This first two and a half weeks of our 48-week adventure qualifies as a vacation rather than hard core travel. We knew they would be. Savvy parents and seasoned travelers that we are (be sure to detect the sarcasm in this assessment), we planned on easing our way into this adventure. When American parents think of taking their kids on vacation, their first thought is often Orlando. New Zealand is not big on manmade theme parks; it boasts divinely appointed ones, namely mountains, valleys, and coastlines.The Kiwis do, however, have their own version of a family fun destination, and appropriately it’s got a name that’s fun for kids to pronounce and only intermittently inspires visions of clogged drains–Rotorua.
We just spent four action-packed days in Rotorua and had to work hard to convince the kids there were other places in New Zealand worth visiting. The first thing you should know about Rotorua is that it stinks…literally. It sits on a geothermal hotspot, the precise location where the earth’s crust is at its thinnest. Volcanic magma that percolates beneath the ground heats water and releases steady mists of sulphuric steam through fissures and holes that scent the town with the odor of rotten eggs. You get used to the smell quickly, though when a particularly strong breeze blows through you’re likely to forget the cause and blame one of your traveling companions for a lack of flatulary discretion. (I just made up that word because I couldn’t find an alternative that worked.)
We began the Andrus Tour de Rotorua with the Zorb. We’d seen it on TV, read about it in travel books, and made it one of our New Zealand musts. Dax, McKane, and Kieran made the first run. They piled into the back of an old 4×4 for the quick trip up the hill. At the top the attendant used a hose to spray a shallow layer of warm water into the sphere before instructing them to dive in through the entry chute. They started pushing the Zorb forward from a standing position but soon fell to their knees, as does almost everybody who makes the ride. A minute later they emerged from the inflatable ball, each with his own unique expression. Kieran was victorious, a 6-year-old who had hung with the big boys. McKane was excited, begging to go again. Dax was mildly impressed, disappointed he had not gotten to make the solo ride down the zigzag course.
Tom and I went next, leaving a very sad Asher, who was too young to participate, at the base of the hill with her big brothers. Though she was still crying when we completed our ride, she instantly forgot her woes when she was rewarded with a popsicle from Tom and a special stamp on her arm by a sympathetic Zorb employee.
And this was just our first hour in Rotorua!