Hit the slides at Hanmer Springs. © Hanmer Springs

Families need to discover these six Kiwi Gems in the South Island


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So, you think you know New Zealand? But have you discovered all of these family-friendly Kiwi Gems around the South Island?

1. Wairau Lagoons, Marlborough

Following the shoreline of the Wairau Lagoons, take a flat, family-friendly walk to spot seabirds and a shipwreck. 

Alongside Blenheim’s Wairau Lagoons walkway you’ll find the rusting remains of the SS Waverley – a shipwreck that is used for flood control and also target practice for the army. 

Choose from an easy short walk or a full three-hour circuit of the coastal wetlands at the mouth of the Wairau River. 

The Wairau Lagoons were formed over 6,500 years behind an eight-kilometre boulder bank, and the area is significant for its many Māori archaeological sites. 

Many of the moa skeletons found in museums around the world originated from the boulder bank here. 

2. Cable Bay Adventure Park, Nelson

Ride one of the world’s longest flying fox experiences at Nelson’s Cable Bay Adventure Park. 

Clipped into a unique four-seat carriage, the Skywire is a 300-metre-high, 1.6km return trip that sees you shoot across the treetops at up to 100 km/h. 

You’ll get to appreciate the views over Nelson’s Delaware and Cable bays better on the 800m stretch back to base, though, which is backwards and at a more leisurely pace. 

Also at Cable Bay Adventure Park you can take a self-drive quad bike tour through the 400 hectares of native forest, go for an all-terrain ride in the amphibious Argo, or challenge the family to a round of paintball.

3. Hanmer Springs, Canterbury

People have been taking to the waters at Hanmer Springs for well over a century.

With soaking pools, rock pools, mineral pools and sulphur pools, the range of thermal swimming options at Hanmer Springs is designed to cater to every mood and aquatic preference.  

Set in a beautiful alpine environment, it’s a pretty special experience to soak away the day in naturally heated water breathing in the fresh mountain air. 

Soothe yourself in one of the five new boulder-framed cascading pools that range from 37º to a toasty 42ºC.

Or, for the more energetic, Hanmer Springs also has a lazy river, a kid’s play pool and some of the best water slides in New Zealand. Grab a one- or two-person tube and take on the hydro slides that will propel you down steep slopes, up a near-vertical wall and spinning around the aptly-named Super Bowl. 

4. St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, Otago

Alongside New Zealand’s most consistent surf break, Dunedin’s St Clair Beach is also home to one of the country’s few heated saltwater pools.

Opening back in 1884, the legendary St Clair Salt Hot Water Pool was first heated in the 1960s and has remained an iconic spot on the Dunedin coast ever since. 

Swim laps and stay warm while the waves break on boulders next to the pool. 

St Clair Beach is also a stellar spot for a surf. With the wild Pacific Ocean meeting a stunning stretch of powdery white sand, surfers flock here all year round. There are surfing lessons and board hire available for beginners, too.

Plus, with a pretty seaside esplanade studded with cafés and bars, St Clair is equally appealing for landlubbers.

5. Treetop Walk, West Coast

Climb the Hokitika Tower – one of the tallest human-made structures on the South Island’s West Coast. 

From the 40m-high circular platform on the West Coast Treetop Walk, the views are breathtaking and even the giant podocarps, some up to 600 years old, seem small.

Drink in the panoramic sweep across acres of native beech forest, the jagged stretch of the Southern Alps, and, off to the west, Lake Māhinapua.

Out on the cantilevered Māhinapua Springboard, you’re at arms reach of the forest canopy, surrounded by ancient rimu, tōtara, kahikatea and miro.

The wide, steel paths of the Treetop Walk are also suitable for buggies and wheelchairs, meaning that everyone can enjoy being up above the rainforest canopy. 

6. Lost Gypsy, Southland

A caravan serving coffee, art and automata are all part of the curious collection at Southland’s Lost Gypsy. 

The brainchild of local artist and tinkerer Blair Somerville, The Lost Gypsy explores the craft of automata – weird and wonderful contraptions that have been lovingly crafted out of everyday objects. 

Hard to explain, automata is best described as things that used to be something else, made into something new that you can interact with. 

Think wind up mechanical toys, crafty mechanisms, gears, kinetics and electronics with moving parts. 

The works at The Lost Gypsy range in size and complexity – from small metal mechanical sea mammals, to large interactive exhibits dotted through the garden. 

Come for the quirk, stay for a coffee and the delightful humour.

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