Family fun in Rotorua
Looking for a holiday destination that can keep the
whole family active and entertained? Julia Wong suggests Rotorua
may be the ticket.
Being the home bodies we are, hubby Matt and I
rarely venture out of Auckland with our two young children Anika
(three and a half) and Siobhan (11 months). So a trip to Rotorua
was a real treat. We headed out of Auckland on Friday evening with
a car jam-packed with warm winter woollies. Matt checked out
metservice.com before we left and said we were in for some cold,
but sunny days - perfect for all of the activities we had
We stayed at
Tuscany Villas in the heart of Rotorua. We were arriving late, and
the owners Neil and Dianne Wilson, had kindly left the key out for
us and put the heater on, so the room was cosy and inviting after a
long road trip. The set-up was perfect for our family and we
thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Our one-bedroom spa suite, with its
private spa pool, cost $199 a night.
Mountain-biking in the Redwoods
Cost: No charge
Matt's a mad keen
mountain biker and this was his favourite part of the weekend.
Located in the Whakarewarewa Forest 5km south-east of Rotorua, the
beginner trails are a short walk from the car park. Maps are
available for $5 and are essential if you want to venture further
into the park. There are numerous trails of varying difficulty,
which are all clearly marked and graded on the map.
We took one of our mountain
bikes and our Wee Ride (a child's seat that attaches to a bike)
down with us, along with helmets for Matt and the girls. You can
hire bikes and helmets from an outlet in the car park but, if you
have your own, it's a good idea to take them with you.
Matt took each of the girls
on the Kids' Loop, which is an easy, short trail. It's an ideal
track for young children learning to ride a mountain bike. He then
decided to be a bit more daring with Anika and took her on The Tahi
and The Dipper, both grade two trails that are each around 2.5km
long. Anika was keen for perhaps the first 4km, but after that the
novelty wore off and the mantra for the trip back to the car park
was: "It's too long, Daddy." Given his
time again, Matt would have done one of the trails solo, and left
the tempestuous three-year-old with Mum.
Because there are so many trees around
the trails it can get pretty chilly. You'll soon warm up if you're
riding, but if you have kids in bike seats, as we did, then make
sure you layer them up.
Cost: Gondola: Family pass: $62
Skyline Luge: two rides for two adults (kids free):
is one of Rotorua's best-known family fun and adventure activities.
It's on the side of Mt Ngongotaha and you get up there on an
We headed up the mountain and
kicked off our visit with a delicious buffet lunch in the Cableway
Restaurant and Bar. Then it was time for
the main attraction - the luge.
Because both our girls are under five they were
able to ride the luge for free, carried in tandem. I took Anika and
Matt had Siobhan. Depending on the time of day you head up, there
can be quite a wait to get to the luge, so be prepared to sing some
songs or use other means of distraction to keep those toddlers
We had one
ride down the Scenic Track, which is 2km long, and has rest areas
where you can pull over and enjoy the stunning views over Rotorua.
The Intermediate Track offers a few more twists and turns but is
still suitable for all ages. The advanced track, short and sweet,
is only 1km long and a thrilling ride that's only suitable for
children over 10.
afterwards Siobhan several times tried to launch herself out of the
luge, so he had to keep a tight grip on her for the ride
back up in the chair lift was lovely, a nice time to chat about the
day and check out the panoramic views. Given our time
again, we would have brought our own helmets up with us (they were
all in the car from the mountain biking) but at the time it didn't
cross our minds. As it was, Matt had a good laugh at my expense,
because none of the adult helmets would fit my dainty head and I
had to wear a fetching child's helmet.
There are other activities
you canenjoy up on the mountain, including walking tracks, the
SkyVue Extreme 4D Spaceship and the Sky Swing.
Cost: Family Spa family pass: $36
Right in the heart of Rotorua, the Polynesian Spa includes
hot mineral bathing and a variety of spa therapies.
None of our girls can swim
yet, so we opted to stick to the family spa area where we could
look after one child each. If your children are a little more
independent, it is an ideal opportunity for one adult to have some
"me time" and indulge in one of the spa therapies while your
partner keeps an eye on the children.
We started our visit by
heading off to the changing rooms to get into our togs. I took the
girls with me and Matt went off to the men's changing rooms on his
own. Big mistake! I was in the changing rooms by myself trying to
wrestle togs onto a wriggly 11-month-old (picture trying to dress
an octopus with six extra limbs) while Anika hopped around
demanding to be let out into the swimming area and generally making
a nuisance of herself.
When we were finally ready
to go Anika, bless her, decided she had to go to the bathroom! So
off the togs came again. Note to self: Next time, make sure to have
a 1:1 ratio between adult and child at all times, including both
the swimming pool and changing room areas.
Finally we were ready to
take the plunge. Bliss. This was the perfect end to a busy, active
day. The girls enjoyed the swim, and Anika was in her element on
the water slide, with either her dad or me at the bottom to catch
The spas are open until 8pm
daily. We saw plenty of parents with their children, pyjamas in
hand, obviously intending to have a dip and then head straight home
to bed. What a marvellous idea! The combination of the
warm water and the minerals makes for a truly relaxing soak.
Cost: No charge
Kuirau Park is a 30ha park (including playing
fields) close to the city centre, and is well worth a visit if you
have little ones in tow. You can see the active geothermal hot
springs and mud pools that Rotorua's famed for, plus there's a
large garden, ornamental lake and a neat children's play
Both our girls
enjoyed a runaround in the park and a short walk along the
boardwalk to take a look at the hot springs and mud pools. All
areas are well fenced for safety.
Cost: Sheep Show family pass: $77
Organic Farm Tour family pass: $82
As we headed out of Rotorua, we made one final stop at the
Agrodome, a 160ha farm 9.5km out on State Highway 5. There are
heaps of activities for the family, from the world famous Sheep
Show to the Organic Farm Tour.
Matt and I enjoyed the hour-long Sheep
Show but to be honest, it was a bit of a stretch to keep the girls
entertained for the entire duration. I'm sure slightly older
children wouldn't have any trouble staying focused. The show
includes a sheep-shearing demonstration, a chance to hand-milk a
cow and a dog trial. Anika's enthusiasm perked up at the end when
she was allowed to get up on stage and pat some sheep. We then
popped into the nursery to look at the lambs, kids and
We had a bit of time to kill before the
Farm Tour, so we popped into the Station House Café for a bite. It
was a sunny day, so we sat out on the deck and enjoyed some peace
and quiet. Matt would have happily stayed there for the rest of the
afternoon reading the newspaper if he had been able to. A word of
advice though - be prepared to hold baby on your lap while you eat,
as the café doesn't have any high chairs. The Farm Tour was a
highlight for all of us. Again, this is an hour long, but both our
girls were enthralled for much longer than at the Sheep Show. The
tractor driver gives a great historical commentary and there's time
to feed the animals and get up close and personal to some truly
It was a great way to end a fabulous
weekend, soaking up some fresh country air, and spending quality
time together as a family. It reminded me that we must make the
effort to get out of the city more often.
Child-friendly cafés and shopping
Capers Epicurean, 1181 Eruera
Open: 7.30am-9.00pm, seven days a week
We went to Capers
on our first day for breakfast. Luckily, they open early as we were
outside the doors at 8am ready to tuck into some breakfast treats.
The food was delicious and the coffee hit the spot. A children's
breakfast includes scrambled eggs, mini sausages, toast, fruit and
hash browns. Anika insisted on dunking her scrambled eggs into the
tomato sauce meant for the sausages, much to my
plenty of room for strollers if necessary, however we did not bring
ours in because we were able to park right outside. High chairs are
There is also a separate
children's area suitable for children aged two to eight. The room
includes a PlayStation, TV, and building blocks, along with some
Fat Dog Café and Bar, 1161 Arawa Street,
Open: 7am until late, seven days a week
bright and early saw us at the Fat Dog Café, one of Rotorua's most
well-known eating establishments. The meals are enormous - somehow
we failed to see the kids' menu (although there is one available)
and ordered Anika toast. She was given what looked like a whole
loaf of toast, along with butter, two jars of jam and some sachets
of Vegemite. Suffice to say, Matt had to finish it off for
her. Again, the coffee was just what was needed.
High chairs are available but
it would be difficult to move a stroller in between the tables.
Again, this wasn't a concern for us as we were parked right
Fat Dog is immensely popular.
We arrived bang-on 8am and got our order in just before the
breakfast rush saw a queue out the door of people waiting to
There is also a fish tank and
a good selection of children's toys, but no designated play
Monkey Kids, 1145
Pukuatua Street, Rotorua.
Open: 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday,
Our action-packed weekend left very little time for retail
therapy, however, we did manage to drop into this lovely little
store. It had a wide variety of high quality toys for very
reasonable prices. Anika especially loved the dress-up clothes area
and the dolls houses. Well worth a visit.
Julia Wong is a staff member of OHbaby! and lives in
Auckland. She is the proud mother of two pre-schoolers, Anika and
As seen in OHbaby!
magazine Issue 14: 2011
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