Seal on Kaikoura Peninsula New Zealand South Island road trip long term travel family adventure digital nomad family

New Zealand, South Island road trip: Part 1

Suewan Kemp Destinations 4 Comments

Part 1 of our travel around New Zealand, South Island

A map showing each point of our South Island road trip long term family travel

South Island New Zealand itinerary 3 weeks

The first thing I should say about our New Zealand, South Island road trip is that it blew my mind! Definitely the most stunning place we’ve visited since we started travelling 2 years ago.

We spent just over 3 weeks here in Nov/Dec and decided to do a road trip and stay in a combination of hostels, campsites and homestays. We hired a car as it seemed to be the most convenient way to get around.

For our family, we felt we should spend 2-3 days in each place and then move on. This was the best way for us to travel given that Dan was still working and so we needed internet and as little chaos as possible.


Christchurch is a natural place to start because of the international airport. The city is still recovering and rebuilding from the devastating earthquake that happened 6 years ago. Christchurch is a small city and we were able to walk around pretty easily.

Highlights for us were:

  • Seeing the cardboard cathedral which is a temporary replacement while the cathedral is being rebuilt.
  • Going to Quake City museum. A great way to learn about how the earthquake affected and continues to affect the city. The video interviews are incredibly moving.
  • There is an awesome playground in Christchurch called the Margaret Mahy playground. It is a great place for kids to play. There is play equipment for kids of all ages including tube slides, swings, climbing areas, zip wires and a splash park.


We spent 4 days in Kaikoura and it was one of the most beautiful places we visited on our road trip. Kaikoura is a small town around 2.5 hours away from Christchurch. We loved going to the peninsula for beautiful walks where you can watch seals playing and snoozing on the rocks.

Close up of a seal on the coast in Kaikoura, New Zealand south island

Kaikoura seals

Roobs feeding a lamb a bottle of milk

Sheep shearing

On the way to the peninsula, we visited a sheep farm where the farmer does a sheep shearing show every day. Roobs was very impressed and was able to feed 3 baby lambs. The farmer is really friendly and we’d recommend it to anyone with kids (or not!).

Tickets cost us $17 for 1 adult and 1 child. You can find more details here:

Kaikoura whale watching tour

While there Roobs and I decided to go on a Kaikoura whale watching tour. It was one of our more expensive day trips but we felt that it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Despite a pretty sickening boat journey out into the sea (around an hour long), we didn’t throw up and were blown away when the crew found a sperm whale!

It was amazing to see the whale up close and witness it’s big tail splash as it dove back into the depths. We also saw a pod of dolphins who came right up to our boat. This experience was a real highlight of our travels so far. Well worth the money and the crew who took us out did a great job. This is the company we went with

Whale tail about to splash into the sea New Zealand South Island road trip long term family travel adventure

Sky Hi Hostel

The hostel we stayed at in Kaikoura is worthy of a mention because it was probably our favourite place to stay in on the road trip. Mike, the owner, is a super friendly guy who made us feel very welcome. His hostel is clean, has a big living space and kitchen and we felt it was good value for money. Roobs’s favourite aspect of the hostel was the hostel cat, Tuli! Sky Hi Hostel is a lovely place to stay:

Kaikoura hostel – Sky Hi

Hanmer Springs

A short 2-hour drive from Kaikoura and you arrive at the little alpine town of Hanmer Springs. The town has a really European feel and is most famous for the Hanmer Springs pools and thermal spa.

There are lots of different pools and spas outside and most of them are suitable for kids. There is a big swimming area, some really big slides and also a splash park. It’s a great place for families. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take any photos but here is their website:

We also went on a mountain bike ride – there are lots of places you can hire bikes in the town. And we played a round of mini golf. Hanmer Springs is a sweet, little town to stop in and is well placed for crossing from east to west.


From there we drove to Greymouth. We spent a few days there and got a family room in a hostel. Greymouth is an old industrial town. It is much bigger than Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura so we were able to get to big supermarkets again. For us being in Greymouth was a bit of a rest stop. Dan needed to spend some time on work (Greymouth library is awesome by the way and a great place to work!). The hostel had a lovely dog, some ponies and a piano so Roobs was well entertained. She also got to play with the hostel owners 2 children.

We enjoyed some lovely sunsets on Greymouth coast. And apparently, there are penguins to be found here. Hence the funny road sign on the way! (We didn’t spot any penguins, sadly).

Road sign with penguin crossing New Zealand south island road trip long term family travel

Shanty Town Greymouth

We decided to head to Shanty town in Greymouth. It is a replica of an old kiwi town and we thought it might be educational and jolly, good fun for Roobs. We used to get our tickets and it cost us $32NZD for 1 adult and 1 child. Pretty reasonable I reckon. It is really easy to find and wasn’t overly crowded when we went.

We spent around 3-4 hours here and we both had a great time. The highlights were:

  • There’s a real steam engine you can go on. It is a beautiful old engine and you go on a short 20-minute ride with commentary about the places you go past and the engine itself. At the end of the journey, you get to go into the engine room and take photos with the driver.
  • You can actually pan for gold! There is a section of the park where you are taught how to pan for gold using the old pans and water. Roobs loved this and she actually got a few pieces of gold that she worked hard to get. (You pay extra for this – I think it was around $7NZD).
  • The replica shops are really interesting and set up realistically. We were able to see what an old post office looked like, an old barbers, butchers etc. Roobs was very confused by the old style telephones!
  • There is a little play area that was great for kids.
  • The old hospital is fascinating and a little gruesome! Check it out if you’re not too squeamish to find out how they used to operate on people.

In part 2 of our New Zealand, South Island road trip, you can read about our time in Punakaiki, Franz Josef Glacier, Wanaka and Queenstown.

In part 3 we head from Milford Sound to the Catlins, Dunedin and Lake Tekapo.

And we also wrote about our South Island, road trip itinerary and tips.

Family road trip. South Island New Zealand

Comments 4

  1. This post brought me right back to our trip to south island in 2010 with our little ones. So many great memories of the places you visited. We loved Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura so much! #MondayEscapes

  2. This sounds like such a great trip! My daughter would also love the hostel animals. I’ve been wanting to go to New Zealand for a while, and I think you really must need a decent amount of time to see it properly.

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