So much to do in Rotorua

In hindsight, it seems a bit strange that I am writing about the place we go the most after writing about lots of other places we have only visited once.  Yes we go to Rotorua a lot, but I thought that I didn’t have much to share as we mostly go mountain biking and the tips on that would pretty much be; go to Redwoods, get on bike, ride. Then I was talking to someone in the weekend who was going to Rotorua and they asked me what we enjoy doing there and it turns out I had quite a lot to say.

Firstly, if you are considering going to Rotorua, what are you doing reading this, go and book your accommodation now. We have been going to Rotorua for about five years now and cant believe how popular it has become. There are so many events held there now, along with the awesome mountain biking, that at times we can find it hard to get accommodation.

Rotorua has accommodation to suit everyone so just check out your favourite accommodation search engine. So now you have your accommodation booked what are you going to do when you get there? Of course we would put mountain biking at the top of the list. You don’t have to be a gun mountain biker, the Redwood forest has something for everyone and it was the first place our son rode when he was 5. There are even younger kids out there on the trails, so if they can do it so can your kids. If you don’t have a bike they hire them at the forest. To check out the easy tracks head for Waipa Mill Rd, talk to the friendly guys at the pro shop and grab a map. The best thing is, if you have your own gear its free to ride here although you can donate to the Rotorua Trails Trust so they can keep delivering awesome trails for us. If you are more into riding downhills than going up then you might want to buy a shuttle pass and head for the bus stop at the bottom of Hill road. You can link tracks together and ride downhill for over an hour, it is so worth it.

Other things to do in Rotorua are;

The Gondola and Luge – slightly pricey but then I tend to think any activity that costs money is pricey. On a sunny days the views from the top of the gondola are pretty stunning and there is lots to look at from the top even if you don’t do the luge. Younger children can go on the luge with an adult which makes your luge tickets go further. Also the younger kids get to experience the thrill in relative safety if they may not want to ride it by themselves.

Fairy Springs – again I think its slightly pricey but when we went we spent about 4 hours there so on an hourly rate its probably pretty cheap. They have great trout viewing pools and an awesome native bird aviary. Go when the birds are about to be fed and they are getting excited. The tui love to show off their flying skills and dive bomb the visitors. The other attraction is the Big Splash boat ride which includes a waterfall and you guessed it a BIG SPLASH.

Te Puia / Pohutu geyser– we have driven past the geysers at Te Puia many times on the way to mountain biking but it was only when we had a home stay student that we thought we should check it out. Bubbling mud, geysers, trails through native bush, a cultural show – this place has it all. We were a little put off by the entrance price but were delighted to find that New Zealanders get a domestic discount ( the first time we have come across that ) I think even at full price it would have been good value for money. Again we spent about 4 hours here – those geysers sure are mesmerising and the Kiwi even came out to play in the Kiwi house.

Okere Falls – about 20 minutes out of Rotorua on the highway to Tauranga. Okere Falls is a great place to spot rafters and kayakers go over the grade 4 waterfall and many other rapids. There is a great track down the side of the cliff to see all the action from water leveI. Its also a delightful walk through native bush beside the Kaituna River.

Tarawera Trail – there are lots of walks in the area, in fact many people enjoy walking through the Redwood forest. Personally, I think why walk when you can mountain bike. One walk that you can’t mountain bike is the Tarawera Trail. Its 15km-20km one way depending on where you park and unless you want to walk the track back to the start then it does involve a water taxi. You can either get dropped off at Hot Water Beach and walk back or walk to Hot Water Beach and taxi or walk back. We chose to taxi first so we didn’t have to worry about rushing / running for the water taxi. It’s a stunning walk through gorgeous native bush around the Lake. There is an amazing hot pool down a side trail which is great to soak the feet in, or go for a swim like our kids did. Hot water beach is at the start/end of the track and this is where a hot spring trickles out of the rock and flows into the lake.  Another great place for a soak. There is a popular camp very close by which kind of spoils the ambiance but its still an amazing natural place.

As of June 2017 sections of the trail were closed due to slips, so check out the Department of Conservation website before we plan this one.

Waikete Pools – a little way out of town on the road to Taupo but well worth the drive. A great range of size and temperatures of pools with something to suit everyone.

Kerosene Creek –  if you are looking for a natural experience of thermal water then check out Kerosene Creek. About a 20 minute drive out of Rotorua heading towards Taupo. Aim for Rainbow Mountain and follow the signs to Kerosene Creek which is just past the Rainbow mountain carpark. Once you have parked and got to the creek keep walking downstream as the water cascades over a waterfall into a dammed up pool. The hot water creates quite a warm micro-climate as its sheltered underneath tall trees. Very beautiful in the afternoon sun. The path to the creek can be very muddy after rain.

And if you like riding on concrete paths you can ride out to Kerosense Creek on the Te Ara Ahi trail.

Once you have been to Rotorua you will want to go again and again – now I had better go book my accommodation.

Exploring Tawharanui Regional Park

We have been camping at Tawharanui for about 15 years now and still haven’t done all the walks. Probably because when we get there we tend to go into major relaxation mode and just move between the campground and the beach. OK that makes us sounds more lazy than I would like – we do run out to the end of the peninsular andjumping around in the surf is a great workout. There are lots of tracks to run here ( usually we are camping in a group so the kids stay at the camp with friends ) and my husband and I run together but more recently we have camped by ourselves and of course we still wanted to run ( coz that’s what we do ) so we take the kids mountain bikes and all had an awesome time doing a 10km loop round the peninsula enjoying stunning views from every angle while on Takahe watch. Yes that’s right Takahe were recently introduced to the park and while we didn’t see them this time we saw 3 last time we were there. Even if you don’t see the Takahe the bird song in the bush is amazing and we ticked a few more birds off our bird spottinglist, Saddleback this time.

Now I’m not much of a bird watcher but there is an impressive list of birds to be found in the regional park. We found that when we camp by ourselves we are more motivated to explore so did more bird watching and ticked another walk of the list. The Maori Bay coastal walk starts and finishes at the Lagoon carpark near the park entrance, and can be walked in either direction. We walked around the coast first after checking the tide times very carefully.  We had a near disaster ( stranding ) on a coastal walk earlier in the year – lets just say children were carried on shoulders and my husband got quite wet.

At the start of this walk ( heading north around the coast ) there is a tide chart to avoid any tide disasters. While the main North facing beaches at Tawharanui are known for their glistening white sand, the Kawau Island side of the peninsula is rocky so be prepared to rock hop for about 1 hour. The views out to Kawau Island are of course stunning with lots of bird life to enjoy (shags and gannets ) and the rock pools were teaming with sea life to make the walk fun for everyone. Its a very peaceful walk with no other people around. When you get to Maori Bay ( a little hard to know exactly which bay it is ) there is an exit track up a cliff pathway which joins back onto the main trail network. We didn’t think the sign for the track was very easy to see so keep your eyes peeled for the stairs. It was then an easy 35 minute walk back through the bush where our Takehe watch could continue and of course we got to do some more bird spotting.

Tawharanui Regional Park
Tawharanui Regional Park

Motu Cycle Trails

We are lucky enough to have a great friend who enjoys cycling more than we do, if that’s possible. So hot on the heels of the success of the Timber Trail ride he sent out  an email about the Motu Trail…. ‘150km cycle trail through mountainous back country’ – first thoughts…I am busy that weekend…or at least that’s what I should have said!

I am not much for looking at the topographical maps or the finer detail ( don’t worry if any finer detail is needed in the blogs I get my husband to add it coz that’s his thing ) So anyhow the Timber Trail ride we had done previously was 90km by the time we added in the side trails to get to our accommodation, so 150km didn’t sound like too much more. It’s starting to sound like I am not very good at maths either. I think what it boils down to is I like a challenge and this sure sounded like a challenge. Cue some long mountain bike rides and even rides around the city cycle paths to get some time on the saddle.

The trail starts off from Opotiki along the Dunes trail which is an easy 10km along a gravel path beside the beach…so 10km down and stunning views to boot. The rest of the day is riding the Motu Rd to reach Matawai about 70km away, mostly on gravel 4WD road and almost all uphill. We climbed to a high point of 750m and it can get cold at this elevation, even snow, so be prepared. Yes the country side is gorgeous but I realised on this trail that I don’t really enjoy riding so much gravel road.

It was with much joy that we reached the top of the mountain range and headed down the final valley into Matawai, although the joy was a little diminished when I realised we had to get back up to the top of the range the next day to the start of the Pakihi Track. We all collapsed on the footpath outside the Matawai pub and sent the fittest among us ( well, they were the only ones able to move ) into the pub for drinks and chips.

In fact the highlight of day one of this ride was staying in the Matawai Pub which is packed to the gunnels with local history and had a fabulous hostess. She looked after us very well and we all had local grown beef steaks for dinner. I won’t go on about this too much as we recently found out that the pub is no longer open for guests.

My other highlight was the fact that the people who shuttled our gear from Opotiki to Matawai could also shuttle us to the top of the range the next morning ( for a small fee ) on day two. I have seen the Pakihi Track marketed as the best downhill in NZ… yes its definitely a downhill, a long downhill with rather steep drop offs on one side and a steep bank on the other so you are essentially riding on a ledge with lots of fallen rocks on it which does kind of interrupt the flow.

This is rugged country and the rock surface is very hard, lets call it a challenge for someone who doesn’t really like heights, but I did it and I was super proud of myself. Along the way we passed a Search and Rescue team who were walking the track to get familiar with it and practise rescues (hopefully that never happens).

Finally there was just the 10km ride along the flats back into Opotiki with a head wind ( seriously not fun ) to round out our 150km adventure ( well 150km minus the shuttle to the top of the range on day two, so lets say 130km )

Am I pleased I did it – yes! Would I do it again – no!

The road can also be ridden as a 90km loop in one day. Check out NZ Cycle trails for more details.

Waitangi Mountain Bike Park new trails

We were lucky enough to ride at the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park soon after it opened at the end of 2016 so imagine my delight when I saw that Zone 3 was open, which must have added about 10 more new rides. We happened to be heading up to Paihia for a big family catch up with my in-laws ( with all of those Aunties to babysit surely I could get out for a kid-free ride with my husband ) so the timing was perfect.

And so it was that after arriving on a Saturday afternoon and catching up with the rellies, we mentioned that we might pop out for a ride the next morning while our kids played with their cousins. Love it when a plan comes together and we were at the bike park brigh and early the next morning and it was awesome to see the mountain bike car park overflowing.

Even though Cyclone Cook had passed through a little over a week earlier, the trails were in great shape. I think this is a testament to the dedicated volunteers who had been out during the week clearing the tracks and laying gravel on the tracks in some sticky places.

To start off we rode up Hua Link and Taanes Climb to get to the high ground and after sharing cycling adventures with some American tourists we headed off to check out the new trails in Zone 3. First up was Magic Carpet, nice and flowy and an awesome downhill. We then rode Te Rangi Hononga back up to the top of the next mountain. There are lots of options from here with about 6 downhill tracks to choose from. We decided a long ride was in order so did Waaraki which was another great flowing track. So pumped with this ride so we decided another climb was in order to do it again. We took On The Up and Taanes Climb back up to the top at which point we thought we have better head back home to catch up with the family. So we blasted for home going down Ruarangi which reminded me of the awesome Kaiteriteri trails. All in all an awesome 20km loop.

The next day after a full on morning of fun at Adventure World with the kids, (a park for climbing, swinging, sliding, trapeze acrobatics and lots of bombing onto airbags) we were tempted to have a relaxing afternoon, but that mountain bike park was calling our name so we decided to head up with the kids for a ‘little ride’.

We did a 12 km loop with the kids taking in some of the new tracks we hadn’t done the previous day, even managing to climb Te Raawhiti which is a killer near the top.

The weather was better the second day and as the sun sunk low in the sky, the views out over the Bay Of Islands were magic. Every trail on the hill seems to offer views in different directions from Opua to Cape Brett.

The mountain bike park now offers more than enough rides to keep us all entertained whenever we are in the area and I think we will make an effort to be in the area more because of the mountain bike park.

Read about the first time we rode at Waitangi and other rides in the area.

Shout out to the sponsors:

Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, Northland, New Zealand
Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, Northland, New Zealand

Queenstown cycle trails

There is lots to do in Queenstown and lots to spend your money on, especially when you factor kids in as well. Thankfully once you have invested in your bike gear mountain biking is a relatively low cost activity.

So with four days to spend ( as little money as possible ) in Queenstown we decided to mountain bike. There are lots of different options depending on your need for speed and again how much money you want to spend. There is the Skyline Gondala tracks, a mountain bike park at 7 Mile Bay and a range of trail rides between Queenstown, Arrowtown & Gibston Valley Winery.

The team at Round the Basin Bike Tours were super helpful and as we were riding with the kids and wanted it to be a fun experience for them (and us) we decided to ride out to the Kawerau Bungy Jumping bridge, about 25km from Queenstown. We booked the pickup and hoped for fine weather the next day.

The day dawned bright and sunny , we probably would have ridden in the rain but is always nice to enjoy the views in the sunshine. We drove out to Frankton and parked there to cut a few kilometers off the trail for the kids and avoid having to cross roads etc getting out of town. Where we joined the trail gave us stunning views of the Remarkables for the adults and adorable Shetland Ponies for the kids. In fact the kids had so much fun patting the Shetland ponies and I was enjoying the views so much it was hard to get started.

As luck would have it the views continued to deliver along the trails but the only other wildlife we saw were rabbits. Wow, I knew they were a problem in the South Island but it felt like they were taking over as they sat in fields not concerned at all by our passing.

Anyhow back to the trail; the track is very well made and mostly downhill with three relatively small hills to climb. There was a bit of bike pushing for the kids, well make that bike pushing for the adults but nothing too major.

Some highlights from the part of the trail that we rode include; riding over the old restored Shotover river bridge, riding through farmland alongside Kawerau River and watching the jetboats go past and the Arrow River suspension bridge (it’s a long way down to the river ).

The views along this trail are simply stunning from mountains to rivers and amazing bridges. And if there wasn’t enough adrenalin on the trail you could always book in a bungee jump from the Kawerau Bridge. We just chose to watch but still a great end to an awesome ride.

Top tips

When we did the ride the distance wasn’t marked and after about what we hoped was half way we did feel like we were rushing to meet our pickup. As my very wise Aunt later told us – its always less stressful to be dropped off and ride ( or walk ) back to your car if possible.

If wineries are your thing you could carry on riding down river to the winery for a late lunch.

Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors