North Island Road Trip Day 3: Napier to Rotorua

Distance: 219km

Approximate Driving Time: 3 hours


After a superb night’s rest at the Econo Lodge Napier (we were all so comfortable that we overslept), we devoured the cracking continental breakfast that was delivered to our unit the night before. Freshness and local produce were the focus once again and we even discovered a new favourite cereal – a bonus when you have a fussy eater! Then, with a round of smiling farewells from the staff, we were on our way, this time under stunning blue skies.


National Aquarium of New Zealand

Along the waterfront, we visited the National Aquarium of New Zealand. An awesome attraction for both kids and adults, we spent a couple of hours exploring and meeting the inhabitants. The penguins were ever so cute and after feeding-time one of them swam right over to us to splash around in the water within arm’s reach.

The amazing array of fish, reptiles and aquatic creatures kept us all fascinated. We found Dory, which seems to be a very regular theme with aquariums, but alas, no Nemo. I guess he’s still missing. The boys were glad when the huge sea turtle woke from his nap for a swim around. We got the obligatory family holiday silly snaps quota filled with poses in various Finding Nemo cut-outs and a huge megalodon jaw.

The walkthrough tunnel under the main tank meant that we could watch fish, stingrays, eels and sharks swim above and around us. The Aquarium also includes a kiwi house and dinosaur exhibit including hands-on fossil displays. By far and away my favourite thing was the reef tank feeding. The scuba diver who was hand-feeding the fish was extraordinarily funny and had the kids fully engaged in watching his every move and interacting with him. Superb entertainment!

We hit the road again, heading from Napier to Taupo. We made the rookie mistake of letting one of the kids make up a car game and can now vouch for counting sheep being a bad idea for a game. A quick stop for lunch at the cafe halfway along the Napier-Taupo road broke up the journey and we were soon on our way through steam fields towards Rotorua and that undeniable odour!


Polynesian Spa

A visit to Rotorua isn’t complete without a dip in a thermally heated pool and the pools at Polynesian Spa are one of the essential attractions of the area. There’s a range of pools from the comfortably warm and chlorinated family pool to the public and private pools and the luxury of the Lake Spa with a range of temperatures and superb views across the lake.

We gradually made our way through the various scenic pools with rising temperatures and were lucky enough to be in the lake view pool as the sun was setting for a magical experience. Though I’m sure it’s incredibly invigorating, none of us were brave enough to try out the cold plunge pool. Paul suggested that I try one of the heated sun loungers. It may sound like a bit of a novelty but about 10 seconds after sitting back I found myself making those ‘ooh, aah’ contented noises and a connection formed with my fellow loungers in our collective hogging of these sought after seats.

The kids loved the family pool. As it’s chlorinated they could put their heads under the water – essential for shark tag – and they were happy to play for ages, though my heated pool lounger was beckoning me! Having managed to drag the kids reluctantly out of the pool, the Lake Spa changing rooms had warm, fluffy towels provided and the showers were fitted out with shampoo and shower gel. Even though my husband is far from the metrosexual type he was raving about the herbal ingredients and the difference it made to his skin and hair!


We don’t want to leave!

That evening we were warmly welcomed by our enthusiastic hosts at the Econo Lodge Cleveland. Their passion for the amazing sights and activities in Rotorua was infectious and we were eager to explore more the next day. The accommodation was perfectly sited between the city centre and the main tourist attractions at Mt Ngongotaha. Our unit was more like a house than a motel room with a full kitchen, two bedrooms and a wonderfully comfy and sunny lounge. The TV even had WiFi set up and a range of movies available on pay per view.

This would be an awesome place for a family reunion or sporting groups as there’s lots of communal facilities and big units. The grounds included a trampoline and playground, plus huge safe grassed spaces for the kids to run and play. That’s often missing with many accommodation options. Those wanting to “take the waters” can dip in the two indoor mineral pools or the fabulous thermally heated swimming pool. The boys and I went for a swim in the thermal pool and can safely say it was utter heaven. Heated to 37 degrees, we just didn’t want to get out! We would totally go back just for the pool. Ah, that pool …


A wonderfully relaxed dinner

Just a few minutes drive from our accommodation we dined at Cobb & Co that night. I’m such a huge Cobb & Co fan but even I was astounded by the quality of the meals that we had. I ordered the roast pork dinner and was delighted to be offered extra crackling. Who turns down extra crackling? According to our friendly waitress – no one!


While we awaited our meals, Lee headed off to the kids area to take on the Playstation games while Jason tackled the puzzles on the kids activity sheet. Well, I say “kids” but actually it turned into a word search battle between Paul and myself to see who could finish first. Our meals were full of flavour and filling and the surroundings were comfortable and relaxed. Even though the restaurant was busy with lots of happy diners, staff were still amazingly efficient. The kids cocktail options are a cool way for kids to enjoy the dining out experience and Lee had a Pink Panther complete with peacock!


View next post: North Island Road Trip Day 4: Rotorua to Taupo


View previous post: North Island Road Trip Day 2: Palmerston North to Napier

This blog was written by Julie Scanlon of Kidspot NZ. Julie and her family were sponsored by Choice Hotels Asia-Pac on their 5 day road trip of the lower North Island. 
For more information on Choice Hotels Asia-Pac visit or follow Choice Hotels NZ on Facebook. We acknowledge the support of Hawke’s Bay Tourism and Destination Rotorua in providing activities during the road trip and thank them for their assistance.


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