New Zealand Road Trip With Kids

New Zealand South Island Trip with Kids!

While trying to find resources and plan a New Zealand South Island roadtrip with kids we felt a little lost. Information and advice seemed lacking for specifics on how to travel New Zealand as a family. We managed to figure it out and enjoyed a wonderful trip. So, we wanted to share some of our planning process here & help others make their NZ travel dreams a reality.

This blog covers some of the initial questions you need to answer before you can jump into the planning process. Where to sleep, what campervan company to use, how long to stay, and itinerary details are included.

Start by grabbing an adventure map (literally our first step every time we plan a trip like this). You might also consider this book, which our RV company gave to us and we found so incredibly useful during the trip. Seriously, it’s really good.

Where Should We Sleep on a New Zealand Trip with Kids?

Your basic options for housing include traditional travel options like hotels and Air BnB, but this can be challenging in many of the rural parts of the country. There are also campgrounds, hostels, and, of course, a campervan of some sort.

Campervan parked by the lake with family playing in the water.

For this trip we decided on a Campervan vacation. After reading about how convenient RV-life could be for traveling as a family, we made the leap – this turned out to be an excellent choice. 

The first time we went to New Zealand was without kids in 2011. For that New Zealand couples’ trip we rented a car and spent 10 days making our way around the North Island, mostly staying in Bed & Breakfasts. That trip had some neat perks, like staying with really wonderful locals, but for convenience/flexibility/low-stress goals – RV life wins by far.

We firmly believe New Zealand is best traveled by motorhome, especially if you have young children.

You absolutely need to pack everything in packing cubes – they transfer easily in RV shelves and make transitioning from suitcase to campervan so easy.

What Company Should We Use to Book a New Zealand Campervan?

Wilderness Campervan is the site we used and can highly recommend them – their customer service, vehicle quality, and pick-up/drop-off ease was exceptional. There are many reputable companies, we saw a lot of New Zealand campervan fanatics using all the major companies – Maui, Britz, Jucy, Wicked, etc.

Is RV/Campervan Travel Good for Young Kids in New Zealand?

Young child walking through field with RV in background.

We loved the campervan for traveling with the kids. Having a “driving house,” as the kids would say, allowed for daily consistency in our environment for sleeping which really helped keep everyone stress-free. We never stressed about finding a bathroom while driving and we could access all the snacks, diapers, and extra clothes anytime we needed to (perfect when the baby decided to take yet another unplanned dip into whatever body of water was closest).

I can’t imagine if we had been moving all of us + our stuff every day. Not to mention the fact that even the thought of staying in someone’s home with our wild, jet-lagged children makes my crazy-mom-eyes want to cry. I think it would’ve limited our mobility enough that the roadtrip mapped out below would not have been possible with only 10 nights in the country.

How Long Should We Stay with Kids in New Zealand?

We knew if we spent the money for flights (x5) and took time away from work, that we wanted to stay for a decent period of time. That being said, we were also under typical constraints and did not want to completely over-do it for our kids. A total of 10 nights in the country ended up being a good timeframe for us.

What New Zealand Campervan Itinerary Route Should We Choose?

This will depend on what key things you don’t want to miss. We marked out a list of cities/attractions/hikes on our map and categorized into places we definitely wanted to see, would like to see, and that were optional. After having specific categories laid out, we decided how much driving we wanted to do each day and made a rough plan. We kept it flexible and ended up adjusting a few nights along the way due to weather and interests.

Here is a map of our final South Island New Zealand campervan itinerary with each number being an overnight stay.

Map of New Zealand's South Island with road trip route mapped out

We opted for a counter-clockwise trek and ended up being happy we were on the inside lane for driving alongside the no-shoulder cliffs of the West Coast. We frequently ventured off the outlined course in order to find hikes, attractions, etc. – this is just the general route and where we camped each night. This budget hiking backpack for our 18mo old was really great – we’d definitely recommend it.

Hooker Valley Track

The Cameron Flat Campsite views along Haast Pass were absolutely incredible. I wish it had been sunny the day we were there, because it was breathtaking in the fog and I’d imagine on a clear day it’s stunning. Freedom camping on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy and then at Lake Pukaki were by far our favorite nights. The views were beautiful and they were quiet, fun stops for us and for the kids.

Our Stops Along the Way 

Overnight stays designated by * and campground link..

Overall, this trip was pure bliss. We traveled at our own pace, stopped when we wanted, and tried to be flexible with our itinerary. This made for happy parents and happy kiddos.

Although there were certainly places we really would’ve liked to visit (Nelson, Kaikoura), we knew we couldn’t hit everything and this circle ended up being just the right amount of movement for us. Plus, now we have places saved for our next New Zealand trip with kids!

Hope this helps someone!!