The very bottom of New Zealand is a fabulous place to explore with kids, from the stunning scenery of Fiordland to city adventures in Invercargill. Here are 31 fun things to do with kids in Southland.
1. Milford Sound
Milford Sound the jewel in Fiordland’s crown, was carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. Breathtaking in all seasons, forest-clad cliffs rise vertically from clear, dark waters, waterfalls cascade downwards into the sea from as high as 1000 meters, and mountain peaks scrape the sky. Exploring the Sound can be done on foot, but for families the best way to see the Sound is by boat, there are various boat cruises for day trips or longer stays.
2. Milford discovery centre and underwater observatory
Hidden under the surface of Harrison Cove in Milford Sound is the Milford Underwater Observatory. The Observatory enables you to immerse yourself in this mysterious undersea world and encounter the extraordinary rare black coral and colourful sea creatures teeming just below the surface of Milford Sound.
3. Doubtful Sound
Sometimes called “the Sound of Silence” Doubtful Sound is the deepest of Fiordland’s fiords and the second longest, with three distinct “arms”, numerous small islands and several stunning waterfalls. This majestic fiord has no direct road access, making it much quieter and more remote than Milford Sound. The fiord is home to a wide range of fauna including one of the southernmost populations of bottlenose dolphins. To get to Doubtful Sound is just as much of an adventure, a boat journey across Lake Manapouri, then a bus trip across Wilmot Pass to the Sound, where you’ll board another boat to explore the Sound.
4. Bill Richardson transport world
The Bill Richardson Transport World is home to literally hundreds of motor vehicles and petrol pumps and is a must do in Southland for anyone with a passion for wheels. The motoring highlights include retro Kombi’s and Henry Ford Letter Cars, there is also a wearable arts collection, movie theatre and children play zones.
5. Dig This
New Zealand’s first heavy equipment playground can be found in Southland. If you’ve ever wanted to operate a digger, Dig This gives you an opportunity too. For those aged 14+ there are fun activities like digger gymnastics, bucket basketball, and tyre stacking, but never fear, for the little ones there is also 4 fixed mini diggers so they can live out their digger driving dreams too.
6. Te Anau glow caves
Only accessible by boat in order to visit the Te Anau glowworm caves you start with a boat trip across lake Te Anau, before entering the 12,000 year old caves inhabited by hundreds of glow worms.
7. Bowen falls
The stunning Lady Bowen Falls is Milford’s highest waterfall and is easily reached after a 15 minute was from the wharf making it a perfect walk for families.
8. Humboldt Falls
Fiordland National Park
Another easy waterfall walk in Fiordland National Park. After a short walk, you’ll end up at Humboldt Falls, where the waterfall falls 275 metres in three drops.
9. The Chasm Walk
Conveniently located between the Homer Tunnel and Milford Sound, The Chasm Walk is the perfect place to stretch your legs on the way to Milford Sound. An easy 20 minute walk leads to two foot bridges over the Cleddau River that provide dramatic views of a series of waterfalls.
10. Mirror Lakes walk
Fiordland National Park
Another spot to stretch the legs on the way to Milford, Mirror lakes walk is a 400m return walk that is wheelchair accessible and great for children. Wander through small reflective lakes, try not to get confused between the real and the reflection.
11. Demolition world
Demolition world is a hidden Invercargill gem will take you back through time into a world entirely constructed from demolished buildings and recycled items. Stroll down main street, visit the haunted theatre, historic school, church and sweet store.
12. Te Anau bird sanctuary
Set on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is home to some of New Zealand’s most special birds that are difficult to see in the wild, including Takahe, Kaka, Kereru, wood pigeons, Tui, as well as Mallard ducks and Canadian geese.
13. Bluff Maritime museum
The Bluff Maritime Museum is full of maritime displays, artefacts, miniature models and boats. Though the biggest attraction is the oystering boat Monica II, situated outside on a replica sea bed, visitors can board the vessel and explore all of its nooks and crannies.
14. Slope point
Slope Point is the southernmost point on the South Island of New Zealand. It does take a 20 minute walk through farmland to get there, but the views of the surrounding ocean and coastline are well worth it.
15. Fiordland vintage machinery museum
The Fiordland Vintage Machinery Museum has a wide range of exhibits including Te Anau’s first school building, over 60 working tractors, a selection of early road graders and motor bikes and a fully operational blacksmith shop.
16. Trout observatory
One of Te Anau’s longest standing visitor attractions, the Te Anau Trout Observatory is home to a variety of Rainbow and Brown trout, plus a couple of New Zealand native Koura. A must visit if you’re in town.
17. Rakiura museum
If you’re popping over to Stewart Island, then visiting Rakiura museum is a must do. The museum houses an extensive collection of items and photographs from Stewart Island’s early history, including Maori settlement, mutton-birding, whaling and fishing, timber milling, mining and more.
18. Tumu Toka Curioscape
Tumo Toka Curioscape is a word-class interpretive centre intended to educate and share the special stories of Curio Bay; Its wildlife, its people and its history. The Curioscape has touch screens to tailor your experience as well as an immersive theatre. If it’s your first visit to the Caitlins or you visit often, the Curioscape is a must-do.
19. Maple Glen Gardens
Open to the public, Maple Glen Gardens is 42 acres of private land that has been transformed into a garden, nursery, aviary, woodland and wetland. The garden features an array of beautiful flowers and several large ponds, so there will be plenty of beauty for the whole family to marvel at.
20. Otepuni gardens
Located a few minutes from the Invercargill city centre Otepuni gardens is the perfect escape in the city.
21. Clifden caves
Clifden Caves is a limestone cave system and home to stalactites and glow worms. A 1.5 – 2 hour walk through the system, you will need to be quite fit and agile to navigate the caves. There are markers to indicate the route, but make sure to take along a torch.
22. Templeton flax mill heritage museum
Part of the Riverton Heritage trail, the Templeton Flax Mill heritage museum was once a working flax mill. A wander museum will enlighten you to the wonderful ways flax can be used, before being treated to a working demonstration of the mill in action.
23. Piano flat & Waikaia Forest
The 10,500 hectare Waikaia Forest is a large island beech forest, nestled in extensive farm and pasture. There are a few popular walks through the forest, but the one best for families is the Ngahere Ara track, a 30 minute round trip, where you’ll wander through beautiful forest and spot some historic relics of goldmining activity that was once done in the area. If you can walk a little longer, the Piano Flat loop track is signposted off the Ngahere Ara track and it continues through the beech forest and includes reminders of early saw-milling days.
24. Statue of stag
On the road between Te Anau and Milford, a monument of a stag on the side of the motorway proclaims it the venison capital of the world. A fun stop on your Southland road trip.
25. Croydon aviation heritage centre
The Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre is dedicated to preserving and celebrating New Zealand’s civil aviation heritage, with stories of both the pioneer aviators and their equally colourful machines. Home to a wide range of fully restored aircraft including the largest collection of de Havilland aircraft in the southern hemisphere. This heritage centre is for those with their heads in the clouds.
26. Waipapa point lighthouse
The Waipapa Point Lighthouse is one of the last wooden lighthouses built in New Zealand, and is great place to visit if you’re in the area. Alongside the beautiful lighthouse on the point, the sweeping golden beaches are wonderful to explore and see if you can spot some snoozing sea lions.
27. Clifden suspension bridge
Opened in 1899, the Clifden suspension bridge is the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand as it crosses the Waiau river. The single lane, 111.5 metre long bridge was once used by horse and cart traffic and later vehicles is now only open to pedestrians.
28. Curiosity cottage
Curiosity Cottage is an eclectic garden wonderland. Spread over 2 levels, there is an array of plants, flowers, trees and shrubs with a few hidden surprises to find (like a door to Narnia, but shhh, it’s supposed to be a secret).
29. Waituna lagoon & Awarua Wetlands
One of the largest remaining wetland complexes in New Zealand, the Waituna lagoon and Awarua wetlands has four major wetland types: coastal lagoons, freshwater swamps, extensive peatlands and estuaries and is home to a variety of rare birds, plants and insects, wildfowl, native fish and trout also call the area home. So pack your binoculars and explore some of the easy walking tracks.
30. Hokonui pioneer village and museum
Established in 1977 the Hokonui Pioneer Village and Museum has plenty of historic buildings and memorabilia to explore including an old school, bank building and the McNab Smithy, which features a fully functional blacksmith’s forge.
31. Te Wharawhara marine reserve (Ulva Island)
A must-do if you visit Stewart Island, Ulva Island is a predator-free open island sanctuary, accessible by water taxi. The island has plenty of walking tracks perfect for the whole family and provides the opportunity to enjoy the birdlife and scenery of the island.
More South Island holiday ideas