There’s no place like Rotorua for a good dose of thrills, so put your adventure gear on, pack the kids in the car and make the journey. Every Kiwi kids needs to see our geothermal wonderland.
You could easily fill up two weeks in Rotorua, it has to be one of New Zealand’s most popular ‘go to’ holiday destinations for all ages and stages. We tend to take the kids for 4-day weekends, and plan to see something different each time. What I love about Rotorua is that the kids have to step a little out of their comfort zone – nothing dangerous of course, just see, smell and do something out of the norm. Call it … adventurers in training.
All kids want to hurtle down a hill in a globe filled with water, going 30kph, criss-crossing the mountain, and laughing till their cheeks hurt with other kids. We talked about this adventure with great anticipation all the way down in the car, and then reminisced all the way home!
This is one for the adrenalin junkies. All five adventures are unique, so it’s very exciting for the kids to have a go. The Freefall extreme is a definite for great photos (particularly if you have chubby cheeks) as you enter the wind tunnel in your superhero suit and fly like superman. Also check out the Agrojet jet boating experience, the Shweeb powered monorail, the Rotorua bungy or the NZ Swoop – a human swing that is head down from 40m up and goes 130kmh (not a bad intro to bungy jumping for thrill-seeking kids).
There’s plenty to do here and a great cafe, so put aside a full afternoon, or even longer. Head up on the Gondola, then spend hours on the luge. Great for all ages, as there are slower and faster options, and parents can have little ones on their luge. Lolly lovers will definitely enjoy the Jelly Bean Store with all its colour and jelly bean sculptures, and can test their taste buds by playing the Bean Boozled Game. Hopefully they don’t cop the ‘dog food’ or ‘cheese’ flavoured jelly beans!
I love how they describe this place as raw, angry and a little ugly – that’s certainly how we all looked covered in mud (albeit smiling). We booked in for an after-dinner swim, and giggled with the kids while we covered ourselves in mud, known for its healing and moisturising effect on the skin. With a couple of eczema suffers in the family, it was certainly lovely and restorative. Wash off, then soak for a while in the sulphur pools. Tip: take an old pair of togs.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
It’s nice to get the family out walking, and the amazing colour in Waimangu Valley will blow you away. Our kids are into taking photos at the moment, and this place offered a rainbow of colour and geothermal wonder which made for easy and creative photography. Make sure you take the boat ride across Lake Rotomahana and prep the kids with a little history about the Lake Tarawera eruption and the terraces. Yes, this is the home of the world-famous pink terraces.
Happy Ewe Cycles
This was our favourite ‘learn about Rotorua’ day. Our guide kept us moving on the bikes, which the kids loved, while showing us a great selection of Rotorua sights, including local mud pools, parks, the Marae, historic places, and even a science experiment on the lake front – testing pools to see if they were acid or alkaline.
Adventure playground (horse trek and 4WD)
I think more kiwis should experience farm adventure like this when travelling around New Zealand. What a great land we live in! The horse trek took us to the top of the farm so we could look over to White Island. The horses were all very quiet and unfazed (quite used to screaming tourists evidently!) so the kids really enjoyed the experience of trotting over the farm.
We took a tour in the new Yamaha 6-seater buggy (arrived that day), which was incredible fun, and took us everywhere from mud trails to hillsides and through bush to the shooting range – probably the most exciting thrill of the whole trip for our boys.
This is a very cool hedge maze – the genuine thing and cleverly made. If your kids have seen Harry Potter or The Maze Runner, you’ll get instant excitement about aMAZEme. We found the garden here a charming place to relax for the afternoon. There is a small animal petting area and aviary, a lovely garden including berries, vegetables, flowers and butterflies, old-fashioned games and a playground.
For all ages
Every child loves Rainbow Springs, from littlies to teenagers. This iconic Kiwi Park was made for wandering, and best of all, you can come and go all day on your ticket. This is really helpful when you have kids of varying ages, as the older kids have a different agenda for the afternoon. For a thrill, ride on the Big Splash, and spend the rest of the day checking out the Kiwis, birds, lizards and Tuatara.
A little alchemy for the kids
Do your kids love science? Silver in Rotorua tends to go black, so best to remove it before your visit. However, it can be fun for the kids to get it back to its bright and shiny state: you simply boil up tinfoil, water, vinegar and baking soda, then add the silver for a few minutes. Works like magic.
Where to stay In rotorua with kids
Rotorua Family Holiday Park is the perfect place for families. There’s plenty of space for kids to play, you’re next to the lake, it’s cost-effective and they have really warm and comfy family units with a kitchen. It is so much easier when you don’t feel confined to a small room, particularly when you have more than one child … or even more than that! The Park has hot tubs, bikes for hire, a movie library and a playground, so there’s never a dull moment.
For a family-friendly hotel option, check out the Family Attraction Packages at the Sudima Hotel. These are great value and include food for kids as well. Or, check out the family packages (including Rainbow Springs passes) at The Holiday Inn.
Love to eat!
Eat Streat – a restaurant line-up under a retractable roof with geothermal heating underfoot (Tutanekai Street).
Fat Dog Café – big delicious pub meals and very kid-friendly (Arawa Street).
Sabroso – we are addicted to Spanish and Mexican at the moment, and this is a local favourite. They have a special offer for meals between 5–6pm (Haupapa Street).
Ciabatta Bakery – cronuts, ciabatta rolls, great coffee and so much more. Stock up here for lunches as often as you can (Fenton Park).
Break up the journey
45 minutes out of Rotorua, Hobbiton is a must-do, and is even better than you would expect. The hobbit houses are gorgeous; it really feels as though you’re in the movie. You get a drink at The Green Dragon Inn (exactly like in the movie), and get up close to see all the Hobbit gardens, the Shire, the Mill and the Double Arched Bridge. Eat there, or take your own picnic, and make sure the kids pack their cameras.
By Aana Marinovich
More family travel from Tots to Teens: