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Visiting South Island, New Zealand with a Toddler

Traveling with young children can be daunting, so here's a detailed guide on visiting New Zealand's South Island with a toddler.
Claire Brain Sep 22, 2019

Why Visit New Zealand With a Toddler?

The first time we went on holiday to New Zealand with our 3 year old I was a nervous wreck before we’d even left the house! But the truth is that once you get over the journey, New Zealand is actually an ideal place to introduce your little ones to. It is a wonderland of wildlife, magic and fun.

Family Friendly Places to Stay on South Island

As parents of small children, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to holiday accommodation. Obviously we want somewhere that welcomes children, with self-catering services on (or very near) the premises, perhaps somewhere with child-minding services available and some child-sized furniture to make our little one feel at home.


Nearby family-friendly dining options and child-friendly extras like swimming, playgrounds, toy library…? When you write it all down, it can suddenly feel like rather a lot to ask for! With many of us having taken our own small children to our favourite part of the world, we have some suggestions of providers who can supply all of the above and more!

Top 10 Holiday Parks

Top 10 is a 30-year-old Holiday Park company with locations right across the South Island. They specialise in offering camping and caravan accommodation, but motels, cabins and self-contained units as well. With a reputation for safety and lots of onsite recreation activities for children, they’re worth a look, especially if you’re an outdoorsy family.

Bella Vista

Bella Vista motels have locations across the island, and offer a comfortable and consistent experience with family rooms, Wi-Fi and friendly local hosts. They don’t have as many onsite facilities for children, but their central locations mean there is plenty to discover nearby. We’ve used them many times and have never been disappointed.

Bach Care

Bach Care provide pre-serviced holiday homes, bachs and apartments. They welcome families (some properties are perfectly designed for a family getaway!) and provide you with a Holiday Manager you can call on for help and advice throughout your stay. Offering absolute independence and a home away from home, Bach Care is a popular choice for families.

Day Trips for Toddlers: South Island

Wildlife is one of New Zealand’s greatest assets – the diversity is just amazing. The area around Dunedin and Southland is home to penguins, seals and albatross. At the north end of the island, there’s Kaikoura, which is also home to seals and sea birds, but whales and dolphins too!

Day Trips for Toddlers: South Island - Adventures

Take a cruise on a steamship in Queenstown and then head on for a horse trek. Queenstown also has the Skyline Gondola, which my children loved when they were little.

Day Trips for Toddlers: South Island - Rainy Days

New Zealand has some incredible interactive museums, from the world-famous (and huge) Te Papa in Wellington to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch and the wonderfully weird Puzzling World in Wanaka. These are ideal attractions for rainy days and when you just need a little break from all the adventure.

Day Trips for Toddlers: South Island - Nature

When it’s time to calm down and recovery a little energy, the Avon River and Botanic Gardens in Christchurch are just the ticket. If you’re in the south, Wanaka is also a great option for chilling out with its easy-going lake front vibe.

Toddler Friendly Activities & Events on South Island

Finally, we’re going to share some of our favourite activities for toddlers on the South Island. They may not be whole days out, but they make great stop-offs and treats along the way.

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour

Universally popular here amongst those of us who’ve been to New Zealand with a 4-year-old or older has been the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour. Located in the South of the Island, it’s more suited to older toddlers but is a truly magical experience, and involves a boat ride as well.

Glenorchy Animal Experience

One of the great things about visiting New Zealand with the family is that there is fun to be had almost everywhere you look – we had a wonderful time feeding and learning about animals at the Glenorchy Animal Experience, which we stumbled upon completely by chance. And under 5s get in free!

TranzAlpine Train

For young train enthusiasts, the TranzAlpine Train comes highly recommended. With big windows, tables for eating and playing, & incredible scenery, it’s a fun way to see this part of the country.
We’d recommend heading down to Shanty Town when the train drops you off in Greymouth for some much needed running around, steam train fun and even panning for gold.

Margaret Mahy Family Playground

For burning off energy in Christchurch, head over to the Margaret Mahy Family Playground, which is an absolute delight for children of all ages (though do prepare your strategies to drag them away when it’s time to leave).


And don’t forget the beaches around the northern tip of the South Island. Marlborough and Tasman are a coastal paradise of beautiful beaches and safe swimming spots. And the other thing they’re famous for? Wine! You’ve surely earned a little treat yourselves by now, right?

The Holiday of a Lifetime?

Visiting South Island NZ with a toddler is not just doable, it may be one of the best things your family has ever done. We loved our holiday to New Zealand so much, we went back and did it all again the next year!