The Canterbury region is jam-packed with amazing places and things to do. From Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura, down to Akaroa, Tekapo and Timaru, there will be something somewhere for everyone.
Kaikoura is a seaside settlement 180km north of Christchurch. With the stunning coastline in one direction and the Seaward Kaikoura range on the other, Kaikoura is simply a stunning location. It is well known for being the best place in New Zealand to see sealife, such as whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds, but there are also tonnes of land-based activities for families too.
1. Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
The Kaikoura peninsula walkway is perfect for a family walk in nature. You can observe the seals in their natural habitat, explore historic pā, and enjoy the stunning sea and mountain views.
2. Ohau Point seal colony
The viewing platform at Ohau Point seal colony will give you the perfect view to of the seals lounging around in their natural habitat.
3. Peninsula seal colony
The Peninsula seal colony is another great place to stop and observe the seals lazing about on the rocks.
4. Lavendyl Lavender Farm
The Lavendyl lavender farm is a stunning spot for a nice walk. Stroll through the lavender gardens, watch the distillation process, stop for a coffee, or have a picnic in the gardens and emerse yourselves in the beautiful smells.
5. Kaikoura museum
Explore the impressive collections, exhibitions, events and programs of the Kaikoura museum which bring Kaikoura’s heritage to life.
6. The Point sheep shearing show
The Point offers a hands-on sheep sharing experience! You can hold and feed a baby lamb, play with the dogs, and get up close to the Drysdale Ram “Ram-Man”.
7. Fyffe House
Fyffe House is Kaikoura’s oldest surviving building and the last remnant of a pioneer whaling station established in 1842. Explore the Fyffe House and the surrounding land to discover how different family life was during Kaikoura’s early settlement. Fyffe House lies about midway through the two hour return walk that follows the shoreline between central Kaikoura and the Point Kean Seal Colony – so make sure to wear your walking shoes.
8. Kaikoura Kayaks
As a unique coastal area bursting with marine wildlife, Kaikoura is the perfect place to go on a kayaking adventure. Kaikoura Kayaks offer guided wildlife kayaking tours perfect for all ages and abilities. Kayak around stunning cliff faces and mountain ranges, all while searching for seals, dusky dolphins and blue penguins.
9. Swim with seals
For a totally unique experience head along to Seal Swim Kaikoura and snorkel with wild New Zealand fur seals in the shallow waters of the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula.
10. Kaikoura Llama trekking
The Kaikoura Llama Trekking tour takes you along the Coastal beach walk, and by the Kaikoura peninsula seal colony, and includes a free picnic and drinks. Best of all? Each person gets a llama!
11. Whale watching
Kaikoura is a great choice for whale watching because of its unusual submarine landscape. It is home to a population of Sperm whales that you can see all year-round. You can also see Orca whales from December to March and humpback whales in June and July.
12. Dolphin encounters
Along with whales, Kaikoura is home to several dolphin species that can be seen almost daily. It is regarded as the best place in Aotearoa for dolphin encounters including swimming with the dolphins.
13. Albatross encounters
Kaikoura is also home to a variety of seabird species like albatross, petrels, shearwaters, prions and much more. This Albatross encounter lets you get up close to these amazing seabirds.
14. The Emporium mini golf
The Emporium is home to a newly renovated 18 hole Mini Golf course – fun for the whole family!
Hanmer Springs is a resort town in the northern Canterbury region. It is well known for its thermal pools and mineral water. The surrounding mountains are also home to trails and seasonal ski slopes.
15. Hanmer Forest
Hanmer Forest is home to a number of short, but beautiful walks that are perfect for families. Ranging from the 5 minute Arboretum track to the 1 hour return Conical Hill walk.
16. Hanmer Springs animal park
Set on 6 hectares and surrounded by spectacular mountains, the Hanmer Animal Farm comes highly recommended by our Travel NZ with Kids group. You’ll find sheep, lamb, goats, pigs, ponies, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, cows, texas longhorns, ostrich, emus, wallabies, water buffalos and deer. Plan for a whole day at the farm, as there is plenty of outdoor space for play and a picnic.
17. A Maze N Golf
Solve the mystery of the Lost Temple by finding clues in the maze, or play a round of Gold Rush themed mini golf at A Maze N Golf.
18. Hanmer Springs thermal pools and spa
Hanmer Springs thermal pools and spa has Conical Thrill, New Zealand’s largest aquatic thrill ride, where brave little riders shoot down in two-person tubes. For kids who aren’t into such an adrenaline rush, there’s also an activity pool with a hidden cave tucked behind a waterfall and fun slide.
19. Alpine Crazy putt and village cruisers
In the middle of the village, Alpine Crazy Putt is a great spot to let the kids get some fresh air and take up the challenge. Also onsite are the Village Cruisers, a unique peddling experience for 2-6 people.
Akaroa is a stunning little town on the Banks Peninsula, just south of Christchurch. The charming town is the only French settlement in the country (croissant, please!). But this town also has stunning historic buildings and is known for being a marine life hub.
20. The Giant’s house
The Giant’s House is a historic Akaroa house with original contemporary artworks, terraced gardens and a colourful feast of sculptures, mosaics and ceramics. Kids love this place, it’s an extraordinary wonderland.
21. Akaroa Museum
The Akaroa Museum gives the kids a chance to step back in time, with fascinating archives, art, photography, costume and textiles, taonga, and technology on the history of the Banks Peninsula.
22. Akaroa Lighthouse
A short 5 minute walk from town, the Akaroa Lighthouse is a small piece of Banks Peninsula history with stunning views.
23. Garden of Tane
The Garden of Tane is a beautiful New Zealand bush maze with a variety of walks to explore ( all buggy friendly) with views of the harbour and a kids playground.
24. Akaroa dolphins
Explore Akaroa’s rugged coastline on a dolphin encounter cruise, and meet the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins. You can also spot other local wildlife including White Flippered Blue Penguins, Yellow-Eyed Penguins, New Zealand fur seals, and a variety of bird species.
25. Sailing and kayak tours
If a catamaran cruise isn’t adventurous enough for your family, then there are other options, including kayak wildlife tours and other sailing ships that can take you out for a wildlife cruise.
The second largest city in the Canterbury region, Timaru is about halfway between Christchurch and Dunedin and there is plenty to do to warrant a stop through on a family holiday.
26. Famlan farm park
For kids who love furry friends, Famlan Farm Park is home to a large family of super-friendly animals that will let you get up close and personal.
27. Te Ana Maori rock art
Go on a journey through history at the Te Ana Maori Rock Art. Home to one of the most significant collections of Maori rock art in the country. You can retrace the journeys of the Maroi ancestors and explore the practice of rock drawing. Make your own rock art, hold an ancient moa bone and shelter from Pouakai, the giant eagle in the cave of the Taniwha.
28. South Canterbury Museum
The South Canterbury Museum is the place to visit to learn all about the natural heritage and history of the South Canterbury region.
29. Centennial park
Centennial Park is a must visit to enjoy a walk, feed the ducks, have a picnic, and play on the playground.
30. Timaru botanic gardens
The Timaru Botanic gardens are a must visit for anyone with a green thumb. Stroll through the myriad of gardens and enjoy the curated plants and flowers. And don’t worry, a children’s playground is on hand for the kids.
31. Kiwi observatory
Kiwi Observatory is a private observatory with a dome on a sliding roof that lets you use different telescopes so you can observe the night sky.
32. Blueberry haven
This small, family owned blueberry orchard is a must-visit in Timaru. Blueberry Haven opens to the public in the summer season to pick your own blueberries, a fun activity for the whole family. Plus, think of the baking!!!
33. Otipua wetland
Wander through the Otipua Wetlands and see if you can spot some native birds. Some are harder to spot, like the royal spoonbills, pied stilts, swans, chestnut breasted shelducks, scaup, mallard and paradise ducks, and black billed gulls – but you can have fun giving it a go!
34. Sacred heart basilica
Built in 1909 Timaru is home to a stunning display of architecture with the Sacred Heart Basilica.
35. Caroline Bay Trust Aoraki centre
The Caroline Bay Trust Aoraki Centre is the only aquatic centre in Timaru. Home to several pools and two hydroslides there is hours of fun to be had.
Located in the heart of the Mackenzie district, Lake Tekapo is one of the most beautiful places in the South Island. The stunning blue lake and touring mountain range, Lake Tekapo is a must-do in the region.
36. Dark Sky Project
The Dark Sky Project brings together science, Maori heritage and fascinating multi-media installations to take you on a thought-provoking, educational and entertaining journey. Or after dark, head up Mount John for the Summit Experience, where you will be treated to some of the best stargazing in New Zealand.
37. Tekapo Springs
The Tekapo Springs complex is a mecca of water fun for the whole family. With a multitude of pools, slides and water play there is a pool for fun and play, and a pool for relaxing. Tekapo Springs also offers a Star Gazing experience, where you can spend even more time soaking in the pool after dark.
38. Lake Tekapo Walkway
Take in the views of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains by heading out for a stroll along the Lake Tekapo Walkway. Starting at the eastern end of the lake, this short, one-hour, walk is perfect for families, the mostly flat surface makes a great track for bikes or scooters.
39. Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking
Lake Tekapo is home to some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery so why not experience it all from the top of a horse. Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking offers 4 different treks, but the Pine Forest trek is a short 30 minute ride, perfect for families and beginners.
40. Tekapo jet boat
Explore Lake Tekapo in one of the most spectacular ways, by speeding across the water. Tekapo Jet is the only licensed jet boat operation on the lake and you will leave them after a remarkable experience jetting around the lake.
41. Lake Tekapo Farm Tours
Explore kiwi farm life with a Lake Tekapo Farm Tours experience. Tours operate over two high country farms, the historic Mt. John and Balmoral stations. The small group tour has several stops across the properties including at the Irishman Creek hut for a history lesson, Swan Tarn for 360 degree views, honey hives, Forks Stream for a fresh water drink, Mt John lookout before heading back to the start where you’ll have a meet and greet with some of the friendly farm animals waiting to be fed.
New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook is a must-visit. Aoraki/Mount Cook village is a great palace to base yourself from for any adventures.
42. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
There are 10 short walks that begin near the village. The Governors bush walk, Bowen bush walk and Glencoe bush walk each take under one hour to complete and offer an easy walk through the native bush, or if you can go a little longer try out the Red Tarns track, Kea point or the Hooker Valley track which each take around two hours.
43. Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine centre
A tribute to Sir Edmund Hilary, the Sir Edumund Hilary Alpine Centre showcases the Aoraki/Mount Cook region and its people. With a 126-seat custom-designed theatre, offering 2D, 3D and a Digital Dome Planetarium it provides a cinematic experience like no other.
44. Mueller hut route
If you have super active kids, then you might want to take a day and do the Mueller Hut route. At 1800 metres on the Sealy range, Mueller Hut provides a 360-degree panorama encompassing glaciers, ice cliffs, vertical rock faces and New Zealand’s highest peaks. Seasonal restrictions are in place and bookings are required for Mueller Hut.
45. Big Sky Stargazing
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest in the world, and Big Sky Stargazing is at the centre of it. Their experienced guides will introduce you to the beautiful southern night sky with a full hour tour using the naked eye, astro-binoculars and state of the art 14 and 11 inch astronomy telescopes. You might be able to spot the Southern Cross, seasonal ecliptic objects, planets, stunning star clusters, moons, distant galaxies, and even our very own Milky Way galaxy.
46. Glacier Explorers
Glacier Explorers is an undeniably unique experience, where you can experience a glacier from on the glacier. Glacier Encounters has a custom built boat that can explore Tasman Glacier’s terminal lake and take in the spectacular mountain views. The tour gives an in-depth interpretation of glaciation, terminal lake formation, plate tectonics and a brief coverage of local and climbing history, flora and fauna. We have you covered for the best things to do in Christchurch too.
More South Island activities
By Tayla Mitchell