Rotorua rolls up history and culture into a perfect package
Education in schools is changing for the better and it's exciting to think that by next year, all our children will be learning New Zealand history from multiple perspectives.
This means they'll be coming home with more knowledge about the arrival of Māori in Aotearoa, the Treaty, the conflicts and the continually evolving national identity of our country.
Though books and videos are helpful, there are also many extra opportunities to teach our tamariki about our country, history and indigenous culture outside the school gates, in a hands-on way - and Rotorua is a great place to start.
Here are three experiences that are perfect for introducing young minds to the fascinating history and culture of this important corner of Aotearoa.
Learn about one of the biggest natural disaster events in our history, right where it happened
It's hard to believe New Zealand had one of the most impressive natural wonders of the world right on its doorstep and that its magnificence was snuffed out overnight in the violent Tarawera eruption.
The Buried Village and Waimangu Volcanic Valley depict the events of that fateful night in 1886 in an engaging way and the displays include artefacts recovered from the event.
Inside, kids can hear audio diaries of those alive at the time, see pictures of the splendour of the Pink and White Terraces before they were destroyed, then take a walk around the archaeological site outside. There's a great trail that starts with a clue from reception and leads on to many others scattered around the site; you can finish it up with scones and tea at the end.
Kaitiaki Adventures also offers the Mt Tarawera Crater Walk, which includes an optional crater run, allowing kids (7 years and older) to get up close and personal with the actual site of the eruption itself.
A geology lesson of the best kind
We all know the earth is made up of multiple layers of cores, mantles and plates but nowhere is this more apparent than where you see the heat from these layers below, bursting through the earth's thin surface in a geothermal region like Rotorua. You may have seen geysers and bubbling mud during the day but entering Te Puia after dark is something else.
In fact in certain parts, when the clear dark night sky removes any distracting features, the striking white silica terrain with its spectacle of upward shooting steam and geothermal drama (Pohutu is the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere) is almost otherworldly.
Armed with torches, your group will be escorted through the park's three kilometres of night trails ending at Pōhutu Geyser. Many of the local guides are following in their parents' and grandparents' footsteps and will share fascinating stories of the valley and their whānau and the iwi who made this area their home 170 years ago.
The icing on the cake (or is that dessert?) is a pudding that's been cooked in one of the geothermal pools. Learning about the earth's structure and Maori history doesn't get much better than this.
Māori mythology and history, native fauna and biology in an awe-inspiring setting
If you'd like to teach your kids about native birds and plants while helping them understand the significance of our ancient forest to Māori, this is the place. Lonely Planet declared the Whirinaki forest "the best example of lowland podocarp forest left on earth" and Kohutapu Lodge now takes guided tours through it.
Your family will learn the history and cultural significance of the forest and how Māori used plants for medicine and food; be introduced to the beautiful birds that grace the canopy and finish up with a picnic infused with traditional local delights, right beside a waterfall.
Add to that more stories told by local guides over a cup of kawakawa tea boiled in a billy and it's not surprising many families feel they never want to leave the spiritual serenity of this ancient forest. Kids having fun and learning, parents feeling relaxed and everyone being thoroughly tired out - it's the perfect parental hat-trick.
These are just a few of the incredible ways to educate your kids in Rotorua. There are also concerts, dancing, hangi, observing traditional carvers, watching flax weaving, exploring the unique geology left behind after the caldera eruption over 240,000 years ago - and then Tarawera in the 1800s - and understanding Māori legends (make sure you read up about Hinemoa and Tutanekai so you can point out Mokoia Island and explain its significance).
Check out Rotorua Museum and if you fancy, inquire about their walking tours to learn about some of the lesser-known stories and the geothermal nature of the area.
Learning for Kiwis has never been so much fun or so real - and it won't just be the kids who pick up an interesting fact or five along the way.