Rotorua: Perfect family holiday

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright takes her family to Rotorua and becomes a tourist in her hometown.

The Big Splash at Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park in Rotorua. Photo / Supplied
The Big Splash at Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park in Rotorua. Photo / Supplied

I always felt a bit embarrassed admitting I was born in Rotorua and eagerly crossed it off my list of holiday destinations as "been there, done that."

Driving through on my way somewhere else, I'd always looked for what was still the same, rather than for how much it had changed.

But where else in the world can you lose a golf ball into boiling mud, escape into a forest and find some of the world's best mountain biking trails, or boat to a natural hot pool tucked away in the bush? After a recent family holiday showing my children where I was born, I'm finally a little bit prouder.

On your bike

At Whakarewarewa Forest on the edge of the city there is extraordinary mountain biking - more than 130km of tracks to choose from to suit every level of ability, and weather condition.

Our guide, Jordy Dorflinger of Multi-Day Adventures, takes us first on a kid's trail where we somehow manage to lose my husband and son on the loop track.

The clear tracks are full of polite families on bikes all vying to be the one to get out of the way first. It's exciting as well as restorative.

We then head over to the Puarenga track for a bush walk next to a stream. Our kids walk down every log across the stream, there are many, and we pass a beautiful path shrouded by Californian redwoods and marked by a street sign reading: "Nice Road".

Other tracks are named Chop Suey, Bunny Jugs, Turkish Delight, Ball and Chain and even No Brains, because as Jordy says: "You have to have no brains to do it."

* To get into the spirit of the mountain bike trails, watch new film Trailnotes or book a trip with Multi-Day Adventures from $130 per person, telephone (07) 348 4290.

Great lakes

"Fish are never in the same place every day," explains our host John Hamill of Cruise and Fish.

He's taken us out on his catamaran named Elusive, no doubt referring to the trophy rainbow trout found on Lake Tarawera - it's said that one fish is caught every four hours here, compared to three fish per hour on nearby Lake Rotorua.

Hamill, who has trout fish embroidered on his belt, has fished the lake since he came with his father as a young boy, so he knows his fishing spots. Our 6-year-old son helps drive the boat but it's his dad who catches the fish of the day, which we later smoke in the hot sand at Te Rata Bay, commonly called Hot Water Beach.

After the fishing, we stop at an inlet and walk 50m through the bush to a natural hot spring for a quick soak before we head back to the boat sheds on Lake Tarawera's edge.

* For adventures ranging from a half-day fish at a local stream to a multi-day helicopter adventure in the Rotorua wilderness, contact John Hamill on 021 951 959 or visit cruiseandfish.co.nz.

Family fun

"I remember this part," I tell my family as we walk around the trout farm, aviaries and exotic lizard enclosures at Rainbow Springs, though I'm not sure now what is new and what remains from when it was a regular destination throughout my childhood.

One thing I'm certain I haven't seen before is its newest attraction, The Big Splash, recently opened by Prime Minister John Key. The queue is worth the wait as it takes us on a time-travelling adventure through New Zealand's past, past lifelike models of a dinosaur, moa and a Haast eagle, before dropping us down a steep thrill ride at the end.

* Rainbow Springs, 0800 724 626 is on Fairy Springs Road and is open daily from 8am-late. Bring a change of clothes if you go on the Big Splash - I got soaked.

No holiday to Rotorua is complete without a Skyline gondola ride and luge. Our 3-year-old tries on her pink helmet and immediately tries to run head-first into a pole to see if it works. I catch her just in time and position her in front of me on the luge cart. We zoom down the scenic route through pine trees and autumn leaves, arriving at the bottom to songs by Katy Perry and a chairlift back to the top.

* Skyline NZ, (07) 347 0027 is on Fairy Springs Road, open 7 days from 9am. If you don't want to try the luge, there are also five walking tracks and various lookout points to experience the views.

On the way home we stop in at Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust for a look at its aviaries, museum and bird show. Seats fill up on the grass half an hour before the show and we watch a couple of falconers put the birds through their paces while discussing the conservation programme. They teach the birds to hunt using lures and falconry techniques that are 4000 years old.

* Wingspan is on Paradise Valley Road and visits are recommended at 1.30pm for 2pm flight displays. Adults $25, seniors $20 and children $8.

Where to stay

We stayed at WorldMark Marama Resort on the opposite side of Lake Rotorua to the main centre. The private apartments mean families with small children can relax, without the worry of waking the neighbours. There is a private garden for the kids to run around, plus kayaking, tennis, swimming or feeding Canadian geese, creating the feel of a home away from home.

* WorldMark Marama Resort is at 1420 Hamurana Rd, Rotorua RD4, ph (07) 362 4120. Prices start at $165 per night for a 2-bedroom townhouse (minimum two nights).

Where to Eat

* Marama Resort has a cafe on site, overlooking Canadian geese competing with fishermen on the Ohau Channel. Inside the cafe the walls are lined with trout trophies, the cafe doubles as the meeting room of the local fishing club. It's an easy eating option with spectacular views.

* Five minutes' drive away is the Okere Falls Store, a local treasure. Out the back is a large playground for the kids, and the cafe serves gourmet, organic food with plenty of kid-friendly options, such as mini-hotcakes with blueberries. Retro styling, a beer garden and winter bonfire nights make it popular any time of the year: 759 State Highway 33, RD4 Okere Falls, open 7 days, 7am-7pm.

* The Cableway Restaurant at the top of the Skyline gondola has a buffet and grill with seafood, roast meats, salads and vegetable dishes, as well as curries and pasta. You can eat while watching the sun go down over Lake Rotorua, Mount Tarawera and the city. The buffet costs $45 per adult and $1.50 per year of your child's age. There's also Dine in the Sky, a New Zealand first, which is a four-course dining experience in your own private gondola cabin.

- Herald on Sunday

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