The Southern Centre: multi-sensory experience

Learn, explore, create and stimulate your senses through the use of innovative lighting and sound technology.

The Southern Centre is a multi-sensory environment for people of all ages and abilities.

It is a unique facility with the ability to cater to the needs of the individual, empowering you to choose your own environment, make changes and control your leisure time. 

Interact with the smell machine, bubble column, shadow wall and more – all aimed at stimulating an individual's senses through smell, touch, light and sound.

Our current theme is 'Autumn'

A multi-sensory environment is a relaxing space, which helps reduce stress levels and develop social skills.

The Southern Centre is for everyone, however, individuals who would most benefit are adults and children who have:

  • Learning differences
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Anxiety or stress-related problems 

The benefits of a multi-sensory environment

  • Promotes intellectual activity including memory recall
  • Encourages relaxation
  • Interactive equipment develops an understanding of cause and effect
  • Helps to develop language – encourages participants to make choices or indicate their preference
  • Promotes social skills and helps lower stress levels
  • Last, of all, it's a fun environment

 Join us at our sensory swimming sessions on Saturday afternoons, from 2pm to 4pm, at Pioneer Learn to Swim pool. 

  • Leisure swim
  • Dedicated pool and change rooms
  • Quiet, calming and welcoming environment
  • Sensory equipment and toys are available
  • Build confidence
  • Encourage water play

Bookings are essential. (external link)Caregivers supporting a swimmer do not need to book a spot and swim for free.

Day Opening hours
Monday to Friday 9am to 4.15pm
Saturday 10am to 1.45pm
Sunday 11.30am to 3.15pm


Level 1 Pioneer Recreation and Sport Centre
75 Lyttelton Street

The Southern Centre allows people of all ages and abilities to attend alternative recreational activities to meet their needs. 

Vouchers are also available to purchase and are great for birthday or Christmas gifts.

Sensory sessions

Sessions run for 30 minutes for individuals or groups of up to 10 participants (does not include caregivers). We ask that a support person or parent please come and attend with the participants. 

Activity Standard fee Community Services cardholders Hāpai Access(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link) and KiwiAble Leisure cardholders
Individual session $12.00 $9.00 $6.00
Multi-visit pass - 10 sessions $108.00 $81.00 $54.00

Birthday parties

If you are looking for a unique experience, the Southern Centre is a great place to hold a birthday party. 

We provide a sensory session with a birthday theme and a personalised message. Birthday party sensory sessions last for 30 minutes and are available for groups of up to 12 participants (not including caregivers). (external link)

Activity Standard fee
Birthday party for up to 12 guests $130.00
Birthday party for up to 12 guests and party room/Lounge hire $165.00

A 25% discount is available on birthday party hire for Community Services, Super Gold, Hāpai Access(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link)(external link) and KiwiAble Leisure card holders.

Bookings are essential

If you would like to book a sensory session at the Southern Centre:

  • Phone us: 03 941 8999 or 03 941 7016
  • Email us:
  • Come see us in-person at Pioneer Recreation and Sport Centre, 75 Lyttelton Street, Somerfield, Christchurch

If you would like more information, facility tours are available on request. 

"J has been visiting the Southern Centre for almost a year; initially he was overwhelmed with everything and very tentative about exploring the room, not wanting to go too far from adults. J is now relaxed in this environment, his confidence level has soared, and he is exploring the whole environment independent of adult supervision.  The transformation has been incredible and awe-inspiring." - Gail

"One of the best half hours we have had. A safe and exciting place for exploring."  - Samantha.

"I have been coming here for 3 years with a Cerebral Palsy boy.  Always enjoys the experience.  Also great for my 2-year-old granddaughter.  Great staff."  - Raywyn.

"I enjoy taking my one-year-old to the Sensory Room. Having studied early childhood development I know the importance of sensory experiences for infants, toddlers and young children during their environment.  We will be back!" - Sally.

"I found the Southern Centre has been very beneficial to Service users in our care, who look forward to going.  Very relaxed after an experience with lots of things to do, changed up on a regular basis which keeps if interesting and fun.  Staff are very friendly and accommodating to the needs of our Service Users." - Cordelia.

Innovative lighting and sound technology.The Southern Centre is operated under a very successful partnership between the Christchurch City Council and the Southern Centre Charitable Trust.

The Christchurch City Council manages the daily operation of the Southern Centre, which includes staffing, general building requirements, processes and overhead costs.

The Trust is responsible for sourcing funding for the specialised equipment in the room, which includes new equipment projects and maintenance of equipment.

The original concept for multi-sensory rooms began in the Netherlands in the late 1970s and grew in popularity in both the UK and Europe.

The types and functions of sensory rooms have changed and morphed over the years and the Southern Centre is an extremely dynamic version of the early rooms.

This innovation and creativity have seen the Southern Centre recognised on the international stage, winning the World Leisure Award for Innovation and Excellence.

The first Southern Centre was located at QEII Recreation and Sport Centre until the February 2011 earthquake. It was then relocated to its current location at Pioneer Recreation and Sport Centre.

The Southern Centre Charitable Trust Annual Report 2020/2021 [PDF, 8.8 MB]


At-home sensory activities for children

Your whole whānau can enjoy these fun sensory activities with simple items you have around home.

Where am I?

Blindfold someone in your bubble and carefully walk them to a part of your house or garden.

Challenge them to use their smell, hearing and touch to guess where they are.

Guess the sound?

The aim of this game is for someone in your bubble to be blindfolded and guess what object or item you are using to make a sound.

If you’re not sure what objects you can use around home, you can play this YouTube video.(external link)

Feely boxes

Using empty tissue boxes or bowls, fill these with different objects found around the house, then cover them with a tea towel. You can challenge someone in your bubble to use their sense of touch to guess what’s underneath the tea towel.

Smelling boxes

Using empty tissue boxes or bowls, fill these with items that let off a particular smell such as a spice or a flower, and then cover them with a tea towel.

You can challenge someone in your bubble to use their sense of smell to guess what’s underneath the tea towel.

Jump Jam

Get active at home by getting the whole whānau involved in a dance session.

Jump Jam has some cool videos that you can dance along to(external link).

The Burrito

If your child is stressed, wrapping them tightly in a burrito blanket can help them feel calm.

Find a blanket that is large enough to wrap your child in. Ask your child to lie down on the blanket, wrap them up like you would a burrito – tucking the bottom up, and the sides across.

You can talk together about what type of burrito they are or explaining the steps of a making a burrito.

Rearranging the furniture

Changing the furniture around is great for promoting positive mental health and the whole whānau can get involved.

Younger children can draw a bird’s eye view of where they want to put their furniture, you can then discuss this with them.

To make this a little bit more challenging for the older kids, extend this idea by getting older children to use a tape measure to figure out whether or not everything will fit in its new position.

DIY sensory hut

If you’ve got a spare tent at home, set it up inside to create a relaxing getaway for your child. Pad the floor with soft blankets or pillows to create a plush look and feel, and add soft lighting such as Christmas lights.

Inside the tent, include a box of tactile items that promote calm for your child such as their favourite toy or book. You can also play some soothing music such as Enya or nature sounds.

Dining in the dark

A meal becomes a sensory adventure when kids eat blindfolded. Prepare the meal or snack in advance so that the kids aren’t aware of what is being served to them.

Try different foods and cut them into the same shape and size, this adds an extra challenge. This activity can be messy so make sure to not use glassware or anything that can easily break.

More information on this activity(external link).

Chalk walk

Get creative with chalk and make activity stations on your driveway. Include challenges such as spin around three times or games such as hopscotch.

It’s a whole heap of fun for everyone in your bubble.

Check out this fun example from Cromwell(external link)

Seasonal display

When you’re out getting some fresh air around your local area, collect as many leaves, twigs, acorns or other items that you like the look of.

Dry these out in a sunny spot at home. You can create a seasonal display for these items, such as in jars, glued to poster paper or a hanging mobile.

This is a fun way to teach your child about the changing of seasons, how this affects our climate and outdoor spaces.


This is a real-life outdoor treasure hunt using GPS devices that the whole whānau can get involved in.

The aim is to navigate you and your team members to a set of GPS coordinates where you can then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at the location.

Head online to find your closest geocaches:

Print at home mandalas

Colouring is seen as a way to relax and refocus yourself. Download and print these mandala colouring sheets(external link) to do at home. 

Smiley stress balls

Stress balls promote de-stressing and feeling good. Making stress balls out of rice and balloons at home is super easy. This is a great activity for children who respond to tactile activities.

Check out how to make a stress ball(external link)

Yarn pompoms

Using yarn or wool is another great way to create stress balls.

Check out how to make a pompom(external link).


Mimic the sound of rain by creating your very own rainstick - the best part is, it’s super easy. Rainsticks can be made from simple items such as a paper towel cardboard tube, foil and rice.

Follow these step by step instructions on how to create a rainstick.(external link)

Sensory bath

Make bath time a little more fun but putting coloured spaghetti(external link) into it and pretend its seaweed.

You can also add frozen baking soda balls(external link) which look like snowballs.


If you want to give us a suggestion, compliment or complaint, you can provide feedback(external link).