate outdoor playground for both adults and kids, and the spectacular scenery is a treat in itself.
In this five day itinerary, you’ll cover around 700 km and say “oh wow” more times than you can count. Soak up views of the majestic heights of the Southern Alps, walk through stunning forests, encounter dolphins and whales off the Kaikoura coast, or find flecks of gold in the historic Shantytown.
Your family trip will start and end in the reinvigorated city of Christchurch and take you on a South Island road trip from east to the west coast and back again. Travel via Kaikoura and Arthurs Pass, with stops in Greymouth and Hanmer Springs too. For a more relaxed trip, extend your stay with a few extra days in the places you love.
Your trip highlights will include the International Antarctic Centre, Kaikoura Museum, Arthurs Pass National Park, and the Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve. The laidback South Islanders will welcome you all year round, and you’ll have the time of your life exploring this incredible part of the world.
Christchurch to Kaikoura
Best Time of the Year
All year round
- International Antarctic Centre
- Kaikoura Museum
- Arthurs Pass National Park
- Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve
Christchurch to Arthurs Pass
Distance 151km - Driving Time 2 hours
Welcome to Christchurch! Today you’ll pick up your new home for the next 5 days at the Christchurch Britz branch. Once you’ve been given the tour of your camper, get ready to start your big family adventure.
Before hitting the road, head over to the nearby International Antarctic Centre, spend a while in real snow, getting up close and personal with little blue penguins and huskies, and take a ride on a snowmobile.
Head to the supermarket to stock up the cupboards for the next few days, and then stop off to pat the animals at Arion Farm Park on your way out of town.
Travel inland via the Old West Coast Road. It’ll take you through the highest pass across New Zealand’s Southern Alps to arrive in Arthurs Pass Village. The drive time should take you around 2 hours.
A stop off at the Arthurs Pass Cafe for a pie or sandwich to refuel before you head out to start exploring.
Pop on the walking shoes for a family-friendly walk in the Arthurs Pass National Park. Photos along the historic walk show how the village looked in the early 1900s and the bush walks feature stunning snow-fed waterfalls.
After your walk, pick up a souvenir to remember your journey from the gift shop. You’ll find it in the main business area of Arthur's Pass, about 250m from the railway station.
Spend a night at the Avalanche Creek Shelter Campsite. It’s a DOC-run campground with basic facilities where you can rest your head after a long day.
Arthurs Pass to Greymouth
Distance 93km - Driving Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Today you’ll continue your drive over the Southern Alps to the West Coast, towards Greymouth. The drive time will take you just over an hour.
Step back in time to the heady days of the gold rush in the 1800s at the Shantytown Heritage Park. Ride the heritage train, explore all the shops in the historic village with plenty of surprises and delights of how life used to be. Take a short walk through the rainforest, visit the museum, and of course the star attraction, getting the chance to pan for gold. It takes skill!
Take the Rainforest Train into the Nile River Canyon rainforest on the Charleston Glowworm Tour, and explore an ancient wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites, and galaxies of glowworms. Simply breathtaking.
Then stop off at Lake Brunner for a family walk and soak in the gorgeous views through wetlands or to an impressive waterfall.
Finish off the day at the Greymouth Top 10 Holiday Park, located right near the beach in Greymouth, with a communal kitchen, shower and toilet facilities, and fun activities for the kids. Giant bouncy pillow anyone?
Greymouth to Lewis Pass
Distance 220km - Driving Time 3 hours
Today we’re driving back inland, and start the day heading to Lewis Pass, a 145km journey that’ll take around 2 hours.
Break up the long drive with a family walk through the stunning Lewis Park Scenic Reserve. It’s an easy short walk through Beech forest that'll take you around 20 minutes.
Get back on the road and drive for another hour to Hanmer Springs.
It’s family wars time, with a challenge for the family golfing trophy in a round of mini-putt.
Then it’s on to the Hanmer Springs Animal Park for a wander around and hands-on experience, where the kids can touch and hand-feed the animals, and you get to take in the gorgeous panoramic mountain views.
With a long day driving and exploring behind you, it’s now time to relax and unwind at the iconic and famous Hanmer Springs Thermal Pool And Spa. Spend a few hours chilling in the hot pools, or going crazy with the kids in the activity pool, hydro slides and lazy river. It’s a place the whole family can enjoy.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, head straight to the hunting lodge-style Five Stags restaurant for a hearty rustic meal and the best meats in town.
You’ll want a good night’s rest at the Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park before another big day starts. Make the most of this premium holiday park and enjoy wood-fired hot tubs, pizza ovens, and kids' playgrounds before you hit the road.
Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura
Distance 120km - Driving Time 2 hours
It’s time to make your way to Kaikoura. If you have an unforgettable wildlife adventure booked today, check your start time, and get away as early as you can. Drive time is just under 2 hours.
Kaikoura has been rated the best place in the world to see dolphins, fur seals and giant sperm whales, so why not see what all the fuss is about!
Take a trip on board a dolphin encounter to see the curious and playful dusky, hector and bottlenose dolphins swimming with the boat. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of an orca or two. You can take your encounter to the next level and swim with the dolphins.
Get ready to cross off whale watching from the bucket list. You’ll be lost for words at the sheer size of the whales, and they might treat you to a breaching display.
When you’re back on dry land, wander round to the Point Kean Seal Colony. It’s a popular hangout for New Zealand Fur Seals, but remember not to get too close. From the lookout, you can then also start the Peninsula Walkway.
Stop off at the Kaikoura Museum to learn about the town’s long connection with the sea, and the Taonga Maori, highlighting the skill at turning wood, rock and bone into useful tools.
The afternoon calls for a freshly made doughnut and milkshake at the famous American-style Bernie’s Diner.
Tonight is your last night in the campervan. Settle in at the 5-Star Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park where you’ll find the usual communal facilities, an adventure playground for the kids, free WIFI and a private spa.
Kaikoura to Christchurch
Distance 180km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Head off from Kaikoura and make your way back down the East Coast to Christchurch. The last 180km of your journey will take about 2.5 hours.
Spend the day exploring the city, and see what’s changing in the CBD as the last of the heritage buildings are joined by a new and exciting modern, vibrant space.
Every Christchurch visit should include a ride on a tram. It takes you past the Canterbury Museum & Botanic Gardens, The Terrace & Riverside Market, Margaret Mahy Playground, and New Regent Street so you can get off and on as you like.
If the kids haven’t seen a Kiwi yet, take them into the dark of the nocturnal house at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. They’ll love seeing lots of Kiwi roam free in the enclosure, and there’s no glass separating you so they can get a really good look.
Once you’ve had your animal fix, head on over to New Zealand’s largest trampoline park, Mega Air, to bounce off the last of the holiday energy.
It’s time to head back to the Christchurch Britz branch, where you’ll finish your journey and say goodbye to your camper, and start thinking about the adventures you’ll have on your next family campervan holiday.
How to travel
A campervan is set up for an awesome adventure from the outset. The kids will love the novelty of sleeping over the cab or converting the dining area into their own bedroom, playing a board game around the table after a dip in the hot springs or stepping out the back door into another new playground.
You only have to pack your gear into the van once (no packing and unpacking as you move from place to place is a big plus!), and there’s loads of space for everyone to relax or entertain themselves. Stop when you want. Get going when you want. Stay where you want. Hang out in a cool spot a bit longer. Travel at the pace that works for your family. Easy!
30 fun family holiday ideas around New Zealand
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