If you’ve counted out going overseas for a family holiday this year, but still – quite rightly! – need some R&R, we have an NZ holiday that might just tick all the boxes.
With a simple broccoli now costing an arm and a leg, and newspaper headlines warning us that a recession is on its way – and its likely much worse than previously anticipated, it’s really no surprise that many Kiwis have shelved their plan of a big overseas winter getaway this year.
But, that’s come at a time where more Kiwis than ever actually could do with a darn break. A study found that only one in five Kiwis are actually taking leave, plus workplace burnout is now impacting every third person. Yikes.
We know that taking breaks from work and spending time with our loved ones does wonders for our mental – and physical – health. Aaand, I may have just discovered a way to still have that fun pool holiday experience, without the price tag AND without leaving the country.
Now, hear me out on this one. It’s in Rotorua.
For a start, Rotorua is one of the best set up spots in the country for families, and now, Rydges Rotorua has had a major refurbishment, in their new spot, just a stone’s throw away from Whakarewarewa Forest. It’s with those workplace stats in mind that they started creating experiences for Kiwis, to make sure we all take a break this year – which including creating packages and giving away 100 stays!
While the hotel is definitely a hot spot for couples, with well-appointed, spacious deluxe rooms, it certainly has families in mind.
The property hosts a large kidney shaped pool, which overlooks the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, with its majestic rising tuffs of steam. The pool is heated to a balmy 33 degrees, making it swim-able for the family, all year round. Plus, there’s two spa pools at a toasty 39 degrees to jump between. From midday, snacks are available poolside, from a basket of hot chips, to an icy margarita for Mum and Dad.
Kids also get the VIP, or VIK (Very Important Kid) treatment at Rydges, with free dining at Chapman’s buffet restaurant when eating with a paying adult. And, as part of the VIK programme, there are plenty of discounts available with partnering attractions if you do feel like venturing from the hotel.
I headed down to Rotorua last weekend with my family to check it out firsthand. We made sure we had an itinerary that was as low-key as possible because, A) 2023 has already been tough and B) we were travelling with our 12-month-old, who needs his naps.
It was with him in mind that we checked into two deluxe rooms, overlooking the thermal valley. I had visions of us all going stir-crazy, trying to get him down for two naps, and an earlier bedtime than the rest of us (my partner, plus the eight-year-old) while all in the same room, so we eliminated that stress by stretching across two. In the end, we probably would have been just fine, because while my partner or I were in the room with the baby (in the provided cot that came set up with its own cute little duvet set-up), the other was dragged down to play in the pool anyway.
The rooms were quiet, with stylish bathrooms, coffee machines, robes and slippers and very, very comfortable beds.
The eight-year-old – and the one-year-old, to be fair – were completely enamoured by the buffet, bringing back plates of pancakes, hash browns, fruit and bacon for breakfast, and strategically making dinner plates to allow room for the dessert section. It’s a great way to power up for the day ahead – although, if you do have food allergies or intolerances, like being gluten-free, you might find you have quite limited options.
As part of the VIK club, there’s several different attractions to head to at discounted rates – from Te Puia, to the nearby Redwoods Treewalk and the Zorb. We chose to head to the 3D Trick Art Gallery, which we’d heard raved about before, but had never made it to.
Essentially, it’s an interactive art gallery where you stand inside the artworks and become part of the picture, in some mind-bending life-like scenarios. It’d be perfect for a rainy day – and, as part of the VIK kids are free when visiting with a full paying adult ($22). There’s 50 paintings to experience, and we spent about 90 minutes going through it at a reasonable pace. To make sure you get the most out of your photos, there’s handy little feet marks on the ground to get you in the best spot – plus, a couple of times the staff jumped in to direct us on how to all get in for the best possible pic.
Right on the property there’s also The Farm Tour, which takes you on an hour-long guided tour through the working farm in covered trailers, checking out the native plants, plus all the animals (including opportunities to get out and feed them!). Again, kids get in free for this one!
With the Redwoods in such close proximity, after nap number two, we headed over to take a stroll through the majestic redwoods. We did the TreeWalk a couple of years ago, so this time we kept our feet planted on the ground and took a few walks through the marked trails. It was WELL worth a visit – and the best part? It’s completely free! (And a great way to burn off some energy before hitting the dinner buffet!).
On day two we set out for our more action-packed, fast-paced excursion and headed to Velocity Valley, where you get 20% off individual rides. Velocity Valley is just what it sounds like it might be – full of adventure, adrenaline-filled activities.
There’s actually five iconic activities to choose from: Bungy Jumping, The Swoop Sky Swing (that one seriously gave me weak knees just looking at it), The FreeFall Extreme (New Zealand’s only wind tunnel – it simulates the feeling of doing a skydive), the Agrojet (a jet sprint experience that goes from 0 to 100 in a few seconds), plus the Shweeb – a human powered monorail racetrack.
In short, I was terrified, but the eight-year-old was beside himself with excitement and lined up for every experience – sometimes more than once (he needed to better his Shweeb lap time!). Thankfully there is a minimum age of 10 required for the bungy, so we could skip that one (thank god).
From the smile on his face, my partner’s favourite was the Agrojet, speeding around the watery racetrack. The one-year-old’s favourite were the surrounding sheep and Highland cattle belonging to the Agrodome (his most hated was the Agrojet – he was not a fan of the sound), while the eight-year-old’s fave was the Sky Swing that sees you nose-dive headfirst into the ground from 40 metres high, strapped into a body bag. It’s like taking a swing off an 11-storey building and I was SO pleased the instructor went up strapped in with him, to pull the release cord at the top of the swing (kids have to have an adult with them to make sure that cord gets pulled), rather than me having to do it.
We were sad to leave as we pulled out of the carpark – but not quite as sad as the eight-year-old when he said goodbye to the pool for the last time – and definitely felt far more rejuvenated for some time away together.