Animals were the surprise stars of a family trip to Rotorua, writes Raewyn Court.

Seeing our teenagers running screaming with terrified delight from hissing geese, and lovingly feeding sheep, goats and deer, were unexpected highlights of our trip to Rotorua.

We'd booked a three-day family break in the thermal region - with grandparents included - as we were desperate to get the kids away from their lives online.

We had assumed it would be the adventure tourism that got them excited - the Luge and the Zorb - and, sure enough, those pursuits did get the adrenalin pumping. They also liked the hot pools and boiling mud. But it was the up-close and personal encounters with a wide variety of wildlife and farm animals that our city kids found most enjoyable.

We visited Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park and enjoyed the walk through the bush on boardwalks over streams, past trout pools and through caves.


To the teens, however, the big deal was being able to touch and feed the animals along the way: alpacas, kea, donkeys, horses, possums, sheep, pigs, wallabies, goats, ducks, geese and trout.

My daughter fell in love with the little fallow deer and we were all enchanted by the antics of the crazy angora and Boer goats.

At lion-feeding time, the kids came face-to-face with a lioness (she was a finger's length away through the electric fence) and watched with rapt attention as lions were fed and cubs played with. Finally, with the animal food all used up and the grandparents needing a cup of tea in the cafe, the kids cruised the souvenir shop and my sister and I caved in and bought the girls lion T-shirts.

With the Luge and Zorb done and the weather looking shabby, we headed to the Agrodome Sheep Show. I last visited the show as a kid and it's barely changed. Although the teenagers found the host's delivery a little cheesy, younger kids and tourists seemed to love it and our kids had to admit they learned a lot about pastoral New Zealand.

There were 19 different kinds of sheep on show. It was interesting to hear the histories of the different breeds and how some had been crossed to achieve improvements in meat and wool quality. But we did note that several of the sheep dozed off, having clearly heard it all before. We also saw a cow milked, sheep shorn, lambs fed and watched performing geese and dogs. My Dad came over a little misty-eyed when the huntaway dog ran onstage - it reminded him of his old sheep-rounding mate, King, from 50 years earlier - and afterwards, when we went up to give it a pat, the dog had an endearing habit of placing a friendly paw on the arm of the person stroking its head.

With a couple of daylight hours left, we headed to the edge of Lake Rotorua. We'd seen geese and black swans there the previous day, but this time we were armed with loaves of bread.

The geese were sufficiently aggressive to make the feeding frenzy pretty exciting and give the kids some heart-stopping moments. My niece, who is more used to animals, was brave enough to pick up one for a photo op, but the other kids were happy to keep just beyond reach. You don't get that sort of action online.

Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park
The Agrodome Sheep Show
Raewyn Court paid her own way to Rotorua.