Take the kids to Vegas; that's Rotovegas for those in the know. It's the start of an incredible family adventure, and it's not just bubbling mud and geysers (although guests from overseas will be blown away by this geothermal wonderland). These days, Rotorua has carved itself out as an all year round adventure playground for domestic and international visitors alike.
Let's start with the Luge. At $107 for a family of 4 gondola and 2 luge ride pass, I thought this activity was on the pricey side. That was until I realised how much this destination has grown since I was a kid. There's three tracks: a lovely scenic ride through a forest of redwoods and pine for beginners, an intermediate route for speed, and the advanced route for those wanting to create air between the ground and their wheels as they dip and dive along the track. There's also the 900m gondola ride to enjoy spectacular views from the top of Mount Ngongotaha, which in itself is a scenic journey.
The town centre has changed over the years but still can't be considered a major retail destination (unless you're seeking a kiwi souvenir). But Eat Street is something special. The partially covered pedestrian street features a number of excellent dining options from family-friendly cafes to higher-end restaurants of every flavour.
The waterfront still has some growing up to do as Rotorua expands, but whatever the weather, you can enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk, unique with its views across the lake and steaming puddles at your side. Kuirau Park, New Zealand's only geothermal public park, is a free destination for families wanting to glimpse steaming pools and bubbly mud. Then, of course, there's the magnificent Rotorua Bath House building Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa, one of New Zealand's iconic historic buildings constructed at the turn of the 20th century. Currently closed for restoration and earthquake strengthening, the gardens are a fantastic place for kids to wander.
The other big attraction is mountain biking. The Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest offers spectacular trails for kids and families, intermediate bikers seeking some thrills on the trails, and Southstar Adventures offers shuttle services for the advanced riders wanting to get to the top of the forest tracks and show their pace on some of the best trails in the country.
You can't bypass Rotorua without talking about Lake Tarawera, once home to the Pink and White terraces. These days the lake is an attraction for boaties, kayaks, paddleboarders, and swimmers in the summer months. It also offers trout fishing for those with some skill and a Tarawera fishing license from Fish and Game.
The Tarawera Trail allows visitors with a reasonable level of fitness to enjoy the 15km walk along the lakeside to Hot Water Beach. There you'll discover a geothermally heated pool nestled just off the lakeside, under a canopy of native trees. A deserving bath in the wild after a long walk is a magical experience. The water taxi offers a booking service to transport walkers from Hot Water Beach to Punaromia – The Landing.
Rotorua has long been a town full of accommodation, dating back to the spa town heydays of the 1840's. These days the Fenton Street strip includes the Rotovegas Motel, offering great family and single units, styled with 1970's retro furniture and furnishings. It also has a large communal outdoor pool and playground and is a great starting point for families and large groups staying at the RotoVegas House for an all round weekend adventure.
Take the kids to Vegas. It's an adventure playground on our doorstep.