Family-friendly hikes in the South Island | Apollo NZ
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Dunedin & Central Otago

A New Zealand campervan holiday to Dunedin and Central Otago offers a truly unique travel experience. Situated on the southeastern coast of the South Island, Dunedin is known for its Scottish heritage and Victorian and Edwardian architecture, while Central Otago, a short drive inland, offers dramatic landscapes characterised by rugged mountains, rolling plains, and crystal-clear lakes. Dunedin is a city that prides itself on its educational and cultural richness, home to the prestigious University of Otago and an array of museums and galleries. Dunedin’s weather can be cooler than other parts of New Zealand, with crisp, clear days perfect for exploring the historic streets or nearby natural attractions.

Central Otago offers a stark contrast with its semi-arid terrain, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as biking along the Otago Central Rail Trail and wine tasting at some of New Zealand's highest altitude vineyards. The region's dry climate and dramatic seasonal changes serve as a stunning backdrop for adventure and relaxation alike. Park up overnight in a Dunedin holiday park or find a secluded spot near one of Central Otago's picturesque lakes. With the convenience of your campervan, you can comfortably switch between urban exploration in Dunedin and remote escapes in the wilds of Otago. Whether you're drawn to Dunedin's cultural scene or the rugged beauty of Otago’s outdoors, this region promises a memorable experience.

 

Why explore Dunedin & Central Otago by campervan

Exploring Dunedin and Central Otago by campervan is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the region's unique blend of cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. With a campervan, you dictate the pace and path of your journey. In Dunedin, you can easily navigate from the bustling shopping centre to quiet, windswept beaches along the Otago Peninsula. In Central Otago, the freedom to roam allows you to discover hidden gems, from secluded vineyards to historic gold mining towns, all at your own pace. The ability to spontaneously decide where to go next, from a morning exploring Dunedin’s architectural marvels to an afternoon tasting pinot noirs amidst the hills of Central Otago, is a true luxury.

Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your own kitchen, bed, and living space but also saves you the hassle of packing and unpacking at each new destination. Plus, having your own facilities means you’re never far from a homecooked meal or a comfortable bed, even if you find yourself in the remote reaches of the region.

 

Things to do in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago abound with diverse attractions, blending rich history with exhilarating outdoor pursuits and gourmet experiences. In Dunedin, discover the opulence of Larnach Castle or engage with local history at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. For wildlife lovers, the area offers close encounters with unique species like the yellow-eyed penguin. Moving inland to Central Otago, you can hit the scenic cycle trails, savour exquisite pinot noirs at local vineyards, or try gold panning in Cromwell. Activities like water sports on Lake Dunstan also offer plenty of thrills, ensuring every traveller finds something to cherish.

Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ blog

Family-friendly hikes in the South Island.

Planning a fun-filled road trip across the South Island in a campervan hire? This blog is your go-to guide for the most enjoyable family-friendly hikes in this beautiful part of New Zealand. 

We'll take you through magical spots like Te Waikoropupū Springs and the stunning Blue Pools Track. These South Island walks are perfect for families eager to experience some of the best hikes in New Zealand together.

 

The best time to hike in the South Island

A campervan road trip in the South Island offers a unique opportunity to experience some of the most scenic hikes in the South Island. And with each season, there’s something unique to see and do. 

In spring, from September to November, the trails come alive with vibrant wildflowers, creating a colourful display that kids will love exploring. This season also invites a chorus of birdlife, adding a melodious backdrop to your hikes. The sight of tūī and bellbirds among the blossoms is a treat for nature enthusiasts. The mozzies also love the spring weather, so you’ll need to pack some bug spray during this time of year. 

Autumn, spanning from March to May, offers a different but equally enchanting experience. The cooler temperatures make for comfortable hiking conditions, and the landscape transforms into a canvas of rich, golden hues. The beauty of autumn provides a peaceful setting for family walks, where you can enjoy the crisp air and the rustling of fallen leaves underfoot.

Summer, from December to February, brings its own charm to these hikes, with longer days allowing more time for exploration and the warm weather making high-altitude trails more accessible. It's a great time to enjoy the lush greenery and vibrant energy of the outdoors. Be sure to pack hats, sunscreen, and water bottles. 

If you're planning to explore South Island walks in winter, extra care is needed. The paths can be slippery, and the weather can change rapidly, so it's important to be well-prepared with the right gear and check the local weather conditions setting out.

READ MORE: 15 must-do’s in New Zealand’s South Island.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

The best family-friendly hikes in the South Island

Looking for great New Zealand walks suitable for families? Don't miss out on these family-friendly hikes that offer both natural beauty and fun for all ages. 

1. Hokitika Gorge Track

Located in the stunning West Coast region, the Hokitika Gorge Track is a wonderland for families. This 1.2 km track, taking about 45 minutes one way, is an easy walk that leads you through a breathtaking landscape. This South Island walk is known for its vibrant turquoise waters and lush native bush. It's a fantastic spot for kids, with plenty of opportunities to spot local wildlife and enjoy the natural beauty. 

The walk includes a swing bridge and viewing platforms, perfect for little adventurers. Facilities like picnic tables are available, making it a great spot for a family lunch. The track is well-maintained but not suitable for prams, so it's best for families with walking toddlers or older children.

 

2. McHughs Forest Park Loop Track

McHughs Forest Park Loop Track, near Darfield, is one of New Zealand’s popular family walks. The park features a variety of flat walking and biking tracks, weaving through a 43-hectare forest. 

The enchanting forest is home to fairy doors and magical creatures, making it a hit with kids. They'll love searching for gnomes, trolls, dragons, and fairies as they explore. The tracks are low-intensity, ideal for families and suitable for prams. 

The park's large mature Douglas fir trees provide a majestic backdrop, and the beginner bike trails offer a fun option for families looking to mix hiking with some cycling.

 

3. Blue Pools Track

The Blue Pools Track in Mount Aspiring National Park is a mesmerising experience for families. This 3 km return track, taking about an hour to complete, is an easy walk that leads you through mature beech and podocarp forest. The highlight is the pools of deep, clear water flowing into the Makarora River, a sight that captivates both adults and children alike. 

As you and your family meander along the Blue Pools Track, you'll come across a charming swing bridge. It's a real treat, especially for the kids, offering a fantastic view of the glittering pools below. This walk is a wonderful chance for little explorers to see New Zealand's stunning natural beauty up close. Don't forget to take a few family selfies with the breathtaking backdrop of the clear waters and lush forest. It's these moments that make family adventures in a campervan so special and memorable.

 

4. Te Waikoropupū Springs Walk

The Te Waikoropupū Springs Walk near Takaka is a must-visit for families. This 1 km loop track, taking about 45 minutes, is an easy walk that leads to New Zealand's largest freshwater springs. Also known as Pupu Springs, this special spot is renowned for some of the clearest water ever measured. 

Not only are the Te Waikoropupū Springs known for their crystal-clear waters, but they also hold cultural significance to local Māori, adding a layer of historical intrigue to your visit. The walk is easy and suitable for prams, offering a comfortable experience for families with young children. Along the way, you'll be surrounded by lush native bush, adding to the peaceful atmosphere of the walk. 

 

5. Forest Amble Walk

Heading to Hanmer Springs during your South Island road trip? The Forest Amble Walk is a must-do for families. This delightful 30-minute stroll through the Hanmer Heritage Forest is a real treat, with large wooden art sculptures waiting to be discovered. Watch your kids' eyes light up as they encounter a friendly giant, an orangutan, a tuatara, a falcon, and a playful dog along the path. These sculptures, each one carved from a majestic redwood tree, add a touch of whimsy to the forest's natural beauty. It's a unique and joyful experience for visitors of all ages, making the Forest Amble Walk a standout activity in Hanmer Springs.

 

6. Wairau Lagoon

Don't miss the chance to explore the Wairau Lagoons Walkway on your campervan road trip. Located in the Marlborough region of Renwick, this lovely, easy three-hour loop track is just right for a leisurely walk with kids. Stroll along the lagoon's edge for some top-notch birdwatching and discover the intriguing rusting remains of the Waverley ship.

The lagoon is a haven for a variety of bird species, making it a fun and educational spot for young nature enthusiasts. They'll be thrilled to see the different birds and learn about their environment. It's a perfect way to enjoy a few hours together, surrounded by the calm beauty of the lagoon and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Where to stay in the South Island

Finding the perfect spot to park your campervan is key to a great South Island road trip. Here are some top picks for family-friendly holiday parks that cater to campervan travellers.

READ MORE: Family-friendly campsites in New Zealand.

Nelson TOP 10 Holiday Park

Nelson TOP 10 Holiday Park is a fantastic choice for families travelling by campervan. Located in the heart of sunny Nelson, this awesome holiday park is just a short walk from local shops and supermarkets. It's an ideal base for exploring the Nelson-Tasman district, with easy access to fabulous cafes, restaurants, and the stunning Abel Tasman National Park. The park offers a range of campsite options, ensuring a comfortable stay for everyone.

 

Blenheim Bridges Holiday Park

Set in the heart of Marlborough, Blenheim Bridges Holiday Park is another great spot for campervan families. The holiday park is centrally located in Blenheim, close to the world-renowned wineries and award-winning restaurants. The park provides a peaceful setting along the Opawa River, with powered campervan sites that are perfect for families looking to explore the region's natural beauty and culinary delights.

 

Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park

For a relaxing stay, consider Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park. Just minutes away from the Hanmer Spring Thermal Pools and the picturesque alpine village, this park offers a beautifully landscaped haven. It's a great spot for families, with plenty of activities and facilities, including a playground and barbecue areas.

 

Christchurch Spencer Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park

Christchurch TOP 10 Holiday Park is a hidden gem located 20 minutes from Christchurch’s CBD. A ten-minute walk from the beach, this park offers a range of powered and non-powered sites suitable for campervans. It's super convenient for exploring Christchurch and the surrounding areas, with facilities and activities that cater to families of all ages.

 

Wanaka TOP 10 Holiday Park

Wanaka TOP 10 Holiday Park is surrounded by the stunning Southern Alps and beautiful lakes, making it a scenic retreat for families. The park's central location in Wanaka makes it an ideal base for adventure, no matter the season. With a range of powered and unpowered sites, it's a great choice for families looking to explore the endless beauty of Wānaka.

 

Explore on your next holiday with Apollo

New Zealand’s South Island is packed full of family-friendly hikes and top-notch holiday parks perfect for your next campervan adventure. From enchanting forests to crystal-clear springs, there's something to delight every member of the family. These destinations provide the perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and natural beauty, making them ideal for creating unforgettable memories. 

Ready to experience the ultimate New Zealand family holiday? Book your Apollo campervan hire online today and start planning your dream road trip across the stunning South Island.

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Popular Dunedin & Central Otago road trips & itineraries

Dunedin and Central Otago, situated in the southern part of New Zealand's South Island, are regions steeped in natural beauty and cultural richness. Travelling by campervan allows you to freely explore the varied landscapes – from Dunedin’s rugged coastline to Central Otago’s golden hills – and discover a network of routes dotted with historical sites, quaint towns, and scenic camping spots. Whether cruising through Dunedin’s architectural marvels or winding through the vineyard-clad valleys of Central Otago, each journey is an invitation to delve deeper into the heart of the south. 

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Apollo offers a fantastic selection of deals and specials for those looking to explore New Zealand by campervan. From hot deals and last-minute discounts to long-term hire benefits, you’re sure to find a deal designed to help you make the most of your campervan adventure. 

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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

Setting out from Apollo's Christchurch branch, the road trip through the Canterbury Plains and alongside the Southern Alps is breathtaking, with stops like Lake Tekapo and the historic town of Oamaru enriching your travel experience. 

Queenstown

Departing from Apollo's Queenstown branch, you're perfectly positioned to explore both the adventurous heart of the South Island and the tranquil beauty of Central Otago before reaching Dunedin. 

Auckland

From Apollo Auckland, the multi-day trip to Dunedin and Central Otago – we suggest 10-14 days – offers a comprehensive tour of the North and South Islands, including crossing the Cook Strait by ferry

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Dunedin & Central Otago

 

Climate and seasons in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago offer distinct climate experiences that reflect the diverse landscapes of the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island.

Dunedin enjoys a temperate maritime climate with mild summers and cool winters, tempered by its coastal position.

  • Summer (December to February) are generally mild, with temperatures hovering around 15°C to 22°C, ideal for enjoying outdoor activities along the city’s beaches and exploring the lush Otago Peninsula.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees cooler temperatures and is a great time to witness the changing colours of the city's abundant foliage.

  • Winter (June to August) in Dunedin can be chilly, with temperatures dropping to 5°C to 10°C, but the city’s historical and cultural sites continue to draw visitors.

  • Spring (September to November) rejuvenates the city with mild weather and blossoming gardens, perfect for outdoor adventures before the colder months set in.

Central Otago contrasts sharply with a more continental climate, characterised by hot dry summers and cold winters.

  • Summers see temperatures that can climb above 25°C, making it an excellent time for exploring the region’s famous vineyards and outdoor recreational activities.
  • Autumn brings a dramatic change in landscape colour, particularly vivid in the vineyard areas, with cooler but still pleasant temperatures.
  • Winter sees temperatures often falling below freezing, blanketing the region in snow, which transforms the landscape into a winter wonderland, popular for photography and winter sports.
  • Spring slowly warms up the land, thawing lakes and rivers, and ushering in a season of growth and renewal.

 

 

 

What to pack

Preparing for your campervan adventure in Dunedin and Central Otago requires thoughtful packing to accommodate the varying climates and activities these regions offer. Here’s what to consider bringing along to make the most of your trip:

  • Outdoor gear: Given the diverse environments in Dunedin and Central Otago, versatile outdoor gear is essential. For Dunedin's coastal walks and city explorations, lightweight, breathable clothing will serve you well, complemented by a waterproof jacket for unpredictable showers. Central Otago's more extreme temperatures call for sun hats and high SPF sunscreen in summer, and warm, insulating layers in winter, especially if you plan to engage in snow sports or explore the frosty landscapes.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan with a few extras can significantly improve your comfort and convenience. A portable heater might be necessary for chilly Central Otago nights, while a fan can keep you cool during the dry summer heat. Additionally, outdoor chairs and a table will expand your living space, perfect for enjoying the scenic views at your leisure.

  • Sun protection: Sun protection is crucial year-round due to New Zealand’s strong UV rays, particularly in the exposed and high-altitude areas of Central Otago. Pack broad-spectrum sunscreen, UV-protective sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. Insect repellent will also be useful, especially in the warmer months when sandflies and mosquitoes are more prevalent.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Dunedin & Central Otago

 

  • The Otago Peninsula tretching along the southern edge of the Otago Harbour, is renowned for its stunning coastal scenery and incredible wildlife. This area is a haven for nature lovers, offering opportunities to see rare yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, and the only mainland breeding colony of royal albatross in the world. The peninsula’s rolling hills and rugged cliffs provide perfect vantage points for breathtaking views and photography.
  • Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, offers a glimpse into the country’s colonial past, set against the backdrop of expansive gardens and the scenic Otago Peninsula. Built in 1871 by William Larnach, a merchant and politician, the castle features beautifully restored Victorian-era rooms and a unique collection of New Zealand antiques. The gardens are a highlight, recognised as a Garden of International Significance, perfect for a leisurely stroll.
  • Baldwin Street in Dunedin is famous for being the world's steepest residential street, attracting visitors from all over the globe. The street offers a challenging but quirky walk, rising significantly over its short 350-metre length.
  • Dunedin Railway Station is a stunning architectural marvel, known as the ‘Gingerbread House’ because of its ornate Flemish Renaissance style. Completed in 1906, the station is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand. Visitors can admire its detailed mosaic floors, stained glass windows, and grand booking hall. The station also serves as the departure point for scenic railway journeys that explore the spectacular landscapes surrounding Dunedin.
  • Tunnel Beach, just south of Dunedin, offers dramatic coastal scenery with sandstone cliffs, arches, and headlands. Accessible through a short walk that includes a tunnel down to the beach – hand-carved in the 1870s – this spot is perfect for those looking to explore a more secluded part of the coastline. The beach is particularly striking at sunset and is a popular location for romantic walks and picnics.
  • Otago Harbour is a long, narrow inlet associated with the bustling city life of Dunedin and the tranquil beauty of the Otago Peninsula. It's a hub for water activities, including sailing, fishing, and kayaking. The harbour is also a vital part of the local ecosystem, supporting a variety of birdlife and marine species, making it an excellent spot for wildlife watching.
  • Moeraki Boulders, located on Koekohe Beach along the Otago coast, are huge, almost perfectly spherical stones. These natural wonders were created by the cementation of mudstone over millions of years, with some over two metres in diameter.
  • The Catlins Coast, stretching between Balclutha and Invercargill, offers a remote and rugged landscape with a wealth of natural attractions. Visitors can explore dense rainforests and meet unique wildlife. Highlights include Nugget Point with its iconic lighthouse and the dramatic Purakaunui Falls.

For more inspiration, check out our guide to family friendly things to do in Dunedin.

 

Where to stay in Dunedin & Central Otago with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Dunedin & Central Otago, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Dunedin

 

 

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