“Are we there yet?” … one of the most dreaded phrases on a family road trip… of course, “I don’t feel well” and “I need to go to the toilet” take the top spots. No parent wants to hear “are we there yet”, particularly if you’ve barely left the driveway.
That’s why, if you’re thinking of hitting the road, it’s important to include your kids in the planning process so that expectations are managed, and they know what’s in store for their day. Otherwise, boredom can set in quickly as all they see is a long road ahead with no destination. It’s fun to keep a few surprises up your sleeve too though.
New Zealand’s South Island is a playground for the whole family. We’ve spoken to our expert personal travel managers to bring you their top spots for a family road trip. Kia Ora. Welcome to the South Island.
Conveniently located next to Christchurch Airport. They won’t even have time to ask “are we there yet?” once you’ve picked up your car. This museum is dedicated to Earth’s southernmost, highest, driest, windiest, coldest and iciest continent and offers adrenalin, inspiration, education and entertainment in equal measures. We recommend taking bets on who will last the longest in the “Storm Dome”, and try out the 4D theatre for thrills, spills and chills. The museum has a penguin habitat and welfare program and the backstage pass is the real VIP experience. The penguins are guaranteed to be dressed for the occasion, tuxedos and all.
This is a must-do activity. You’ll ascend 450 metres above Queenstown and enjoy 220 degrees of spectacular views over Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Walter and Cecil Peak. But Queenstown Gondola is not just a gondola. It’s a gondola and a luge! Once you reach the top, it’s time for action! Kids over five can ride on their own and the littlies can ride tandem through 1,600 metres of banked corners, tunnels and dippers. Make it what you like – gentle and leisurely or steep and adventurous. Speaking of adventure, you’ll also find a bungy and swing, and a paragliding flight at Bob’s Peak, something the big kids might like to try.
Otago Peninsula juts out towards the east from Dunedin. It’s high and rugged on the ocean side, warm and sheltered on the harbour side, and bursting at the seams with wildlife. Most notably, its home to the yellow eyed penguin – one of the world’s rarest, which gets its name from it’s distinct yellow headband – and New Zealand fur seals and sea lions. If that’s not enough wildlife for their little eyes to behold, look out for Royal Albatross with their three metre wingspans, and blue penguins which love to congregate in groups not far offshore after a hard day’s work at sea. A harbour hertige tour is a great way to see the area and glimpse views at such rare and special wildlife.
The faster the better in our view. 360 degree views with 360 spins. Departing out of Queenstown you will take to the Kawarau River on a thrilling 25 minute adventure, with speeds hitting up to 95 kilometres per hour. Just don’t blink! Of course, not everyone likes this much adrenaline and it’s not suitable for kids under 13 kilograms. Go Orange also has kayak, cruise and white-water rafting experiences, so we’re certain you’ll be able to find something to please the whole family.
Farming in the New Zealand high country is a way of life – and it’s one you can get up close to at Walter Peak. Walter Peak has a farm. And on that farm he has dogs and sheep and cattle and deer. With a scenic cruise here, on the TSS Earnslaw there. A guided tour, animal feeding, sheepdog demonstration, morning tea, and time to relax on the lakeside. And when we say lakeside, we mean eyes-popping-out-of-your-head-at-its-beauty kind of lakeside.
This is your chance to get up high and take a walk among rainforest giants. Westcoast Treetop Walk is a 30–40-minute walk through the canopy of native rimu and kamahi trees, 20 meters above the ground. Those game enough to climb the Observation Tower, another 20 metres higher, will be rewarded with views of the snowy Southern Alps and Tasman Sea.
This old sheep sheering shed is an unsuspecting building, and yet an absolute playground for kids big and small… especially if you like honey! There are lots of activities to choose from including an introduction to beekeeping, honey-spinning, honey and cheese tasting, and even beeswax and honey craft making. Don’t tell the kids, but you’ll also find the Mount Michael Wines tasting space, which we hear pairs very nicely with a honey soy stir fry.
The coastal town of Kaikoura is absolutely flourishing with marine wildlife, and there are so many different ways you can get up close and personal. Point Kean Seal Colony is a popular hangout spot for NZ fur deals. Active families can take in the action from a kayak, single, double, and hands-free available. Once named in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Marine Encounters, Seal Swim Kaikoura will have you snorkelling with the seals in their natural habitat. There are also plenty of dolphins to see too, be it from the comfort of a cruise, or in the water as they playfully swim around you. It’s quite an experience to find yourself surrounded by these creatures – equally exhilarating as it is peaceful. And as for whale watching… this is also a popular family activity. Using an underwater directional hydrophone, your experienced crew can determine where a sperm whale (or whales) may be.
The coolest place in town, and perhaps not something you’d like about outside of winter, but there is a summer season too. It’s not just ice skating; it’s that and much more! There are also ice bumper cars – which are as fun as they sound – and frisbee golf out in the Queenstown Gardens.
You’ve got some serious leverage for good behaviour when it comes to OCHO. The further into your itinerary, the more time you have to encourage cooperation, kindness, and patience. They’re not going to want to test that, we’re almost certain. You can take a walk through the factory and see the team roast, grind, temper and wrap chocolate by hand. And of course, there’s tasting too.