Auckland: Ferociously fearsome fun

By Dionne Christian

Prehistory's meatiest monsters are hanging out with nature's most ethereal critters - butterflies, writes Dionne Christian.

Animatronic dinosaurs at the Dinosaur Kingdom, opened at Butterfly Creek. Photo / Katie Cameron
Animatronic dinosaurs at the Dinosaur Kingdom, opened at Butterfly Creek. Photo / Katie Cameron

You get a real sense of what it may have been like to share our world with them. For a species that last walked the Earth around 65 million years ago, dinosaurs have endured in popular imagination well beyond any other extinct creature. If you happen to have a young child, or still feel like one, chances are you know more about these giant reptiles than you ever dreamed you would.

Right now, dinosaurs are hotter than a meteor storm over Mexico. The kids are watching them in films and on TV, and reading about them. But best of all, we can now see lifelike replica dinosaurs at a park near us. My family spent a chunk of summer checking New Zealand's first dinosaur park at Butterfly Creek, deciding that this was the king of them all.

In the middle of the wildlife park and petting zoo near Auckland Airport are 30 static and animatronic dinosaurs built to scale and representative of different eras.

With dinosaur-obsessed Miss Four, Miss Nine (who dreams of proving that the Loch Ness monster definitely exists) and my husband (who once toyed with becoming a palaeontologist), I had a great time wandering around and marvelling at the dinosaurs' sheer size and sometimes odd-looking features.

Thoughtfully landscaped so the flora is similar to what was around when the dinosaurs existed, Dinosaur Kingdom is a fabulous visual and tactical walk back in time to when dinosaurs roamed and roared across the Earth.

You get a real sense of what it may have been like to share our world with them. There are hands-on exhibits the children can touch but, if the reaction of Miss Four is anything to go by, they're content to take a step back from a T-Rex or spinosaurus and express their thanks these beasts are long gone.

The diplodocus is 24m long - as it would have been back in the day - so we can all get a realistic sense of just how big these creatures were. There's a spinosaurus and a tyrannosaurus rex, so debates over which was more ferocious can be settled. We got to learn about lesser-known beasts like the fish-eating baronyx, dilophosaurus and ornitholestes, alongside favourites like the small-brained stegosaurus and the triceratops.

An indoor, purpose-built display and education centre showcases a mix of real and replica fossils, bones, eggs and skeletal replicas. There are also plans for a dinosaur birthday party room; Miss Four has already put in a request.

Once you're done walking with the dinosaurs, Butterfly Creek's other attractions beckon - the butterflies for gentle meditation, or modern day scary beasts the crocodiles if you're still ready for adrenalin.

This weekend, for Mother's Day, there's even a special cafe menu and Mum gets a gift - a good excuse to take the troops out there once again.

Dinosaur Kingdom, Butterfly Creek, 12 Tom Pearce Drive, Auckland International Airport.

More scary beasts

Birds and beasts (and splashy things)

Rotorua's Rainbow Springs' Big Splash is a nine-minute boat ride through New Zealand's ecological past. The state-of-the-art animatronics and projection technology bring to life - well, almost - dinosaurs, moa and a haast eagle. The dinosaurs are quite something, as is the adrenalin rush at the end of theride.

Rainbow Springs, 192 Fairy Springs Rd, Rotorua. Big Splash 9am-5pm.

The animatronics of Lost in Time Mini Golf takes players through a room of prehistoric dinosaurs, including an ankylosaurus, triceratops, stegosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex. The T-Rex will roar and eye you up and down, so sticking to a winning game plan and not being intimidated is a real challenge. See, too, the World War I battlefield, mock goldmine and bush setting.

Lost in Time Mini Golf, Metro Centre, 291-297 Queen St.

- NZ Herald

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