Family-friendly hikes in the South Island | Apollo NZ
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Nelson & Marlborough

Craving artistic flair, golden beaches, and a taste of adventure? Look no further than the Nelson and Marlborough region. Sitting at the top of New Zealand's South Island, this area is packed full of natural beauty, culinary excellence, and cultural richness. It’s easy to see why it makes the perfect destination for a New Zealand campervan holiday. Nelson, often hailed as New Zealand’s ‘sunshine capital’, radiates a warm, inviting atmosphere complemented by its vibrant arts community, historic architecture, and bustling markets. Nearby, the tranquil Marlborough Sounds offers a playground for kayaking, fishing, and scenic cruises. Wine enthusiasts will relish visiting Marlborough's famed vineyards, where tasting world-class wines becomes a memorable part of the journey.

A road trip through Nelson and Marlborough in an Apollo campervan means every day is a new adventure, crafted just to your liking. With the flexibility to explore hidden gems, from the secluded coves of Golden Bay in Nelson to the enchanting Marlborough Sounds, your journey can be as laid-back or as action-packed as you desire. The convenience of travelling by campervan, complete with a kitchen, bed, and bathroom, means that the beauty of Nelson NZ and the Marlborough Sounds are yours to enjoy in your own time. Whether you're soaking up the sun on Nelson's beaches or sipping on exquisite sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, travelling by campervan offers a truly unforgettable experience. 


Why explore Nelson & Marlborough by campervan

Travelling in a campervan, especially through beautiful areas like Nelson and Marlborough, turns a simple holiday into a series of unforgettable experiences. It's your adventure, at your pace, surrounded by the comfort and convenience that only campervan travel can offer. With a campervan, you're not tied down. You can linger over a long lunch in a Nelson café or decide to spend an extra day tasting wines in Marlborough because you've fallen in love with the scenery.

The journey itself becomes part of the fun when you're in a campervan. It's about making spontaneous stops at breathtaking lookouts, enjoying your morning coffee in the middle of postcard-perfect views, and finding your own special spot to watch the stars. Stumbled upon a hidden gem in Golden Bay or found a hiking track in Marlborough you’d like to tackle? With a campervan, you have the freedom to explore it as much as you like.


Things to do in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are rich with activities and attractions, offering something special for every kind of traveller. For families on holiday, there are endless opportunities for fun, from exploring the sun-drenched beaches of Nelson to the interactive and educational experiences in the region's museums and galleries. Food enthusiasts will revel in the culinary journey through Nelson and Marlborough, from the fresh seafood of the coastal areas to the exquisite flavours of the region's renowned wineries. Whether you're indulging in a leisurely lunch at a vineyard in Marlborough or sampling local artisan produce at a Nelson market, your taste buds are in for a treat. Adventure seekers and nature lovers won't be left wanting either. With activities like kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds or hiking the trails of the Abel Tasman National Park, the great outdoors is your playground. And for those looking to unwind, the charming towns scattered throughout the region offer a peaceful retreat with their unique boutiques, cafes, and galleries.

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 Nelson road trips & itineraries

Nestled at the top of New Zealand's South Island, Nelson and Marlborough are prime starting points for some of the most picturesque road trips in the country. Kicking off from Nelson, you can weave through the scenic drives that unveil the artistic townships, golden beaches, and lush national parks. Heading into Marlborough, the journey continues through rolling vineyards and along the majestic Marlborough Sounds. Whether you're venturing from the urban buzz of the North Island or the rugged landscapes of the South, these regions promise memorable campervan road trip adventures tailored to every interest. Here are a few worth checking out:

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Great savings on your New Zealand road trip

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


The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Nelson takes you along some of the South Island’s most scenic coastline. There’s a fair bit to see and do along the way, so be sure to take your time and perhaps plan an overnight stay in Kaikoura. 


Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore more of the South Island? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days heading northward taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 


The North Island is packed full of sights and experiences, so why not tick off a few with a road trip from Apollo Auckland to Nelson? This journey includes crossing the Cook Strait by ferry offering the opportunity to travel through the pristine Marlborough Sounds. 

Auckland City Skyline


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


Christchurch City, New Zealand


 One of the world’s most unique destinations.



Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.


Helpful tips for visiting Nelson & Marlborough


Climate and seasons in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are renowned for their inviting climates, making them year-round destinations for visitors. Nelson, often celebrated as the sunniest city in New Zealand, enjoys a mild maritime climate that complements its outdoor lifestyle and vibrant arts culture.

  • Summer (December to February) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Autumn (March to May) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures hovering around 12°C to 15°C. It's a great time to enjoy the region's art galleries, museums, and cosy dining spots, with the occasional crisp, clear day perfect for outdoor adventures.

  • Spring (September to November) breathes new life into the regions, with blossoming gardens and warming temperatures. It's a beautiful time to witness the region's natural beauty, from the awakening vineyards in Marlborough to the blossoming landscapes in Nelson.

Both regions enjoy relatively low rainfall compared to other parts of New Zealand, though it's always wise to pack a light rain jacket just in case. The transitional seasons of autumn and spring offer a spectacular display of nature's beauty, making them particularly rewarding times to visit.




What to pack

Heading out for an adventure in Nelson and Marlborough with your campervan is an exciting prospect, and packing smart can enhance your experience. The region's welcoming climates and diverse outdoor activities mean you'll need a mix of gear to comfortably enjoy everything from sun-soaked beaches to leisurely vineyard tours. Here’s a rundown of what to bring along.

  • Outdoor gear: The stunning landscapes of Nelson and Marlborough are your playground, so come prepared with versatile outdoor gear. Lightweight, breathable clothing will keep you comfortable during the warm days, while a layer or two for the cooler evenings ensures you can enjoy those starlit nights by the campfire. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're hiking in Abel Tasman National Park or exploring the coastal trails.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhance your campervan living with a few thoughtful extras. A portable barbecue can elevate your dining under the stars, while extra camping chairs and a table (these can be added to your campervan hire) can make your outdoor setup more comfortable.

  • Sun protection:The New Zealand sun, particularly in the Nelson region, known for its high sunshine hours, calls for diligent sun protection. Pack high-SPF sunscreen, a quality pair of sunglasses with UV protection, and a hat to shield you during those outdoor adventures. Remember, sun safety is key, even on overcast days.

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



Nearby attractions and day trips from Nelson


Farewell Spit

Farewell Spit is a striking natural feature located at the northern tip of the South Island, renowned for its extensive sandbar and rich birdlife. This area serves as a bird sanctuary where visitors can observe a variety of migratory birds in their natural setting. The iconic lighthouse at the spit's end also provides a picturesque backdrop for visitors exploring this unique and protected landscape.


In the heart of Golden Bay, Takaka is a vibrant town known for its artistic community, quirky cafes, and nearby natural wonders like Te Waikoropupū Springs. A day trip to Takaka can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like, with options ranging from exploring local art galleries to hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Rabbit Island

Just a short drive from Nelson, Rabbit Island offers vast sandy beaches, picnic spots, and cycling trails. It's an ideal place for a family day out, where you can enjoy swimming, beach games, or simply bask in the tranquil atmosphere of this coastal gem.

Lord of the Rings film locations

For fans of the Lord of the Rings series, the Nelson region offers the chance to visit some of the trilogy's filming locations. Take on a day trip to explore the diverse landscapes that were transformed into Middle-Earth, from the rolling hills to the lush forests, each offering a glimpse into the magical world of the films.


Where to stay in Nelson & Marlborough with a campervan

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





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