After the Bay of Islands, checking out glowworm caves in Waitomo, and spending a quiet Christmas by the lake in Taupo, we made our way to Rotorua. Knowing that Patrick wouldn’t be able to enjoy New Zealand with us for much longer, Rotorua is where we pinballed from activity to fun activity over just a handful of days.
The town itself is quite smelly due to its notorious geothermal hot springs which is accompanied by a less than delightful sulphurous odor. But to relax in the natural hot water makes it all well worth it.
Here are a few of the fun things we did.
27 Dec | Rotorua Night Market
We tripped upon the night market the night that we arrived in Rotorua while we were out and about looking around for dinner. Sam already wrote about this several weeks ago when we were actually there.
28 Dec | Roaming Around Rotorua
Our favorite find while we were in Rotorua was Capers Epicurean for breakfast, and we ended up eating there several times during our stay. Just... yes.
While we were exploring the town near Capers, we stopped to take a break and happened to trip upon a flock of birds making a fuss in the bushes. Sam captured the following on video, and just the thought of a bird trying to stealthily and casually walk away with a large piece of pizza in its beak cracks her up for five minutes at a time.
In the afternoon, we wandered around Rotorua, checking out the parks and looking for somewhere to grab an early dinner.
We made plans for a visit to the Redwoods Treewalk that night, and just next to the "iSite" was a small but unique park that made us all take a break and play.
We eventually landed at a brewpub on "Eat Streat" for an early dinner. Eat Streat was most definitely a tourist magnet, and the food prices reflected that, but it was pretty yummy nonetheless. Scott and Samantha followed up lunch with ice cream.
28 Dec | Redwoods Treewalk
Close to Rotorua is a small grove of redwoods where 21 suspension bridges have been built from tree to tree to give visitors a bird’s eye view of the majestic 110 year old trees. You walk along the suspension bridges with stops for interesting facts at each tree station.
We opted to do the treewalk at night, and it created a magical ambiance that all four of us enjoyed.
If you’re planning on going here, be aware that the wait is LONG. Despite having purchased tickets in advance, the wait can be up to 90 minutes due to the limited number of people who can be on the bridges at any given time. We left and came back later (when they told us the wait would be shorter), and we still ended up waiting for an hour.
29 Dec | DriftKartz
Scott and Patrick took off for an hour or so to check out DriftKartz, and it ended up being one of my son’s favorite activities of the entire trip.
In essence, you hop into a go-kart and then drive around on the track that has a special surface that creates a slipping, drifting sensation. Both my boys came back laughing and jazzed about the whole experience.
29 Dec | Lumberjax Mini Golf
The kids wanted to play mini-golf, so we found Lumberjax Mini Golf. It was an indoor course, and one of the better ones I’ve played on with funky tricks and set ups on several of the holes vs. your standard putting greens.
If you’re looking for more fun stuff to do, this is actually inside a place called Motion Entertainment which has several different activities such as an escape room, laser tag, bowling, a trampoline park, and more.
30 Dec | Skyline Gondola and Luge
Samantha is going to write more about her impressions on this, but in short, we took a gondola to the hills above Rotorua and then drove individual “luge” karts down (over and over again).
See Sam’s upcoming blog post for more details, but it was a highlight for me. Super fun.
30 Dec | Rotofobia (Escape Room)
Oh my. This escape room was Really. Frickin’. Cool.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of an escape room, here’s the deal. You get together with a group of people (typically about 4 - 8) and are locked in a room. There are puzzles to solve and codes to crack to make your way out before your hour is up.
The room we did was “One Hell of a Kitchen.” I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but what made this escape room unique was its ambiance… they were very adept at setting the tone of the room right up front, and it completely enhanced the experience. I’ll say no more on that.
31 Dec | Blue Lake Track
Ashley, our friend from A2X, highly recommended we visit this track (“track” is kiwi-ese for trail) for a nice easy run or hike. Although it wasn’t quite as flat as I was led to believe, it was beautiful, and it was so nice to immerse myself in nature and reflect over the past year on this final day of 2018.
Although the loop goes around the lake, you won’t see the lake for most of this track. Most of the track was on a path through tons of native bush. I loved it.
Note for visitors… if you’re going to do the loop, I’d start the trail on the left (when facing the lake) and end on the right instead of the other way around. We started on the right & ended our run/hike along the left side which was less lake and more the shoulder of a road for the last km or so. I’d rather start there and end coming out of the bush to see a beautiful lake ahead. More rewarding. (But then again, I’m the kind of person who likes saving the best for last. I rarely eat my dessert first.)
31 Dec | Polynesian Spa
After a several mile run (and hike for Scott), the two of us left the kids at the Airbnb and treated ourselves to a couple’s massage at the Polynesian Spa.
We first soaked in the hot mineral pools and then let our therapists work out any remaining knots from 2018 with a Swedish massage. We wrapped it up with some hot tea and then smoothies before heading back to the kids.
31 Dec | Tamaki Maori Village
The Maori village was another highlight for the family.
We started the trip with a short 15 minute bus ride from Rotorua to the Maori village. Once we arrived, we learned about some of the ceremonial rituals, including the formal welcoming into their sacred grounds.
We broke off into separate groups (each bus was essentially its own tribe with its own leader), and we rotated through the grounds learning about ancient rituals, warrior training, the poi dance, games, facial tattoos, customs, and more.
They showed us how they cooked the traditional hangi feast (underground on hot stones) and then provided songs and dance while getting us ready for us to eat. Everyone enjoyed dinner (including pavlova which we’d never had before), and then there was a final closing song before getting back on the bus and returning home.
A couple special notes about this:
1) the bus rides themselves were very entertaining and a highlight of the experience, and
2) at our dinner table was a couple from Australia, and the woman was an accountant who recognized the Hubdoc t-shirt I was wearing. ;) Small world.
31 Dec | Happy New Year’s!
After such an eventful day, we all decided we wanted to just lay low and play some cards until midnight. As usual, the women beat the men. ;)
At midnight, we were able to see fireworks just off of our patio. The display was short but beautiful.
It was such a bizarre feeling to see the New Year fireworks in New Zealand after decades of watching them in Colorado (usually on TV) in the winter.
Watching fireworks in the warm summer air broke my brain there for a minute.
Here was my internal mental dialogue:
Ooohh, pretty fireworks!
Whoa, this is just like fireworks at home.
~~~ Brain short-circuits ~~~
Hey wait, they don’t have the 4th of July in New Zealand...
Well, they do have a 4th of July (just not Independence Day)...
And it *is* summer...
But wait… why the fireworks then?
Oh, hang on… it’s January, not July...
Oh yeah, I’m in New Zealand…
And it’s summer in January down here....
Oh, and it’s New Year’s Eve… thus the fireworks…
~~~ Brain hurts and then laughter ensues ~~~
Our last full day in Rotorua (January 1st) was spent in Hobbiton, but I’m saving that story for the next blog post.