The Healing Waters of Rotorua’s GeoThermal Hot Pools

IMG_3460Imagine yourself sitting in the natural waters of a geothermal hot pool, surrounded by lush green majestic trees and a waterfall cascading beside you. Soaking up warmth into your body, healing, relaxing, purifying.

Geothermal hot pools like this abound in New Zealand‘s Volcanic Zone in and around the town of Rotorua. Just a 3 hour drive from Auckland, this elegant, beautiful ‘hot spot’ is tucked in the lush area of the North Island’s east coast, known as the lake district (also including area down to Taupo).

The town itself literally sits in the crater of an active volcano, creating the abundance of geothermal activity in the area. Sights such as geysers, mud pools and hot pools abound. Where the earth bubbles, boils, spits and oozes offering a plethora of unique sights to behold.

IMG_0268You can explore the town and surrounding area, finding many public hot pools to enjoy, some regulated by private parties and charging admission (Blue Baths, Polynesian Spa, Hell’s Gate and Waikite Vallley Thermal Pools), while other spots have been left natural and available to the public free of charge (such as Kuirau Park, Kerosene Creek and Waiotapu Stream).

IMG_0247When we were there, we ventured to Kerosene Creek, as we thought it would be a neat experience to be in a natural environment. We were not opposed to paying to enjoy the waters somewhere else, but thought that experiencing the pool in a natural environment would be a lovely experience. Plus our hostess at the Tuck Inn, where we were staying, a beautiful farm tucked in the lush New Zealand landscape, recommended we go there.

I was a little nervous at first, it was a little off the beaten track and there weren’t a lot of people around. When we arrived at the parking lot, we decided to just get out and take a walk first, check things out, and if it didn’t meet our expectations then we would head back to the Waikite Hot Pools, which weren’t that far down the road.

It was a beautiful spot, lush native bush with the creek running through. You could walk along the path beside the creek, discovering various pools along the way where you could pop in for a soak. We did meet a few other people who were enjoying the waters and I started to relax a little. The best spot was a large pool at the base of a waterfall. Easy to get down to and large enough for quite a number of people.

IMG_3455The kids all wanted to get in, I was still unsure. Was it safe, what if someone came by and grabbed our stuff? Plus it was a little nippy outside, I was not looking forward to stripping down even though it would be warm in the end.

Finally, I decided we might as well. So we grabbed our suits and got everyone changed. Matthew was in first and floating around, then D’Wayne ready to receive the twins once I got them ready. It wasn’t too deep, the twins could easily stand up safely in some areas of the pool. I quickly changed myself and got in with everyone else.

Oh my! It was absolutely lovely. I felt all my troubles and stress melt away almost immediately. The sand beneath my feet was warm and felt good between my toes. You had to be careful though, if you dug your feet in under the sand it could get quite hot, almost burning.

We splashed and played in the pool for 45 minutes, almost having the entire place to ourselves. A few others drifted by, and a few got in towards the end of our time. It was heavenly and so relaxing! We could have stayed longer but we wanted to also check out the mud pool and were getting hungry as well. Everyone felt relaxed yet revitalized and ready for the next adventure.

IMG_0264We hopped out and changed quickly, now that was a little nippy! But felt great! We snapped a few more pictures on our way back to the car, and then ventured off to the Mud Pool.

The Mud Pool was super cool. And was actually only a short 5 minute drive down the road near the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland (also the home to the Lady Knox Geyser and a plethora of trails and other thermal sites to see). The Thermal Wonderland does have an admission fee, but the Mud Pool is just outside of this area.

IMG_0267It was amazing. Mud literally spurting, spitting and bubbling. The smell is also fantastic! That lovely rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide, which is well known throughout Rotorua (though I did find that depending on the area depended on how strong the smell was, some hardly noticable or not so bad, the mud pool was definitely the worst!)

There is a little boardwalk to view the mud pool from, as well as a short trail to take you up above to look down upon the pool below. It was just fascinating.

The mud and hot pools are enough to keep you busy for a number of days. Just enjoying the natural wonders of this area. But Rotorua and the surrounding valley is also rich in Maori culture (the indigenous people of New Zealand) and history, dating back hundreds of years. As a result there are lots of things to experience and see around this, such as The Living Thermal Village, the Buried Village TeWairoa and Te Puia.

Rotorua is so rich in these experiences, we wanted to do them all, but since we were only there for a short time we had to pick and choose a little. Te Puia called to us the most (and turns out has the most fantastic geyser), and was an absolutely fabulous experience! And one that I will share with you in my next post.

Travelling to Middle Earth

IMG_0718The Shire, home of the enchanting hobbits that have warmed our hearts and made us smile. These delightful people with whom we have shared adventures in the place that started it all. The Hobbiton movie set, a definite must see when travelling to New Zealand and the site where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies were filmed.

Constructed on a the spectacular private Alexander farm near Matamata, this spectacular 1250 acre sheep and beef farm was the perfect setting for the Shire. Now Hobbiton is a (tourist) site not to be missed! It is a beautiful and eloquent journey as you are drawn into the magic of Middle Earth.

IMG_3561This 2 hour guided walking tour, whisks you away as soon as you board the bus to go down to the set, becoming immersed in the lush green rolling hills, literally descending into a part of Middle Earth. Entering a magical world, where you expect hobbits to be present, running, playing and tending to their gardens.

Originally the Shire, when constructed for the first trilogy, was made of cardboard and styrofoam, (as it was not intended to remain there permanently) and was actually dismantled afterwards. But with the revival of the set for The Hobbit, it was decided that the set would be built into a more permanent structure that would last for years to come.

39 Hobbit holes were created with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. Eloquent little houses distributed throughout the Shire. Complete with Bag End and the large oak tree that overlooks it.

IMG_0667I was super impressed with what they had created and the attention to detail in the set, from hobbit holes to chimneys and accessories, like wheel barrels and lightposts. Most of the Hobbit holes you could not actually enter and were used for outside shots only, but there were a few that you could step in through the door, turn around and get a sense of what it would be like looking outside at Hobbiton from inside your own little hobbit hole.

IMG_0632The houses were just the right size for Luke and Chloe, who were peeking in the windows and asking where all the hobbits were, as they certainly expected them to be there. We kept telling them they were out for lunch and would be back. Of course, they kept asking when.

Our tour guide was fabulous, a wealth of information, sharing how some houses were built to different percentage scales (sizes), making it feasible to get the shots they wanted in the film, with the humans being the ‘right size’. I did find though that even with two hours, our tour guide moved a little fast for me, telling us to take our time and take as many pictures as we wanted, yet moving on ahead and not waiting for the entire group to catch up before he started talking about the next part. I understand he likely had to do this because of time, but it would have been nice if he told us, so we could choose what was more important, pictures or information!

IMG_3555There is so much of the set to see and enjoy, or even just spend time soaking up the atmosphere, sitting on a bench and imagining. You really feel like you are there, and avid fans can picture scenes as you wander by and what was happening there. My favorite had to be the festival field, where Bilbo Baggins birthday celebration takes place as well as the Green Dragon Inn. The Green Dragon is very well done, and you can enjoy a bevvie or a bite to eat, while sitting by the cozy fireplace for a bit soaking up the atmosphere. Or even book it for your own private function! Part of your tour includes a complimentary ginger beer, Strongfarthing ale or cider, so there is an opportunity to sit and enjoy, for at least a little bit.

IMG_0662Near the end of our tour, we walked back from the Green Dragon to get a peek at three new Hobbit holes, not yet seen on film but may be appearing in the third Hobbit movie. (And we got to see them first! Love having the inside scoop!)

We boarded the bus back to The Shire’s Rest, where all tours begin, feeling satisfied and like we had definitely been part of something unique and magical.

IMG_4375The price of the tour itself I did find a little steep, $75 for adults (with reduced rates for youth, children and infants). But when we knew we were going to New Zealand and planned to go to Hobbiton we looked ahead online and absorbed our shock at home, having time to plan and digest the cost. We decided we were going (there was no question) so we accepted that’s what it would cost to go and went, we weren’t missing it!

It is not the most interesting tour for children, especially if they have not seen or have no concept of the The Lord Of The Rings books/ films. But it’s doable. I would also say it really depends on your children. I thought mine would be fabulous and attentive as we had gone on tours before, but on this particular day we were having a bit of a rough bout, and all of them were acting up. But once they became more engaged with looking for Hobbits and checking out the props (Chloe using the wheel barrel and sweeping, Luke and Matthew ‘chopping’ wood) they became more entertained and tolerant of moving and then stopping and listening to the information. They also loved peeking inside the houses looking for Hobbits and of course, really enjoyed their ginger beer towards the end of our tour.

IMG_0596It is a very busy place and a big tourist attraction. With tours running every half hour between 9 am and 3 pm daily. You can show up on site and book your tour, or book your tour in advance. There are also combo tours offered with evening dinner or tours including transport from Matamata or Rotorua. If you want to amp it up a little you can find some lovely farmstays nearby which include fabulous New Zealand fare as well as a tour of Hobbiton.

However you design your visit to Hobbiton, there is no doubt that you will be drawn into the magical world of Middle Earth and the eloquence of the Shire, looking around for Hobbits yourselves.

The View from Above

IMG_0795Gazing up 328 metres, we watch as the newest Sky Jumper prepares to hurl themselves towards the ground below. Hearing their screams of terror and delight as they jump off the  edge of the sky tower, flying at a rate of 85 km per hour!

This is how we begin our excursion to Auckland’s Sky Tower, the tallest man made structure in New Zealand and sitting in the heart of Auckland‘s downtown. We watched in awe and wonder as each new jumper went, with a mixture of excitement and fear as we each contemplated whether we would do such a feat ourselves.

Of course this is one of the optional adventures at Auckland’s Sky Tower, as a visit to the tower itself and riding the elevator up to the top can be just as exciting and provide breath taking views up to 80 km in any direction.

IMG_0750I usually skip these tourist towers in most cities I visit, as it seems to me that one is just the same as the other. And being in a few before I would have considered giving it a miss. I have also found that a lot of the original views are blocked due to newer taller buildings that have been built so you can’t really see anything and what you can see is not always easy identify what you are looking at.

I found the one in Auckland to be quite different in many respects. We decided to go on the recommendation of my friend Regan, who we were visiting in Auckland. He talked it up quite a bit and said the views were fantastic, that we would see a lot of the city. He also thought it would be great for the kids.


Going up the elevator

And he was right, as we entered the building (after experiencing the adrenaline rush by proxy with the jumpers outside), we were all excited. We purchased our tickets, which were quite reasonable, as they have a family rate for $61 and children under 6 are free!, and entered the elevator to take us up to the first level. Our excitement grew as we noticed a glass floor in the elevator and could watch the ground fall away as we went up. I thought this was really cool, and a great way to give you perspective on how far up you are going.

There are 3 levels at the top, the main observation deck (at 186 metres), the lounge and cafe (at 182 metres) and the sky deck (at 220 metres). Starting on the main observation deck, there are 2 levels there. As the observation deck goes in a complete circle, 360 degree views, you can choose to walk the inside perimeter on the carpet or you can step down to the path along the viewing windows, and walk along glass floors.

IMG_3576I always find the glass floors to be a neat experience and what it does to your head. It is weird for your body to be be looking down at the ground from that high up and thinking you should be falling, when your body isn’t. It was neat to watch how each of the kids approached it, Matthew walking across with no hesitation, Luke cautiously walking around the edge of the glass on the metal perimeter and Chloe jumping right on it.

And the views were fantastic! We were able to pick out landmarks such as Rangitoto Island, Auckland Domain, St. Mary’s Church and Auckland War Memorial Museum, to name a few. Auckland is a beautiful city and quite unique as it is basically built upon a number of volcanic cones. (I thought Regan said 13, but when I looked it up it is actually 48! Wow). Having Regan there was an added bonus, as a local, he could point out points of interest as well as answer any questions that we had, whether it be what is that to why is it there. Plus the kids loved him, as he pulled them along on the bean bag chairs around the observation deck.

IMG_0762Of course we did some classic photos of being pushed against the glass or pretending that we were being pushed or falling. With the big glass windows all around the deck these were fun and easy to do. You could also make yourself a souvenir penny in the machine on the deck, with an imprint of a New Zealand icon of your choice, whether it be the Sky Tower itself or the infamous Kiwi bird to name a few.

After thoroughly exploring the main level we hopped onto the elevator to take us up just a little higher to the Sky Deck. This is the highest public observation deck with views through virtually seamless glass. Not only did we have amazing views we could look down below and watch the Sky Jumpers from above taking their jump. We even had the opportunity to watch a couple braving the Sky Walk, where they walk around the 1.2 metre perimeter of the tower (full body harness and safety lines of course).


Sky Walk

Feeling satisfied, we descended to the ground below, again watching our descent through the glass floor in the elevator. (Have I told you how cool I think that is?) And of course no tourist attraction is complete without at least a look through the gift shop, which they always have conveniently set up so that you have to go through it to get out. Isn’t that nice of them? 🙂

We also took a look at our souvenir photo which they shot before we went up the Sky Tower, though we decided not to take the photo, we did make a few other souvenir purchases. We were pleased with our choice to visit here and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Auckland. As we were really there only one day, it gave us a good idea of what was in Auckland and some of the sites that I had hoped to see but couldn’t because of time. I felt satisfied being at least able to see it from a distance.


Rangitoto Island

We spent a better part of the morning there and had a really good time. It is one of the sites from our trip that Luke and Chloe ask again and again if we can go back to see. We even had the pleasure later that day seeing the tower lit up with its colorful lights, as we walked back to our hotel. The lights were beautiful and felt like a very nice way to end our day in Auckland.IMG_0791

Under the Sea

What do a giant shark, a spinning tunnel and an expedition to Antarctica have in common?

IMG_0827They are all found at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand, a fabulous underwater world created by New Zealand’s most celebrated under-sea explorer.

During our 3 week travels to Australia, we incorporated a week in New Zealand to get a little taste of the green pastures full of sheep, vineyards and many other sights of the country. We only spent one day in Auckland so had to pick and choose what we saw (as there is so much to do just in Auckland), but Kelly Tarlton’s was not a sight to be missed!

This harbourside marine park is a great place for the kids and the entire family. With experiences such as Shark Dives, Penguin Discoveries and Behind the Scenes tours, to Interactive Zones and the Seahorse Kingdom there is something for everyone.

Scott's Hut

Scott’s Hut

Located just outside of Auckland’s downtown on Tamaki Drive (and easily accessible by city transit or a free shuttle from downtown), you’re adventure begins as soon as you purchase your ticket. Entering Scott’s Base, you’re taken back to the first expedition to Antarctica and the conditions they had surviving there. Learning about life on the coldest place on earth!

Authentic memorabilia such as reindeer sleeping bags, food they took and items for entertainment, takes you back 100 years ago when Captain Robert Falcon Scott lived in his Antarctic Hut exploring the area.

Soon after is the Antarctic Ice Adventure, where you have the opportunity to see New Zealand‘s only colony of Antarctic penguins. After navigating the ‘ice tunnel’, (a spinning tunnel that makes you feel like you can’t walk in a straight line, and is hilarious for the kids. The floor is not moving but because the tunnel is spinning around you it feels like it is. My daughter found herself crawling along the floor to make it to the end). You enter a walkthrough area where you can view the King and Gentoo penguins swooping and swirling through the icy waters.

IMG_0830These guys are a delight to watch and all 3 of my kids loved watching them swimming and diving. I got some great video of them watching them, until Chloe hit Matthew or something like that, and then we caught a nice little tiff on video, aw the memories. Ha ha, what a great family vacation!

We had the priveldge that day of seeing the new King Penguin chick, tall, fluffy and stoic, standing on top of the ice. He was pretty cool to see.

We moved on to the other areas of the aquarium, enjoying Stingray Bay, where we timed it just right and listened to the Stingray talk, while sitting and enjoying a much needed coffee while listening. Did I mention that there is a nice cafe across from the Stingrays for just such emergencies?

IMG_0853It was pretty cool as we got to see the Stingrays up close and learned a lot about them, like how they spend most of their time inactive buried in sand, and prefer shallow waters, with the largest growing to 6.5 long. They really are fascinating gentle creatures, and it took me back to my swimming with the Manta Rays when I was in Hawaii.

The highlight for sure was the shark tunnel, where you are literally surrounded by sharks in an underwater tunnel. Stepping onto a moving pedway, it takes you around the ‘loop’ to view the sharks and other fish in the aquarium; able to step off on the side if you wish to pause and look a little longer.

IMG_0837It was such a unique experience to be surrounded by these sharks and marine life. We even got to see some other people on the shark cage experience – where you get to go into a cage and swim with the sharks in the tunnel. Pretty cool experience I think.

This place is very well thought out and laid out, with lots of opportunities to view and explore. Brimming with information, hands on opportunities and fun interactive experiences (have I mentioned the giant shark mouth that you can be ‘swallowed up’ in?) it will easily engage everyone.

The aquarium also gives back to the community as they provide school programs, scholarships, and established the Sea Life Conservation Fund, a non profit organization committed to protecting unique aquatic animals and their habitats.

IMG_3599Sadly, Kelly Tarlton himself has already passed away, dying shortly before his one millionth visitor saw the aquarium, but left a legacy and fulfilled a dream. He was dedicated to preserving and protecting marine life in our oceans and educating others. His Sea Life Aquarium continues to do this for all it’s visitors, young and old alike.

One of the final highlights of our visit was the souvenir photo we purchased at the end of our visit. When we first went in they snap your picture and of course offering it to you for purchase at the end. The thing was ours was really good. We got poses of us in the Antarctic with the penguins and another being eaten by a shark! Plus it came in a neat little package with information about the aquatic animals as well as opportunities to download photos online and even create your own slideshow. It was pretty neat!

Definitely worth the visit, and a place I would go back to and visit again, Kelly Tarlton’s is a must see when visiting Auckland!

For the Love of Fall… and a peek of what’s to come


Camping in Drumheller

It’s that time of year again, back to school, back to routines and also time to try new things.   We had a fantastic summer full of camping trips, days at the lake and all kinds of other adventures. You may have noticed I was suspiciously absent during the month of August. This is because I packed up the kids and went to Australia for 3 and a half weeks! My sister is there for a year with her family as her husband is on a teacher exchange.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity, as Australia is a place I absolutely love! And even though I have been before there is so much to see and do, it was time to go again. Plus this time we included a week in New Zealand, which I had not been to before.


Sydney Harbour, Australia

As a result I have tons of things to share with you and lots of blog posts to write about where to go and what to see in that area of the world. So this Fall I will include a weekly feature about some fabulous place in Australia or New Zealand. Giving you the scoop on how it works for families and children and what recommendations we have.

Also this Fall I will continue with sharing fabulous recipes that I have found and tried, that are sugar and dairy free, and sometimes gluten free. There seems to be an endless stream of yummy recipes out there! and I have a big bag (literally) full of them to try. For instance this morning I made Apple Cinnamon muffins again, which I tried last year and we really enjoyed. This year I tried something a little different, using leftover almond mash from making almond milk. They were so moist and yummy… Of course I promptly shared them with my neighbor and friends this morning over coffee as we sat outside amongst the beautiful fall leaves.


Apple Cake Muffin

These are the posts I will guarantee in amongst all the joys, trials and insights of having 3 children, whether it be tips on how to get them out the door in the morning or programs and crafts that I would recommend. And sometimes whatever moves me, whether it be a good book I’ve enjoyed or a moment I need to share. This is the joy of blogging!

Right now I am up to my ears in apples, like last year, we have reaped an abundant crop from our tree and are enjoying apple everything. I have made more crumbles than I can count, as well as pie, muffins, smoothies (ever tried an apple pie smoothie? Yum!), juice, etc. Though I have recently discovered apple butter – OMG! delicious and might try making that.

Fall is also my most favorite time of year! and I get super excited and motivated at this time of the year. Seasonally it is a time of ending, getting ready for a period of ‘rest’, but I see it as a time of new beginnings with all kinds of things that I want to try, or the kids want to try. Plus I love the warm golden sunny days, and the crisp Fall evenings. Gorgeous.

IMG_4087With that, I will leave you with the promise of what’s to come, and thoughts of what you’re favorite things about Fall are, or famous apple recipes you love. May you enjoy all that the season has to bring and more.

What are your favorite things/ activities in Fall? Have any good apple recipes? I’d love to try them. Please post in the comments below.