Water and wind-powered family fun!

“If you’re not sick of rain by October, you mustn’t live in Auckland.”  This quote came to mind as we drove down the Southern Motorway, window wipers flapping.

“Let’s hope we’re not going to be in that Crowded House song,” said my husband, who loves a good dad joke.

“Does Tauranga have much to do indoors?”

Fortunately, we didn’t take the weather with us, as the song goes, and for us, the delights of Tauranga’s indoor entertainment remain undiscovered. The rain clouds cleared as we hit the Hauraki Plains, and it was (mostly) blue skies from then on.

Our room at the Comfort Inn Academy hotel on Cameron Rd was very comfortable and our two girls, aged four and seven, immediately clamoured to get in the lovely large spa bath for some water play. Comfort Inn Academy host Gladys showed me around: the hotel has a swimming pool and BBQ facilities, and a range of studios, one-and-two bedroom units and king and queen-sized rooms for guests. It's also nice and close to the centre of Tauranga.

Comfot Inn1 Comfort Inn2
Comfort Inn Academy, Tauranga.

We nabbed a map from the front desk and headed to the Mt Maunganui Hot Salt Water Pools for a sunset soak.  Gladys showed us how to avoid the congested route by taking State Highway 2 and Totara St instead, which proved to be an excellent option given the Friday afternoon traffic.

The Mount Hot Pools are nestled at the base of Mauao, or Mt Maunganui, and the 232 metre high ‘hill’ makes for an imposing view. The sharp wind made the hot salt water even more satisfying. Our two girls, aged seven and four, braved the wind for the little kids’ slide, and I had a free 30 minute massage at Mount Hot Pools Massage, where Roberta kneaded out a few knots. What a great idea to include a therapeutic massage facility with hot pools!

Hunger finally drove us from the pools. Our criteria for somewhere to eat was steep: a family friendly eatery, close by, with seats out of the wind, which we hadn’t booked, and it was Friday evening. However, Dixie Browns on Marine Parade ticked every box, and while our seats were outside, it was sheltered enough that we could sit in comfort although the supplied blankets were welcome (especially for our youngest, whose lips were starting to turn blue). Hunger sated with gourmet burgers, and fish and chips and icecream, we returned to our hotel.

Waimarino Adventure Park in Bethlehem, just 10 minutes from Tauranga, was our first stop on Saturday. The park focuses on kayaking, and offers a range of kayak-based activities such as glow worm tours and the impressive kayak slide. Our girls weren’t up for a tandem kayak with mum and dad, so we took a pedallo out on the Wairoa River instead. It was such easy going that we spent a good 45 minutes cruising up and down the river, and wished the water was warm enough to use the pedallo’s slide. Unfortunately the rain we’d had meant the Waimarino’s low ropes confidence course was too soggy underfoot to use, but the rock climbing wall, trampoline and slippy slide were all on. Several brave young souls were leaping off the high diving boards into the river, but the water wasn’t warm enough for us!


Pedalloe-ing on the Wairoa River at Waimarino Adventure Park, Bethlehem, Tauranga.

Image: Christine Nikiel

As lunchtime approached we debated using the park’s barbecue facilities since we had a couple of hours to kill before our 3pm date with the famous Blokarts in Papamoa. We decided against a BBQ  (it would have meant buying more supplies), and instead drove along Marine Parade past the dunes, to Papamoa. And here’s a tip: if you’re hungry and in in need of excellent food and coffee while you're in Papamoa, check out the tiny Eastern Café on Parton Rd. And whatever you do, leave room for their chocolate caramel slice. I think it was gluten free, but whatever the ingredients, it was deliciously decadent and we couldn’t resist buying extra to take away!
We passed a happy hour playing on the Papamoa Primary School playgrounds, having been let in by the school caretaker who was babysitting his grandchildren for the afternoon, before piling into the car again to find Blokarts Papamoa on Parton Rd.

Blokarts (see main article image) were developed by Kiwi inventor Paul Beckett in 1999, and it’s essentially landsailing. The trick to speed control is to let go the rope to slow down - which goes against your natural instinct – and pull it to speed up. The gusty winds prompted some extreme rope pulling and releasing, and we spent an exhilarating half-hour whizzing around the tracks on our tandem blokarts, the girls screaming and giggling with joy.

Hot Pools
The Mount Hot Pools in Mt Maunganui.

We really wanted another hot swim, so  it was back to the Mount Hot Pools for another sunset soak, then to Tauranga in search of dinner. I had hoped to relivesome childhood memories by dining at New Zealand institution Cobb & Co… but it was booked out! The fact that it was located on the main street should have given us a clue about its popularity, but I was crushed, having talked it up to the girls. We settled on pizza instead.  

We kicked off Sunday morning with room service at the hotel - a delicious full English breakfast for the adults and cereal, yoghurt and fruit for the girls, who loved the novelty of being served breakfast on a tray. Our waterbabies then enjoyed a blissful, bubbling spa bath in the large bathroom tub. After checking out at 10, we headed off for a walk around Mauau. The tracks were busy with Sunday morning joggers and sneaker-clad tourists from the cruise ship that had called in to port the previous night. The gusting wind swiped our sunhats several times and we turned back when the clouds went dark.

We made it down the hill in time to shelter from the shower in a café, then as the sun broke out again, we returned to Tauranga to check out the Hairy Maclary sculpture park on the waterfront. Our girls were delighted at seeing Schnitzel von Krumm, Hercules Morse and the gang, (plus Slinki Malinki up high on a post), and noted with glee that the animals’ noses and heads all shone from countless patting hands. While taking in the view up in Robbins Park, we stumbled upon the tiny, 60-year old Tropical Display House, located between the Rose Gardens and the historic Monmouth Redoubt, and marvelled at its collection of orchids and hothouse plants growing lushly. And that was it. We headed home, well satisfied with a most enjoyable family weekend away.

Thanks to Choice Hotels Asia-Pac and the Bay of Plenty Tourism Body for their assistance with the accommodation and activities.



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