Milford Sound beauty South Island New Zealand road trip travel family adventure rtw long term travel

New Zealand, South Island: Family road trip: part 3

Suewan Kemp Destinations

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Phew! If you’ve come here from part 1 and part 2 of our road trip, well done! In our last leg of our travels on the South Island we went to Milford Sound, the Catlins, Dunedin and Lake Tekapo.

Milford Sound

Going to Milford Sound was one of our splurges – it’s not cheap but it is really, really worth it. We booked a coach trip from Te Anau and the journey was around 3.5 hours.  The boat cost around £60 each (including the coach) and although we were sceptical of it being worth that much money it turns out we had a glorious day. The tour company we used was Southern Discoveries.

We were spoilt with sunshine and clear, blue skies. The boat trip was around 1.5 hours long and we didn’t really go very far but we still got to see penguins, seals and the incredible beauty of Milford Sound.

It’s a very special place and I really recommend you visit.

Milford Sound waterfall

The captain sailed the boat almost into the waterfall and asked passengers who were brave enough to come and stand on the bow of the boat to try a “glacial facial”.

We tried it. It was cold. And very wet!

Seals of Milford Sound

The Catlins

The Catlins really did feel like we were in the middle of nowhere. There are more sheep than people in New Zealand and in this part of New Zealand you really felt it! We travelled from Te Anau and stopped in Invercargill for lunch. This leg was quite a long way and it took around 4 hours in total to drive to where we were staying in Paptowai.

It is a really peaceful and sleepy part of New Zealand. You could feel a little isolated here but as we were just here for a couple of nights we took the opportunity to enjoy the lush and peaceful countryside.

We took a trip to Cathedral Caves. It is a natural cavern located in the cliffs along a secluded beach. You can only access it at low tide so make sure you check tide times before you go. The walk from the car park was around 20 minutes and is downhill (the walk back was steep!).

It is a beautiful place and we were in luck as a blue penguin had nested in the back of the cavern. We found her but weren’t able to get a good enough photo in the darkness. Instead, you can see the 9-year-old daughter we found prancing around the cave.

Cathedral caves Papatowai South Island New Zealand family road trip


We stayed in a beautiful apartment near Dunedin which was on the Otago Peninsula. This place had 3 bedrooms, a huge living area and a well-equipped kitchen. It is really well located for getting to the Otago peninsula and was around 25 minutes drive from Dunedin. The wifi was really good and we appreciated having a washing machine. (They can be hard to come by on a road trip!)

The highlight of this place was the absolutely stunning views. You are on a very steep hill and so the view over the bay is gorgeous. We were only here for 2 nights but would have liked to stay longer.

Dunedin apartment travel family New Zealand road trip

Sunset view from the apartment.

We had heard about the Otago peninsula and were keen to explore the beaches and maybe spot some wildlife. We headed to Allan’s beach on a bright, sunny day. There is a little car park when you arrive and then you need to climb over some gates and walk through a field to get to the beach (don’t worry, it’s well signposted). Once you’re there you can see some signs advising you about how to behave around sea lions if there are any on the beach.

At first glance we thought it was just us there and 2 or 3 other people. It is a white sandy beach and we thought there were some big rocks scattered along the sand. However, on closer inspection, we realised these were not rocks but huge sea lions having a snooze!!! We were so thrilled to get close to these animals and see them in real life.

You have to stay around 10 metres away from them but that was still close enough to feel totally blown away by how awesome these creatures are. And the fact that the beach was so empty of people was incredible. (There were around 10-12 sea lions there and only 4 or 5 people!)

If you’re an animal-loving family then I really recommend you explore the Otago Peninsula. We didn’t have enough time to go and see the albatrosses or the penguins and I wish we had.

Lake Tekapo

On the way to Lake Tekapo, we decided to swing past the Moeraki Boulders. We had read about these strange spherical rocks which are dotted around a beach and thought it would make a nice pit stop to break up the journey.

Moreaki boulders

Unfortunately, it was a Saturday and Summer holidays had just begun in New Zealand. The site was teeming with tourists and it was really hard to enjoy walking around.

Getting a photo was near impossible as so many camera-armed tourists were posing/ perching/ snapping away. Had we known how busy it would be I think we’d have given this place a miss.

We stayed in a small town around 30 minutes from Lake Tekapo, called Fairlie. It is a really sweet little town and our hosts recommended we go to a restaurant called The Old Library for food. (Always great to have local recommendations).

We went and ordered the lamb and I am telling you this was the best food EVER! Definitely, the best food we’d had in New Zealand. The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It was so yummy that we went there both nights! Seriously, if you get the chance then go and check it out.

Lake Tekapo is a gorgeous and serene place to go. It was pretty busy in some parts but the area is big enough to not feel too crowded. There is a famous little church right by the lake called The Church of the Good Shepherd and this was where most tourists were. It is really charming and really tiny!

What makes this place so lovely is that the water in Lake Tekapo is an otherworldly turquoise and you can see ice-capped mountains in the distance. There are also very pretty purple, pink and blue lupins all around. We hadn’t seen these before and they just add to the loveliness of this place. There are several walks you can take or you can just sit on the rocks and enjoy the view or even go in for a dip!

Lake Tekapo South Island New Zealand road trip family travel adventure

The South Island is a stunning place to visit. We hadn’t realised how much we’d fall in love with this place and we hope to return someday. We also realise that we need to get to the North Island! There is so much to see there as you can see from this 2 week North Island itinerary  by New Zealand expert Discover Aotearoa.


If you missed our earlier posts about our road trip then you can read them in Part 1 and Part 2.

Have you been to New Zealand? What other places would you recommend?