Keeping the kids entertained during school holidays is never easy, especially when you’re self-employed. Being dragged to meetings or having yet another ‘movie day’ while Mum gets her work done isn’t what my kids call fun, so rather than bribe them with toys I promised them an experience focused totally on stuff kids want to do.
Where we went
For this, Rotorua is perfect. There’s plenty to do and lots of fun to be had for kids and parents alike, even if the weather isn’t great.
What we did
We found a package at Quality Inn that offered two nights’ accommodation plus vouchers for the Gondola and Luge, Rainbow Springs and the Polynesian Spa all at a price that made a fun-packed weekend away very affordable. Normally I’d be disappointed that the definition of a ‘family’ is 2 adults and 2 kids – but with Miss 10 away at Horse Camp we fitted right into that box.
How it went
We checked into the hotel on Friday afternoon. The room was basic, but comfortable, with a separate bedroom, a foldout couch in the living area and a kitchenette. It also had a spa bath which was fortunate as the hotel ‘hot tub’ was anything but hot.
The ‘kids eat free’ deal made having breakfast at the hotel a good option. The food was a lot better than the service – the staff were surly and easily flustered. Thankfully we had better places to be.
We headed for Rainbow Springs getting there just in time for bird-mad Miss 8 to see the exotic bird feeding at 10am. Handler James was happy to spend time answering her many questions and seemed genuinely delighted that someone was taking an interest. Meanwhile Mr 8 was busting to get on the Big Splash – and with unlimited rides included in the entry price he soon got his wish. This ride never fails to please – even on the 10th time round my heart still skipped a beat as we headed over the edge….
It’s easy to spend a whole day here: there’s a great playground, an animal park full of trout, native birds and reptiles and some organised shows where you can get up close and personal with exotic birds and reptiles. There’s also the Kiwi enclosure – and the opportunity to come back again after dark to see the Kiwis outside in a more natural environment.
There are tables and picnic areas for families to bring their own food, however the café is surprisingly well priced. We got the whole family fed and watered for just $40.
Next stop: the Polynesian Spa. There are some spectacularly picturesque pools here, however our vouchers only covered entry to the Family Spa – a small enclosed and rather tired area with a heated pool for the kids to play in and two hot pools for the adults to relax in. As it was already late afternoon we were happy to have a quick swim and soak at the end of a busy day – however the pools are open until 11pm.
We headed straight into town for dinner and stumbled upon Eat Streat – a pedestrian area full of restaurants which opened early enough for family dining and didn’t need a booking. After some great Thai food at Wild Rice we headed home to fall into our nice comfy beds.
After another shambolic breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed for the Luge. Our ticket got us up on the Gondola plus 6 luge rides between us – which was never going to be enough. You can buy additional rides but they’re not cheap – the best deal they could do was 8 rides for $50. We made these stretch further by doubling up – one child with each adult – and racing each other down the more challenging tracks, before letting the kids loose on the track of their choice for the final ride of the day. This was a lot of fun for kids and adults alike – and we added to the thrill by timing our rides down and trying to beat our own scores.
The Market Kitchen Café has indoor and outdoor seating, and amazing views. They didn’t seem to mind people bringing their own food – although again we chose to buy our lunch. They had a huge selection of food – from sandwiches, pies and pizza to curries and homemade soups – all at pretty reasonable prices.
We ended up buying even more rides – and they’re not cheap. Rides for adults and kids are the same price, and you can’t buy rides in bulk. It took us about 45 minutes for each ride by the time we queued, luged and got back to the top by chairlift so if you are planning to be there for the day, and everyone wants (or needs) their own trolley for every ride, the costs will soon add up.
While we did spend quite a bit of extra money over and above the deal we booked, it wasn’t that much more (and could have been a less if we’d self-catered for lunches) and still made for a very cost-effective and action packed 48 hours in RotoVegas.
What I’d recommend
Check hotel and attraction websites for deals as these won’t be available through booking services such as booking.com. Our package didn’t work out any cheaper than if we’d paid as we went – but the accommodation at Quality Inn was very cheap. The reason for this became fairly obvious (cold hot pool, basic room and a shambolic breakfast service) but as we were out and about all day and only really needed somewhere to sleep it was bearable.
Buy as many rides as you can with your Gondola ticket as you won’t get them any cheaper once you’re up there.
Take snacks and water bottles – while the food at the cafes was quite well priced, it quickly adds up.
Head to Eat Streat for a meal. There are plenty of options and as it’s outdoor dining you won’t feel self-conscious about restless kids.
What to take
Your wallet – Rotorua isn’t a cheap place to hang out and everywhere has a gift shop full of things the kids will want to buy.
Your smile – everywhere you go they’re taking photos to sell back to you. We got very good at hustling the kids quickly through the walls of photos and pushy sales people.
Your sense of adventure – Rotorua is a lot of for both kids and adults. Get into it.
We visited Rotorua under our own steam. Where we stayed and what we did while we were there were our own choices.