I couldn’t possibly end the New Zealand blog chapter without sharing about one of my favourite spots in this beautiful country. We love outdoor activities and Rotorua ticked every box for all of us: adventure, adrenaline, gorgeous locations and relaxation. In fact, this was our third trip here in 3 years. This time, we travelled with some close friends from Wellington and hired an Air Bnb on Lake Okareka, not far from the center of Rotorua. The holiday was filled with fun kid-friendly days out, lakeside BBQs, kayaks, campfires, and a healthy dose of kid-free date nights, courtesy of amazing tag-teaming parent friends.
At the time, we knew that this would be one of our final holidays in New Zealand, (with the move abroad planned) so we road-tripped big over 10 days around Sophia’s 3rd birthday and ticked off a lot of places that we couldn’t leave New Zealand without seeing. Check out our other blog about more family-friendly things to do in Taupo and Rotorua by clicking here.
- Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park
I spotted Hell’s Gate on Travel Mad Mum’s blog adventures and with loads on offer there, including Maori wood carving workshops, it did not disappoint. We wandered around the Geothermal Gardens for ages, saw loads of boiling mud pools and steaming craters then we hit the hot pools. Sophia smothered us in hot mud and we soaked for the allocated 15 minutes before lounging around in the sulphur swimming pool. Once we got used to the smell, and stopped thinking about Lewis Litt, it was really relaxing!
- Hobbiton Movie Set
This was an incredible half day trip, about an hour’s drive from Rotorua. There was lots of walking involved, perfect after the long drive, and plenty of things to do around the rural set to make it a fun trip for Sophia too. We did maypole dancing, played on the seesaw, had a drink at the Green Dragon and knocked on all of the Hobbit houses, but no hobbits were home that day… A friend had recommended that we go for the first tour of the day, as the place understandably gets overrun with tourists as the day goes on. Best advice. We did the morning tour at Hobbiton then drove an hour further to Waitomo Caves to cram in an afternoon tour.
- Horse-trekking, Lake Okareka
Overlooking the shores of Lake Okareka was one of the most beautiful places to go horse trekking. We started off with a half hour trek in mind, as we weren’t sure how well Sophia would fare (toilet stops, bravery levels, first time on a horse etc.) and our guide was really flexible. When we got to the 1/2 hour point and Sophia was as happy as Larry on the leading rein with the guide, we carried on for a full hour’s trek up steep mountain paths, through forests and down country lanes. Such a fun way to celebrate the last day of the terrible twos…
Our gingerbread cottage-style Air Bnb came complete with kayaks, paddles and life jackets, so we paddled around Lake Okareka to nearby bays, built campfires on the sand and toasted marshmallows at sunset. Pretty special Kiwi memories.
- Waitomo Glow worm Caves
Waitomo Glow worm caves are about an hour’s drive from Hobbiton Movie Set. You are taken on a walking tour through the caves, one of which is called the Cathedral, due to it’s beautiful acoustics. After you descend to the furthest point, you hop in a boat and in complete silence and pitch black you cruise through the caves and see the glow worms in all their glory. You aren’t allowed to take photos in the caves, but they kindly ask you to pose for these cheesy photo shopped memoir pictures, which aren’t too far from reality to be honest. One slight oversight on our part was that Sophia was wearing those annoying trainers that light up every time you stamp your feet. So in the middle of the pitch dark caves she would suddenly illuminate everything and everyone, then ask loudly when she could have her next ice-cream…Yes we were that family!
- Mitai Cultural Village
We have been to a few other cultural villages around Rotorua but Mitai Maori Village was our favourite by far. We opted for the evening experience which started with the arrival of the tribe in wakas on the local river, complete with burning torches, paddles and tribal singing! Sophia was mesmerized. After that we followed the chief to the Marae and watched a cultural performance of songs, dances and the Haka. Jeremy was selected as chief by our guide(!!) and I volunteered to sing a song. Actually, I think Jeremy had to be chief because I volunteered to sing! We got a bit more than we bargained for and had an up close and personal interaction during the welcome ceremony, where we were on stage, in quite close proximity to a lot of wide-eyed chanting with spears being swung rather aggressively at us. All part of the welcome ceremony, apparently. Later on we enjoyed a traditional hangi meal then set off around the village on a glow worm night walk!
- Rotorua Skyline Gondola and Luge
We had previously visited the Queenstown and Rotorua Skyline Gondola and Luge attraction and gave it one last go before we left NZ, racing like Mario kart drivers down to the bottom and catching the sky lift back to the top. Sophia loved the ski lift back to the top each time. What a way to spend your third birthday!
- Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park
Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park was a lovely little place to take a picnic and wander with the kiddies. They loved seeing all of the animals and exploring the boardwalk trails, where they could run wild and let off a lot of steam. The tree canopy provided a welcome break from the harsh NZ sun for the day.
- Lake Okareka
Straight after horse-riding we found a lovely lakeside picnic spot. The boardwalk was buggy friendly and a lovely spot to stroll around, feed the ducks and enjoy the scenery some more.
- Lake Taupo
No trip from Wellington to Rotorua would be complete without a stop-off at Lake Taupo. We stayed there for a night on the way to Rotorua to break up the journey. The next morning we kicked off the holiday by cranking up the relaxation levels at De Bretts Spa, Taupo. There is a great kids adventure area as well as hot pools and spa treatment areas. The hot stone massage was the absolute bees knees.
- Polynesian Spa
Another day, another hot pool! We absolutely love travelling with friends and are so fortunate to have met the coolest Kiwi families to travel with throughout our three years in New Zealand. The kids entertain each other / drive each other crazy/ adore each other, or a combination of the three at any one time….and the parents keep each other sane throughout the finest toddler moments. And of course, then there are the date nights- we headed to an evening outdoor spa experience in Rotorua at the Polynesian Spa – which was absolute bliss and a great way to end the whirlwind trip.
Sophia’s birthday falls during school holidays so we try to celebrate it somewhere different each year. Her first birthday weekend was spent sledging down the slopes of Mount Ruapehu. Her second was on Wellington waterfront and on her third she was horse trekking then zooming down the skyline luge park! I feel like we have begun an incredibly expensive tradition…
For more ideas of family-friendly things to do in and around Rotorua, check out another blog of ours: ‘Taupo and Rotorua: Adrenaline meets Relaxation‘.
If you are planning a trip to Rotorua and would like us to help answer any questions you may have, leave us a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.