New Zealand's South Island is a dream destination for all travellers, from intrepid adventurers to lavish luxury seekers. But, it's also the ideal place to create some incredible memories with your family. We reckon one of the best ways to do that is by taking a road trip in a campervan with the kids.
You'll find it hard to believe the golden sands, rugged mountain ranges, rolling plains and unreal coastlines that will meet you along the way. Plus, you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how easy the roads are to drive and just how many things there are to keep even the busiest kid entertained and happy. Think of all the great times you'll have together!
As you travel, you'll have the chance to see both the east coast and the west coast, plus get pretty close to the top and bottom of the South Island. You're really leaving no stone unturned! Plus, you'll stop in spots that will allow you to go whale watching, check out the Remarkables mountain range, explore a real-life castle, and spot some penguins at the International Antarctic Centre! And that's just some of the fun activities in store...
This itinerary starts and ends from the Britz branch in Christchurch and is suitable for all times of the year. However, extra care will need to be taken during the winter months, and snow chains may be required and can be added on to your campervan hire.
If Christchurch isn't your first destination on this trip, you could consider starting in Queenstown. Britz has branches in both cities. Alternatively, if you're taking a longer campervan adventure, pick up your campervan in Auckland or Wellington, come down from the North Island on the ferry and start in Nelson. There are plenty of ways to make this itinerary work for you. The destinations on this route are easy self-drive journeys on good roads, and the loop can be completed in either direction.
Check out our top tips and recommendations for a 14-day road trip around the South Island with your kids.
Christchurch to Christchurch
Best Time of the Year
All year round
- Te Anau
- Wanaka Lavender Farm
- Peters Pool Walk
- Lake Brunner
TNZ Image Library
Christchurch to Dunedin
Distance 360km - Driving Time 5 hours
Welcome to your 14-day itinerary! We recommend settling into your campervan and getting to know the ropes in Christchurch before heading south to Dunedin.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island. It has plenty going for it with parks, gardens and beaches to enjoy, plus a vast array of museums and activities for the whole family.
Once you're ready to get on the way, you have a big drive to get you started, at close to five hours and 360kms.
With the discovery of gold in Otago back in the 1860s, Dunedin became a thriving commercial hub. It has plenty of other history and lots more modern stuff to offer up the future too. With a large student population, you'll find plenty of shopping, street art and eateries, to explore with the family.
Dunedin is famously modelled off Edinburgh in Scotland. And one thing Scotland has is castles. If you're hoping to catch some royal vibes, a wander around New Zealand's very own Larnach castle might be in order. Enjoy a bite to eat at the cafe and walk through the gardens for the complete castle experience.
Then, pop your feet up and relax after a long drive at Dunedin Holiday Park. There's space to spread out, enjoy a BBQ and relax, plus there's unlimited wifi, so that will keep the kids (and maybe the adults) occupied.
TNZ Image Library
There's heaps to see and do in Dunedin, so take a day off driving - you're on holiday after all.
Want to see one of New Zealand's most famous streets? Hit up Baldwin street and see why it's a Guinness world record holder.
Great South Visuals
Dunedin to Invercargill
Distance 204km - Driving Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Back on the road today, for a 200km and 2.5-hour drive south from Dunedin to Invercargill. You'll be heading almost to the bottom tip of the South Island (in fact, you can drive a few kilometres more and be in Bluff) and our southern-most city. So, get ready to say goodbye to the east coast, for now, as soon you'll be heading both north and west.
Once you've reached Invercargill, let the kids go wild and test their brains at Solve it and Escape or just burn off some energy by jumping on the trampolines at Jump n fun. Invercargill has plenty of great indoor and outdoor activities to keep everyone busy, so no matter the weather, you'll find something to do.
If you've got any chocolate fans in your camper, they won't want to miss the chocolate factory tour at Seriously Good Chocolate. Don't forget to take home some goodies for the drive.
Once you've had your fill of chocolate, and enough excitement for one day, head over to the Invercargill camping site and settle in for the night.
Great South Visuals
Invercargill to Te Anau
Distance 155km - Driving Time 2 hours
It's time to start heading north already. Get on the road and knock out about 200kms in just over 2 hours. Break up your drive by going via Gore, where you can get out and explore the Gore historical museum and the Hokonui pioneer museum before getting back on the road.
Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National park and is a small popular community with families and tourists alike.
Once you've reached Te Anau, head below ground and get up close to some glow worms at the Te Anau Glowworm caves or stay up top and visit the Te Anau bird sanctuary. Don't forget to check out the lake and get some holiday snaps.
Call it a night at Te Anau Holiday Park. It's been around for over 50 years, so they know how to make sure you have a comfortable stay.
Top tip: A trip to Milford Sound is truly an NZ must-do. We recommend adding a day trip to the sounds for a cruise around, you may even spot dolphins and seals if you’re lucky.
Queenstown Image Library
Te Anau to Queenstown
Distance 171km - Driving Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Get on the road from Te Anau and head inland towards one of New Zealand's most popular destinations, Queenstown. Once you arrive, you'll find out why it's a world-renowned destination. Door to door, you're looking at around 2 hours on the road, but this is a busy stretch, so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the view along the way.
You could also hit the slopes on the Remarkables ski field during the cooler months or give indoor rock climbing a go. Mountain bikers will be itching to get going during the warmer months. There are plenty of water-based activities for the bigger kids too.
Don't forget to ride the gondola and race the family on the luge. Oh, and check out the view!
Queenstown is no stranger to campervans, but you might enjoy parking the camper at Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park and making use of their courtesy van service into the town. It's just a six-minute drive down the hill.
Lake Wanaka Media Library
Queenstown to Wanaka
Distance 70km - Driving Time 1 hour 10 minutes
From Queenstown, head north to explore the shops and scenery at Arrowtown, where you can have a go at panning for gold. Then, make tracks towards Wanaka via Cromwell. The total drive time isn't much over an hour and is fewer than 100kms.
While we'd love to recommend you travel via the Crown Range, it's important to note that campervans are not permitted to travel on that state highway. Instead, take the scenic route via state highway 6, it’s only 20 minutes longer for total time, and you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to gorgeous scenery.
Wanaka is a resort town at the southern tip of Lake Wanaka. There you'll find access to Mount Aspiring National Park, with plenty of hikes and walks on offer.
You'll also find Puzzling World, which should keep everyone scratching their head for an afternoon!
Wanaka Lavender Farm offers a beautiful background for wandering through the flowers, a cuddle with some friendly farm animals, and some indulgent lavender ice-creams. You might feel inspired enough to take away some locally produced goodies for your camper.
Don't forget to visit "that Wanaka Tree" and snap your family pics to show off to all your friends, then settle in for a night at Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park. Make sure you do a spot of stargazing overnight - it's something special!
Wanaka to Franz Josef
Distance 285km - Driving Time 3 hours 45 minutes
Next, one of New Zealand's most famous drives: Wanaka to Franz Josef. It's one of the most scenic in the South Island and will take around 4 hours, and you'll go almost 300kms to complete. That said, it may take you longer by the time you stop and check out the view.
You'll have heard of some of these scenic spots: Haast Pass, Blue Pools, Lake Hawea, Fox Glacier... the list goes on! You'll head North and out to the West Coast for this part of the trip, where you'll encounter "glacier county". Franz Josef sits on the western side of the Southern Alps, sandwiched between the Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, and both can be seen as a reward for a short hike.
Once you reach Franz Josef, consider a dip in the hot pools or check out the West Coast wildlife centre birds. You might get to lock eyes with a Kiwi or even spot a Tuatara.
After a long day on the road, and the glaciers, take a break at the Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park, and get cosy - you're here for a couple of nights.
Ready for some more holiday pictures? Take in the reflective views of the glacier valley and mountains on this walk to a small kettle lake at Peters Pool Walk.
Spend the day exploring the Franz Josef township, or chill out and relax with some books, card games or other quiet hobbies in a tranquil setting. Bliss.
Oh, and if you're missing your glow-worm fix after visiting Te Anau, the Franz Josef Terrace Walk is also home to some local glow worms. Check them out at the end of the day.
West Coast Image Library
Franz Josef to Greymouth
Distance 171km - Driving Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Pack up the camper; you're back on the road today. Heading North up the wild West Coast, the journey should take around 2 hours and cover 175kms.
Greymouth is the largest town on the west coast and has a history in gold and jade mining. Check out the Shantytown Heritage Park to learn more about it.
Greymouth Top 10 Holiday Park will be ready to welcome you for the night.
West Coast Image Library
Greymouth to Westport
Distance 102km - Driving Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Today the drive from Greymouth to Westport is around 90 minutes and 100kms, but we recommend a stop along the way to check out Pancake Rocks.
Westport is a great place to stop for the day. You'll be able to feel the wind in your hair as you head to the lighthouse and seal colony on the Cape Foulwind walkway. Plus, learn a bit of history at the Coaltown museum or get in a round at the Westport mini golf.
Rest your heads amongst acres of native bush at Westport Holiday Park. It's just a few minutes from the centre of town.
Westport to Nelson
Distance 220km - Driving Time 3 hours
Today you're heading back inland to get from Westport to Nelson. The trip is around 3 hours and 220kms.
Sunny Nelson boasts a community of about 50,000 and is well known for its golden sandy beaches, access to three National parks and a flourishing art community. The kids will relish the opportunity to get some sand between their toes at one of the many beaches in the region. Plus, there are plenty of bike trails and walks to enjoy as a family.
Ever wanted to pat an Alpaca? Book in a visit to Ruby Down's Alpaca Farm and meet the herd! Or, get ready to come face to face with sharks, stingrays, crayfish and more at the Lochmara underwater observatory.
Nelson to Blenheim
Distance 123km - Driving Time 1 hour 50 minutes
When you're ready to hit the road, travelling along the coastal route at the very top of the South Island. Nelson to Blenheim is about 120kms or just under two hours if you go without stopping. Although, there are a few fun stops along the way that you might enjoy if you have the time. Check out the pelorus bridge scenic reserve, where you can stretch your legs or pop into Havelock to try the famous green-lipped mussels.
Blenheim is the heart of wine-growing Marlborough, so parents might want to add something to the camper's fridge to be enjoyed after the kids' bedtime or over dinner.
One way to tire the kids out is by staying at Bridges Holiday Park, with a pool, playground and trampoline to keep everyone busy. Especially good if you've taken the kids to get some treats at Makana confections, and they need to burn off a sugar high.
Blenheim to Kaikoura
Distance 128km - Driving Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Make your way towards the east coast, with a 90 minute, 130km trip from Blenheim to Kaikoura, where you'll drive through the picturesque Awatere Valley.
Kaikoura offers a unique combination of mountains and sea and is well regarded as one of the country's best Whale and Dolphin watching spots. Let the kids check out all the marine life on a dolphin encounter or get right out on the water with a kayak tour.
Head indoors at the landmark "cray pot" building to learn about Kaikoura's diverse and colourful history at the Kaikoura Museum. Then stop for lunch at Nin’s Bin, a seafood lovers heaven.
Spend the night resting up at the Top 10 Kaikoura, where they have a pool for the kids - in case they haven't exhausted themselves yet.
Kaikoura to Christchurch
Distance 180km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Prepare to say goodbye to the beautiful East Coast and your wonderful campervan as you head back to Christchurch and close the loop.
Start to head inland from Kaikoura to Christchurch and back to the big city. Today's drive is a little longer at three hours, and almost 200kms.
Park up and rest for your final night at Christchurch Top10 Holiday Park, then head out and let the kids run around at The Margaret Mahy Playground. For lovers of penguins and snow enthusiasts, head to the International Antarctic Centre and try out all of their curated experiences.
Animal lovers will enjoy a trip to Arion Farm Park, where you can see, touch and feed the animals.
From Christchurch, you can fly to other fabulous New Zealand destinations in both the North and South islands. If it's time to go home, travel safely.
Ready to have the most memorable family holiday ever?
A campervan holiday with kids will truly be one for the books. Explore the South Island with the whole family and Britz. Choose your campervan and book now.