Lisa Flynn finds that three days isn’t enough time to explore all that Rotorua has to offer – but manages to have an amazing family adventure nonetheless.
Exploring in New Zealand’s own big, beautiful backyard is the perfect plan for a long weekend with the family. With so many places to stay, play, and eat, and geysers galore to entertain the kids, the city we cheekily refer to as “Rotovegas” has something for everyone. Here’s a taste of what we got up to in our three too-short days in Rotorua.
With its great location close to the Redwoods Forest, the Holiday Inn Rotorua was the perfect place to stay. Their Very Important Kids (VIK) programme was such a neat bonus for our children, who received little gift packs when we checked in – and even better, kids 12 and under stay and eat for free (maximum four kids per two adults). The rooms were well set up for families, with two large beds, and the onsite restaurant Chapman’s features a “locally famous” buffet which the kids especially loved. Besides the generous breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets, there’s also an a la carte menu you can order from. The geothermal heated pool and spas were great for playing and soaking in between all of our activities – a great way to wind down after busy days spent exploring.
A favourite of the whole family, from the baby animal nursery where you get up close with lambs, piglets, and bunnies, to the show with all the different sheep breeds and very clever working dogs, and we even had a go at milking a cow! The experience isn’t complete without a tour of the farm on the tractor, feeding the lambs, cows, and alpacas along the way.
Take a stroll through the treetops, along the suspension bridges, and over the platforms six to 20 meters aboveground in the beautiful Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest. The walk took us about 35 minutes and is suitable for most ages. There are also little buggies available for children who can't walk unassisted.
Dive into a giant inflatable ball and roll down Mt Ngongotaha! A definite favourite of our 12-year-old and the most amazing fun we’ve had in a long time. There are many different tracks to choose from, as well as a wet option. After the ride, you can take a dip in one of the hot tubs at the bottom of the tracks to warm up before your next ride.
Let your imagination run wild to see what effects you can create – the trick art looks 2D, but with the right camera angle and pose, you see an amazing 3D image! Get chased by a dinosaur, eaten from a soup ladle, hung from a high-rise building, ride an alpaca, fall off a log going over a waterfall… Don’t be afraid to look as silly as possible as they’ll be the best pictures you get.
The fascinated expressions on our children’s faces as they watched the Maori cultural show were priceless – the performers were so expressive and put on an excellent display of Maori culture. Afterward, we walked through the forest and watched warriors in traditional dress paddle upstream in a waka. We loved learning Maori folk songs, games, and dances, and seeing the haka. We were also served a hangi feast, cooked onsite, which was delicious!
Walking among the trees, seeing the beautiful natural springs, and coming across many different species of trout and birds was very cool, with plenty of interactive play opportunities along the way. The Big Splash water ride and the large kids' play area were definite highlights. We loved the behind-the-scenes kiwi encounter, and the onsite café was great for lunch.
We had so much fun getting lost and then finding our way out of the maze as a family! It took us about 45 minutes to do the maze (one of the best I’ve ever been to), and afterward, we found all the bunnies in the garden, which the kids loved cuddling and patting. Amaze Me is well set up for families, with supersized outdoor games, walking stilts, ski walking, and more.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a restaurant that caters so well for everyone. The food, cocktails (and mocktails), friendly staff, and incredible setup for children and families makes this a must-eat restaurant if you’re visiting Rotorua. The children’s menu had an excellent selection, and we loved the Kitchen Ramen and Pork Belly Bao Buns – yum! After lunch we finished with Caramel Churros for dessert, which not only looked stunning, but tasted amazing. Our older daughter enjoyed her own Apple Almighty mocktail and felt pretty special and grown-up.
Serving up sumptuous treats for more than 30 years, this old-fashioned ice-cream parlour by Lake Rotorua has over 40 flavours of ice cream to choose from. This was an absolute hit with the kids! From Danish cones to lavish sundaes with a huge topping selection, it’s a definite must-try. Our older daughter enjoyed her massive banana split with three different ice-cream flavours topped with cream, chocolate sauce, and lots of goodies.