Published by worldtravelambitions on June 21, 2020
We booked our flights out of Australia and leave on the 11th February 2020 and we decided to kick off this adventure with a South Island family road trip. Once we reach the North Island, the kids want to hang out with their paternal family before we set off around the world.
It's pretty exciting. We decided to fly into Queenstown, New Zealand because Rimaha hadn't seen much of the South Island. Here is our travel itinerary with my recommendations so you can add nights wherever you like to make it work perfectly for your family.
South Island Family Road Trip Leg One
Queenstown to Totara Valley
You can check out the saved journey for this trip by clicking here.
We are here 11th to 13th February, only two nights. I'd recommend at least four nights here if you can make this work. There is so much to see and do in the area. It is a truly beautiful place. We were trying to do this section on a budget so we stayed at the Queenstown Holiday Park. It was actually pretty nice and in a good location. During our time here we just enjoyed the town. It's one of the cutest towns in the whole of New Zealand. Maybe my favourite because it's one of those places you just fall in love with.
I'd recommend taking a trip up Skyline in the gondola. I did it about 18 or so years ago. It has a wonderful view and the kids will love the luge rides!
Glenorchy is a small town on the outskirts of Queenstown, the views driving here are incredible. This is one place you don't want to miss on your road trip! It is a great spot to have a picnic lunch like we did!.
We skipped this because our itinerary was too tight, but I'd highly recommend a trip up this mountain. I've been up there on a road trip I did a really long time ago. If I can get my mum to find the photos, I'll pop one up (they were taken before digital photos were a thing). The drive here is only 25 minutes or so from Queenstown, so it could be a stopping point on the way to Arrowtown.
You can easily spend a full day in Arrowtown and you don't need to stay a night here. This could be a stop on the way to Wanaka! Your family could even pan for gold in the river. It's a lot of fun. We did this on a day trip out of Queenstown, it's not too far!
About an hour from Arrowtown is Wanaka. Another beautiful spot that we actually skipped. Again, we were running on a tight schedule, but you could make this (or Cromwell) a one night stopover. There is a cool puzzle house here and I would've liked to add this to our trip.
Peter's Lookout - Lake Pukaki
You don't want to miss this on your drive north. We stopped here for our picnic lunch. One of the best views we had on our trip. Plus we had time for a dip (in the summer time though - maybe not something you want to do most of the year because it is freezing).
Mount Cook Village
This is another spot we skipped, but had I done my research I probably would add this to our trip. It's only an extra 40 minutes from the lookout and probably would have been a great stop for a night.
Don't skip this. It isn't a long trip and the view is spectacular. I'm sure it would be even more beautiful if you get to visit when there is no drought.
It's only an hour and a half drive from Mount Cook Village. If you skip the village and come straight from Peter's Lookout, then it would only be an hour drive.
Tekapo Church of the Good Shepherd
This place is a worthwhile stop. We loved visiting this part of the town after seeing it from above. This is only another 15 to 20 minutes from the Observatory.
Overnight at Penrock Cottage Farmstay - Totara Valley
In our itinerary, we drove Queenstown-Peter's lookout-Tekapo Observatory-Tekapo Church of the Good Shepard-Totara Valley in one day. It was a long day, but beautiful.
We stopped at this gorgeous two bedroom Farmstay in Totara Valley. It's an extra hour from Tekapo, so maybe you might prefer to stay there. We wanted to do something a bit different and have a bit of space for the night.
We loved this homestay because it was filled with animals. The kids got to do the morning feeding. We wish we had stayed longer. If you choose to come out, stay at least two nights, your kids will love it, it's made for families.
South Island Family Road Trip Leg Two
Totara Valley to Hanmer Springs
We drove from Totara Valley-Christchurch-Hamner Springs in one day. It wasn't too bad of a drive (we skipped Akaroa). The hardest part of this trip was our car. change as we received a Mitsubishi ASX and it took us an hour to fit everything in!
You can check out the saved journey for this trip by clicking here.
Our next stop was Christchurch for a car swap. It was just over two hours from where we stayed in Totara Valley.
We were driving relocation rental cars to stay in our budget and not chew through our savings. I'll do a blog on this another day.
If you weren't on a time budget, I'd suggest heading out to Akaroa for lunch and spend the night (or even two in Christchurch). Since we were on a speedy mission, we skipped this part. I've visited both Christchurch and Akaroa many years ago when my mum had lived in Christchurch.
Instead, we swapped our car at the and continued on to Hanmer Springs (just under two hours drive).
If you stayed in Christchurch and wanted to visit Kaikoura its two and a half hours from Christchurch. This is one main road in New Zealand I haven't travelled and I would love to!
From Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs it is another two hours, so you could either stay a night or two in Kaikoura, or just call in for a couple of hours.
If you love hot springs, then you'll love Hanmer Springs. It's only two hours from Christchurch or Kaikoura and a lovely spot to spend a night (maybe two).
We stayed in a one bedroom cabin at the Forest Peak Motel. This was fine for us on a budget at that point in our trip. We liked the trampoline and play area for the kids. I might try something a bit more lux next time.
The hot springs themselves are fantastic. I love finding the hottest ones, but we couldn't take Elijah in the hottest.
There are some water slides, but I wasn't too keen on freezing my butt off to get on them. The big kids did though and they enjoyed the rides.
South Island Family Road Trip Leg Three
Hanmer Springs to Picton
We travelled Hanmer Springs-Kaiteriteri across the Lewis Pass. It was a long trip. You can click here to get the directions on Google maps.
Maruia Falls lookout is about two hours drive from Hanmer Springs. We made a quick stop here for a picnic lunch and we enjoyed the break as much as the view!
Don't plan to swim here though. Although it appears relatively tranquil at the base of the falls, there is a very strong current. It is unsafe to swim.
My cousin lives in Kaiteriteri, so we were very lucky to visit this place for two nights - it wasn't long enough here. This place is just over two hours from Maruia Falls. I'd highly recommend staying a minimum of three nights here if you can. There is so much to do in this gorgeous part of the South Island. At the top of my list would be kayaking! Check out our photos in our Instagram post below!
Nelson is about an hour from Kaiteriteri. We chose to stay there the night before our ferry across the Cook Straight as we didn't want to be rushing in the morning. Let's just say Rimaha and I have already had a close call almost missing a ferry travelling in the Greek Islands. I'll do a post on that another day!
We didn't stop here for long, arriving in the evening and departing early. This is a place you could easily spend a few nights if you wanted to. There are lovely lakes and national parks nearby to explore!
We did love where we stayed at The Hotel Nelson. I think it is possibly the best value for money stay in New Zealand.
Picton was the final stop on our South Island family road trip. We travelled to Wellington on the Interislander ferry.
If you are dropping off a rental car or campervan, don't turn off at the first rental car sign (near the information centre) before the terminal. Instead, carry on up to the departures area that is really close to the main ferry terminal.
Click here and use this map location for your GPS. All the car hire drop offs are in this location.
If you turn off at the information centre (as we did), you will have to walk (which might not be a problem if your kids can carry their bags).
We initially parked near the information centre and had too many bags, children and a carseat. It was impossible to get everyone, our bags and carseat to the terminal in a relaxed timeframe because the trolleys that needed coins were all located over at the main terminal.
After walking over to the terminal to collect a trolley with no coins on me, I was starting to panic (we'd almost missed a ferry one time in Greece - I didn't want to repeat that adventure). Fortunately Rimaha stayed with the car. He reloaded it and drove it to the terminal drop off making it a lot easier to get our bags onto a trolley. We made it to the ferry check-in counter with just enough time.
In a couple of days I'll create an itinerary from Wellington to Auckland. There is plenty to see in the North Island too!