Are you looking to plan the ultimate New Zealand family holiday? This detailed South Island itinerary guide will provide you with the essential planning tools for a memorable and stress-free vacation with your loved ones.

Step 1: Timing for your New Zealand Family Holiday

New Zealand Family Holiday South Island Itinerary

When planning a New Zealand Family Holiday South Island itinerary, timing is crucial. The peak season for travel in New Zealand typically runs between November and March. However, the busiest time of the year is during the Christmas and New Year’s period, specifically between the 20th of December and 10th of January. This period coincides with the school holiday season, making it the most popular time for family travelers.

Due to the high demand for accommodations, tours, and transportation during this time, it is essential to plan your trip at least 9 to 10 months ahead. Additionally, having extra days in your itinerary can make a significant difference in the balance of your trip and allow for more flexibility in exploring the beautiful destinations New Zealand has to offer.

For more information on temperatures and weather conditions in New Zealand, check out our video on New Zealand Seasons – Weather Survival Guide. We also offer a free New Zealand planning sheet to assist you in organizing your trip effectively.

Step 2: New Zealand Tourist Places and Locations

When planning a New Zealand family holiday, it’s essential to carefully select the locations and activities to ensure an enjoyable and memorable experience. With the vast array of options, it’s important to prioritize and focus on quality over quantity. For a 10 to 14-day itinerary, adopting a “slow travel” approach can be incredibly rewarding, allowing for a deeper exploration of each location as a base for further discovery.

Selecting Key Locations

For travelers seeking outdoor adventures and natural wonders, Queenstown serves as an ideal hub. From this central location, you can easily access the West Coast beaches, Glaciers, Fiordland National Park, and the Dunedin region, home to penguins and albatross colonies. Each of these destinations offers unique experiences, from thrilling jet boating and helicopter rides to serene boat trips through the fiords.

Sample 12-Day South Island Itinerary

New Zealand Family Holiday - South Island Itinerary with map

Consider a 12-day itinerary that includes key locations such as Christchurch, the West Coast, Queenstown, Fiordland National Park, and Dunedin. This comprehensive route allows for an immersive exploration of diverse landscapes and activities, providing a well-rounded experience of the South Island’s natural beauty and wildlife.

For more detailed insights into these regions and their attractions, you can refer to our informative videos in the NZ Road Trips Playlist.

Step 3: Transportation in New Zealand, Rental Car, Motorhome, Private Driver

When exploring New Zealand, transportation options play a crucial role in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey. Here are the various ways to get around the country:

Self-Drive Options

  • Hire a rental car
  • Hire a motorhome

If you’re unsure about whether to opt for a traditional car rental in New Zealand or a campervan hire, we have a comprehensive comparison video to help you make an informed decision: Shocking Truth: Car Rental vs Campervan Hire in NZ.

Private Driver

If you prefer not to drive but still want the flexibility of having your own transport, hiring a private driver is an excellent option. This allows you to cover the main parts between key locations while enjoying the convenience of personalized transportation.

Once you arrive at a location, such as Queenstown, you can utilize local transport or have tour operators pick you up from your accommodation, providing ease of access to various attractions and activities.

Alternative Travel Methods

  • TranzAlpine train trip between Christchurch and Greymouth
  • Domestic flights for covering larger distances

The TranzAlpine train trip is particularly enjoyable for both children and parents, offering a unique experience as it connects the East Coast with the West Coast of the South Island.

If you prefer to travel less on the roads, domestic flights provide a convenient way to cover larger distances in less time. This can also be beneficial for connecting with international flights and avoiding unnecessary overnight stays.

For seamless travel experiences, it’s essential to plan and book larger rental cars, motorhomes, and domestic flights in advance to ensure availability and a hassle-free journey.

For more travel planning insights, you can utilize Google Maps to navigate through the stunning landscapes and diverse attractions of New Zealand.

Step 4: Options for Accommodation in New Zealand

When planning a New Zealand family holiday, choosing the right accommodation is crucial for a comfortable and memorable experience. There are various options to consider, each offering unique amenities and experiences.

Apartment or Cottage Style Accommodation

For families, apartment or cottage style accommodations are often the best choice. These options provide ample space, privacy, and the convenience of a home-like environment, allowing for a relaxed and enjoyable stay.

Consider Your Budget

Your budget will play a significant role in determining the type of accommodation you select. Whether it’s an Airbnb cottage, a motel, a resort-style lodging, or a hotel, it’s essential to consider your financial constraints while also prioritizing comfort and convenience.

Advantages of Resorts and Hotels

  • Resorts and hotels often feature in-house restaurants
  • Facilities such as kids’ playgrounds, health spas, and golf courses

These additional amenities can enhance your family’s stay, providing entertainment and relaxation options without having to leave the accommodation.

Seeking Local Experiences

For a more authentic experience, consider seeking out local farm stays. These offer a unique opportunity for children to interact with animals and experience rural life firsthand. Planning these experiences early is essential, especially if you’re visiting classic farming regions such as Canterbury and Southland.

Booking Considerations

It’s important to secure key accommodations early, especially during peak seasons such as Christmas and New Year. However, it’s advisable to finalize your travel times and locations before booking accommodations to ensure they align with your itinerary.

For more detailed insights into accommodation options in New Zealand, you can watch our video on The best places to stay in New Zealand accommodations.

Step 5: Activities and Tours in New Zealand

When planning a New Zealand family holiday, it’s essential to early focus on your travel interests, especially if you’re drawn to nature and outdoor activities. While exciting tours can be a highlight of your trip, it’s advisable to plan and book those tours last. This approach allows you to create a nice balance between action and relaxation for your overall holiday experience. Additionally, leaving some flexibility in your itinerary can accommodate spontaneous visits to attractions like a Kiwi Bird house.

Creating a Balanced Itinerary

For a well-rounded experience, consider a sample itinerary that includes a mix of pre-booked nature tours and flexible activities. This can include walks, local attractions like a gondola ride, and nature-centric tours such as a penguin tour. By prioritizing nature-focused activities, you can ensure a memorable and diverse experience for the entire family.

For more insights on planning activities and tours in New Zealand, you can refer to our Must Do Things in New Zealand + Must See Places in NZ Playlist.

Step 6: Sample Family South Island Itinerary in 12 Days

Embarking on a New Zealand Family Holiday South Island adventure offers an incredible array of experiences, from breathtaking natural landscapes to unique wildlife encounters. Crafting a well-planned itinerary ensures that you make the most of your time, creating lasting memories for the entire family.

Day 1-2: Christchurch and Banks Peninsula/Akaroa

  • Arrive in Christchurch and spend a night or two
  • Consider a day trip to Banks Peninsula/Akaroa for dolphin encounters and stunning landscapes

For those interested in a more detailed exploration of this region, a comprehensive Google Maps link is available for convenient navigation.

3: Southern Alps and Arthur’s Pass

  • Travel towards the Southern Alps, passing Lake Pearson and Castle Hill Rocks
  • Consider a scenic train journey on the TranzAlpine for a unique experience

4: Greymouth to Hokitika

  • Explore the route between Greymouth and Hokitika, stopping at various sights and highlights
  • Consider utilizing a rental car or private driver for seamless travel

5: Franz Josef Village

  • Travel further south to Franz Josef Village, allowing time to explore the surrounding area
  • Option to extend the stay for additional exploration

6: Haast Pass to Otago Region

  • Experience the scenic drive along SH6, passing through rainforests and underpopulated areas
  • Cross over Haast Pass into the Otago Region, offering diverse scenery

7-8: Queenstown or Wanaka

  • Use Queenstown or Wanaka as a base for exploration, with a range of activities and attractions
  • Consider local tours and outdoor experiences

9-10: Fiordland National Park and Te Anau

  • Explore Fiordland National Park, with a must-visit to Milford Sound
  • Plan for a two-night stay in Te Anau for a comprehensive experience

11: Dunedin and Otago Peninsula

  • Discover Dunedin’s Scottish heritage and visit the penguin and albatross colonies on the Otago Peninsula
  • Consider additional stops at Moeraki Boulders or Oamaru based on available time

12: Return to Christchurch or Mount Cook National Park

  • Complete the journey back to Christchurch or opt for an inland route towards Mount Cook National Park
  • Depending on flight schedules, plan for an additional night in Christchurch or proceed directly to the international airport

For a more detailed understanding of these routes and attractions, the New Zealand Road Trips with Expert Commentary YouTube series provides valuable insights, ensuring a well-informed and enjoyable journey.

Summary for NZ Family Holiday South Island Itinerary

Planning a family holiday in the South Island of New Zealand can be an enjoyable and straightforward process with the right approach. By following a well-structured itinerary, you can ensure a fun and stress-free vacation with your loved ones.

South Island Self-drive Road Trips:

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook National Park

Lake Tekapo to Dunedin

Dunedin to Invercargill

Invercargill to Te Anau

Queenstown to Milford Sound

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