A roadie to Rotorua

A nearly annual weekend away with my four sisters and my mother is always something I look forward to. The opportunity to step back into our own childhoods, where we are reliving holidays with laughter, board games, practical jokes and plenty of activities, is something we love doing.

It doesn’t matter which town we decide to go to, there is always the same element in common – fun. And often a prank or two.

Last time we went to Christchurch, this time we headed to Rotorua.

First we stopped at Pacifica Café in Papamoa, making use of the opportunity to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of my sisters.

After that I took everyone to The Cave in Papamoa where we spent a couple of hours exploring the 3D virtual reality world, visiting the top of Mount Everest, the moon on board the Apollo mission, and diving in shark cages.

And of course my four sisters were drawn to the competitive car racing, battling each other at Bathurst.

A stop at the Daily Café for lunch in Te Puke was an excuse for a goofy prank with the popular ‘facemats’ being brought out as a prerequisite for ordering coffee.

I found myself posting the images to Facebook with the comment ‘sorry Te Puke’. I knew later it would also be ‘sorry Rotorua’.

Airbnb is brilliant for finding houses where six of us can stay, separated from any snoring, and after dinner it was table games and more laughter. Months before the weekend, two sisters managed to buy up just about every baby doll they could find, wrapping each one as a ‘prize’ which somehow another sister was ‘set up’ to win.

Apparently, as a child she used to have one of these dolls, and so the mission was to deluge her with a mountain of them.

I realise that one family’s humour and jokes can often be completely puzzling to anyone else, and often it’s even puzzling to me too!

I wondered once why we were the only family I knew that had to entertain ourselves and everyone around us while on holiday, but I love those moments when inescapable laughter bursts out of someone.

Up early on Saturday, the mission was to start the day with $5, visiting every garage sale in Rotorua, with each of us allocated to buy a present for another. There’s no fun going dressed normally of course - our normal is to wear brightly coloured wigs. I realised later this helps me not get lost.

The opportunity to meet people at their homes as they engage in selling unwanted items is quite unique. The randomness of it, not knowing who you are going to be chatting with at the next stop, and surprising a child by buying something from their stall, - it’s all just a lot of fun.

Stopping for a coffee break at Third Place Café on Lake Rd, we enjoyed the view of Ohinemutu, the village on the shores of the lake, with steam billowing up from vents in the earth’s thin crust.

Rotorua’s Kairau Park Market is a great spot to explore crafts and stalls, and an opportunity for the clan to burst into song and entertain the locals in four-part harmony. Eat Street also ‘benefitted’ from two of my sisters dressed up and performing there with ukulele and song, much to the delight of the patrons of a café, which I admit I found surprising.

“You actually liked that?” I asked. 

“Made my day,” was the reply.

After singing their way through Rotorua, it was time to head to Rotorua’s Government Gardens for a picnic lunch and bestow our garage sale presents on each other. My mother is queen of finding ‘just the right thing’ whereas I tend to struggle and resort to buying jigsaw puzzles.

It was then a short drive around to the Lakeland Queen, which operates as a café Wednesday to Sunday with a one-hour cruise at 1pm. The heritage styled vessel with its gentle paddle provides an opportunity to enjoy a different perspective of the city, taking in geothermal and lake views, and cruising past the bird sanctuary in Sulphur Bay, and Ohinemutu, while listening to informative commentary.

It was this lake that Hinemoa swam across, from the mainland to Mokoia Island, to be with her lover, Tutanekai, thus inspiring the greatest of all New Zealand songs, ‘Pokarekare Ana’. The island holds a personal interest for me, being one of the locations for a screenplay I’m working on.

After a rest break back at the house, we donned our ‘glad rags’, spruced ourselves up, and headed to Stratosfare, the restaurant at the top of the gondola. We had joked that with such an incredible view, the food would probably be awful. It wasn’t. The restaurant features the longest smorgasbord I’ve ever seen and staff arrived at our table with a lit birthday cake and card for my sister. For creating a memory it will forever stay in our minds alongside the time we had dinner together at the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower.

Sunday morning, after a visit to the Farmers Market in the main city, it was off for another coffee, this time to Capers Café in Eruera St, before heading back to Tauranga. On checking my COVID Tracer app later, I found we’d been to over 20 places.

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