We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Rotorua = FUN. This time, we go and try out the new Ultimate Tour at the Rotorua Canopy Tours, have a brunch fit for a hunter at Scope, and slosh down a hill in an OGO.
WORDS JENNY RUDD IMAGES SUPPLIED + JENNY RUDD
It was the last official weekend of winter, and we wanted to go out with a blast of energy. Rotorua wins every time with my children: they know they don’t have to sit in the car for long, and they know the city is jam-packed with fun experiences.
As soon as we leave the Californian blonde and blue of Mt Maunganui, and skip through the new Te Puke bypass, you know you are inland. Green is everywhere. I had a car of four tweens and early teens, and we were up for action.
First stop was Okere Falls Store. If you are going to Rotorua, it would be a crime not to stop there. We grabbed some pies (hot tip: go for steak, bacon and mushroom), and lined our tummies, ready to expend some energy.
We got into our togs (changing rooms with heaters: nice), and jumped into the hot tub. This whole experience was characterised by warm water: there are hot tubs at the start and end of every ride, and while you are in the OGO, there are 40 litres of warm water which you slide around in on your way down.
Two brothers (Andrew and Dave Akers) own and operate OGO, and Andrew actually invented these downhill ball rolling bubbles. They are made on-site in the little factory just next to the car park. There’s a whole lot of Kiwi ingenuity behind this experience: the OGOs are also manufactured to sell to similar experiences all over the world. They built the whole place themselves, and are constantly developing new rides. We went on the brand new MEGA track, which was fast and long! And to the right of the road which takes you to the top, they are developing another windy track which goes through the trees.
You can go down in twos or threes, depending on the ride, and we held GoPros inside our steamy little world. This was a huge hit with all of us – it looks a lot more boisterous than it actually is. You don’t tumble head over heels inside, it’s a bit more like being in a waterslide. I went down with my daughter: it was like trying to get close to a slithery little otter.
We all went down each of the three tracks, and enjoyed the banter with Liam, who cheerfully drove us up the hill each time in a 4 wheel drive kitted out for the job: plastic on all the seats, and the heater on full blast.
There’s a cosy viewing room with bean bags and lockers at the bottom, so you can watch the action if you don’t feel like joining in. As is so often the case in Rotorua, everyone working at OGO seems to be having the time of their lives, and all help their customers do the same.
A massive thumbs up. We’ll be back this summer to try out the new track.
This was an unexpected gem! Right next door to the Canopy Tours and opposite the gondola is Amokura Glass. Inside the tin dome is a gallery of brightly coloured glass objects, which are all made on the other side of the counter in a small glass making factory. All of this is contained in a very small building. It was exciting to be so close to the furnaces and glass blowing equipment.
We watched as Heather made a tall glass tumbler (we asked for a green one), using the furnaces and old fashioned-looking equipment. I couldn’t believe quite how much work went into making just one glass. It was an unexpected highlight of the weekend. And I’m so glad we went on Saturday, because we had to wait 16 hours for our glass to cool before we could pick it up.
Sunday morning and we needed a decent brunch to see us through an afternoon of zip lining. I checked out Scope’s Facebook Page and saw a photo of the team winning an award at the Rotorua Hospitality Awards. What a great sign! The judges must have loved that job, and they were spot on.
The owner, Dana, was really friendly and welcoming, and seated us in a big, comfy table near the window. The children were all craning their necks to see the cabinets loaded up with sweet goodies. We went all out, starting with iced chocolates, and a banana, honey and oat smoothie. The place was pretty full. No surprises, given how delicious everything was. Bella was pretty quiet for a good ten minutes after her brioche French toast arrived. She confirmed it as one of the best breakfasts she’s ever eaten. The Hungry Hunter Breakfast came with the most delicious, huge wedge of homemade hash brown, and venison sausages which are made specially for Scope.
I went for the homemade granola, which was toasted perfectly and had a huge range of nuts and grains, and a delicious fruit compote on the side.
Dana sent us off with a bag of her Nutella melting moments. We HIGHLY recommend this café. There was pride and love in every dish, and the locals must know it, because there was a steady stream of brunchers coming through the doors the whole time we were there.
Ultimate Canopy Tour
We rolled out of Scope and headed back to Fairy Springs Road. Last year we tried the Original Canopy Tour, and had heard great things about the newest adventure.
We were kitted out with warm jackets (it’s much colder in the forest than you think!), helmets, harnesses and a GoPro on a selfie stick.
Zip lining above the canopy was originally done so that scientists could observe what was going on in the forest. Bu why should they have all the fun? There was a hint of science in the tour, as all the guides are clearly very passionate about conserving the natural forest that the tour operates in.
This tour is bigger, longer, faster than the original. There are about six zip lines, and numerous bridges, walks and little extra bits of fun on the ultimate tour.
The children immediately commented on how different the air felt in the forest. You want to breathe heavier. There’s a deep peace in here, and when you look at the way the forest has grown, wrapping around itself over the thousands of years it’s been here, untouched, you really do have the sense that you are looking at something special. Only 5% of forests in New Zealand have remained untouched. Rotorua Canopy Tours is partnered with the Department of Conservation to bring this tour to us all.
There are lots of points to stop and chat about the effect possums have had on native forest and flightless birds. It is an ongoing project to help native birds and trees regenerate. Late afternoon on Sunday we all head back from green to blue. Rotorua is still very much at the top of the list when it comes to putting on the Ritz.
We were kindly hosted this weekend by OGO Rotorua, Scope Café, Rotorua Canopy Tours, and Destination Rotorua.