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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

Fun Activities for Your New Zealand Family Holiday.

Planning a New Zealand family holiday by campervan hire can be as exciting as the trip itself. From the geothermal wonders of the North Island to wildlife watching in the South, New Zealand is packed with awesome activities for families of all ages and stages.  

In this handy guide, we share some of the best must-do experiences in New Zealand for families. 

 

Why you should take your family on holiday in New Zealand

New Zealand is more than just a travel destination; it's a playground for families seeking a mix of adventure and relaxation. With its breathtaking landscapes and a diverse range of activities, this beautiful country is the perfect destination for a family holiday. Because New Zealand is a relatively small country, you won’t have to drive for too long to get from one awesome destination to the next. And, when you travel by campervan hire, every overnight stay offers a new experience. From freedom camping in secluded spots to enjoying the amenities at well-equipped holiday parks, your options are as varied as the landscapes you'll drive through. 

 

The best way to explore NZ with your family

If you’re planning to explore New Zealand as a family, nothing beats the freedom and flexibility of a campervan hire. When you travel by camper, you have the flexibility to stop, start, and rest whenever you like. When the kids get tired, a comfy bed is just a few steps away. No need to search for public restrooms; you've got your own bathroom on board. Plus, you can easily whip up a family meal in the kitchenette. 

Apollo Campervans offers a range of motorhomes that are not just a means of transport but fully equipped mobile homes. They come with all the family friendly amenities you'd want, making your family holiday in NZ as comfortable and convenient as it is fun and adventurous.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Top 10 most fun activities for you and your family in New Zealand

Ready to plan a travel itinerary for your New Zealand road trip? Here are our recommendations for the top 10 must-do family activities in NZ.
 

1. Rainbow’s End, Auckland

If you find yourself in Auckland and are looking for a day of thrills and fun, Rainbow's End is the perfect addition to your New Zealand itinerary. Located in Manukau, this amusement park is a hit with families and offers a variety of rides and attractions that cater to all ages. From the adrenaline-pumping roller coasters to the more laid-back family rides, there's something for everyone. And for the little ones, Kidz Kingdom is a dedicated space just for them. There's ample parking available for campervans and motorhomes too.  

READ MORE: 15 family friendly things to do in Auckland.

 

2. Rotorua Canopy Tours, Rotorua

For families keen on a unique outdoor adventure, Rotorua Canopy Tours is a must-visit. Located in the heart of Rotorua, this eco-tour offers an unforgettable ziplining experience through native New Zealand forest. Glide through the treetops, walk across swing bridges, and learn about local flora and fauna from knowledgeable guides.

With safety as a top priority, the tour is suitable for children aged six and up. Park your campervan in their designated area, and you're all set for a day of treetop fun. 

READ MORE: Top 15 things to do in Rotorua.

 

3. Huka Honey Hive, Taupō

If you're travelling through Taupō, a visit to the Huka Honey Hive is a sweet treat for the whole family. Situated just a short drive from the famous Huka Falls, this unique attraction offers a delightful blend of education and indulgence. Check out the interactive exhibits to learn about the fascinating world of bees and honey production. Don't miss the live bee displays, where you can safely observe these industrious insects at work.

 

4. Wētā Workshop, Wellington

For families who are fans of movie magic, a visit to Wētā Workshop in Wellington is like stepping into another world. Located in the suburb of Miramar, this award-winning special effects and prop studio opens its doors to the public for a behind-the-scenes look at how movie magic is made. From intricate miniatures to lifelike prosthetics, the range of creations you'll see is astounding.

Whether you're keen to learn about the art of filmmaking or want to try your hand at sculpting, there's a tour for you. The studio is incredibly family friendly, with interactive exhibits that will captivate kids and adults alike. It's a must-add to your New Zealand itinerary, especially if you're looking for unique family activities NZ has to offer.

 

5. Zealandia, Wellington

If your family has a penchant for wildlife and natural beauty, Zealandia in Wellington is an unmissable stop. Situated just a few kilometres from the city centre, this urban ecosanctuary is a groundbreaking conservation project that aims to restore Wellington's valley and freshwater ecosystems. Here, you'll encounter some of New Zealand's most endangered native birds, reptiles, and insects in their natural habitat.

Zealandia offers a range of guided tours and self-led walks, allowing you to explore the sanctuary at your own pace. The interactive exhibits and the discovery area are particularly engaging for children, making it an educational yet fun outing for the whole family. With plenty of campervan parking available, it's easy to include Zealandia in your New Zealand itinerary. 

 

6. International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch

Heading to Christchurch and keen to try out an icy adventure? The International Antarctic Centre, located near Christchurch Airport, offers a glimpse into life on the frozen continent. Experience an Antarctic storm, take a ride on the Hägglund all-terrain vehicle, or get up close and personal with Little Blue Penguins.

The centre offers a variety of interactive exhibits that are both educational and entertaining. Kids will love the 4D Extreme movie and the indoor polar playground, while adults can enjoy the informative displays about Antarctic expeditions. 

READ MORE: Top 15 things to do in Christchurch.

 

7. Margaret Mahy Playground, Christchurch

Nestled in the heart of Christchurch's central city, the Margaret Mahy Playground is a vibrant space designed for endless fun. With areas suited for all ages, from toddlers to teens, it's a hit with families. Named after one of New Zealand's most beloved children's authors, this expansive playground is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It features a wide array of play equipment, including slides, swings, and water play areas. And when the kids need a rest, they can head back to the campervan for a bite to eat before you head off to explore more of Christchurch. 

 

8. Tūhura Tropical Forest, Dunedin

Step into a lush, tropical oasis at the Tūhura Tropical Forest in Dunedin's Otago Museum. The perfect addition to your family holiday in NZ, this living, three-level rainforest is home to more than 1,000 exotic butterflies, along with birds, fish, and turtles. The forest is climate-controlled to mimic a tropical environment, making it a warm escape on a chilly Dunedin day. 

Visitors can explore the forest via winding pathways, crossing bridges and streams as they go. It's an immersive experience that offers educational insights into biodiversity and conservation. 

 

9. Puzzling World, Wānaka

Prepare to have your mind bent at Puzzling World in Wānaka. This unique attraction is a wonderland of optical illusions, puzzling rooms, and mind-boggling architecture. Located just a short drive from the centre of Wānaka, it's an experience that will leave you questioning your senses.

The venue features a range of illusions and puzzles that are as entertaining as they are perplexing. Highlights include the Tilted House, the Ames Room, and the famous Leaning Tower of Wānaka. It's a place where curiosity is rewarded, making it an ideal outing for families. Kids will love solving puzzles and navigating the Great Maze, while adults can enjoy the challenge of the Puzzle Centre. With ample campervan parking, it's easy to add this quirky stop to your New Zealand itinerary. 

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

 

10. Lake Wakatipu cruise, Queenstown

Set sail on the stunning waters of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown for an experience that's as relaxing as it is scenic. The lake, framed by majestic mountains, offers a tranquil backdrop for a family outing. Cruises typically depart from Queenstown's main pier and offer various routes, taking you past historic landmarks and natural wonders. With spacious decks and indoor seating areas, there's a spot for everyone to enjoy the view. It's a fantastic way to see Queenstown from a different perspective. 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Where to stay with your family in New Zealand

Finding the perfect spot to park your campervan for the night is an essential part of any New Zealand road trip. Luckily, New Zealand is dotted with plenty of excellent campsites and holiday parks that cater to families. Whether you're keen on beach camping NZ style or prefer the serenity of a forest setting, you'll find a place that fits the bill.

Many of these sites offer top-notch facilities, including playgrounds, BBQ areas, and even swimming pools. They're not just places to sleep; they're destinations in their own right. If you're looking for some tried-and-true recommendations for family camping, check out our helpful guide to family-friendly campsites in New Zealand.

 

Ready to explore New Zealand with your family?

From ziplining to lake cruising, a family holiday in NZ has something for everyone. And there's no better way to soak it all in than with an Apollo campervan. With the freedom to set your own travel itinerary, you can explore at your own pace, making spontaneous stops and detours along the way.

So why wait? Start planning your unforgettable New Zealand road trip today. With Apollo, you're not just hiring a campervan; you're booking an experience that will be treasured by the whole family. Book your Apollo campervan online today and set the wheels in motion for a holiday filled with adventure, discovery, and quality family time.

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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 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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