23 January 2020 – Mount Maunganui and lots of mud in Hell’s Gate, Rotorua

We started our day in Mount Maunganui with the youngest 2 kids having us up around 7am. Astrid somehow ignored all the noise and slept until after 8 am, racking up almost 13 hours straight sleep! She must be exhausted after all the riding and walking. We didn’t have a particularly lazy day in store for her so it was probably wise investment in time.

As usual the kids were not fast eating breakfast and despite us needing to do very little re-packing, after only arriving at the hotel late the day before, our plan for an early departure did not come to fruition. With another warm and sunny day forecast we were hoping to tackle a hike up Mt Maunganui (Mauao) in the cool of the morning. Between Astrid’s epic sleep, and breakfast shenanigans, time was slipping away as we packed the car. We were almost ready to go and about to check out of the hotel when we realised that Zinnia had hidden the room key somewhere (probably in a suitcase). This meant we had to unpack everything from the car to find it taking another 20 minutes. Kids!

It was now after 10am, bright sunshine and rapidly getting hot. Still, we thought we should attempt Mount Maunganui since we were here, and hoped we just didn’t cook ourselves!

While we were staying in the residential and commercial suburb of Mount Maunganui, which is part of the Tauranga metropolitan area, the large lava dome of the same name, is the reason for our visit here. It is officially known by it’s Maori name of Mauao, but known locally as ‘The Mount’. Given how flat the surrounding land is, you can see The Mount from miles away.

Mount Maunganui is located atop a sand bar that connects Mauao to the mainland, a geographical formation known as a tombolo. This gives the residents of Mount Maunganui both a harbour beach and an ocean beach with great surf, within a short distance. At the base of Mauao, the distance between the harbour and ocean side is a couple of  blocks. The area is filled with shops, cafes holiday rentals, and a caravan park and is extremely busy.

We eventually found a park for the car and wandered off in the direction of the walking trails. Zinnia was definitely ready for a sleep, so we figured a nice warm walk with her in the ergo would do the trick.

There are various tracks up and down The Mount and the place was buzzing with walkers, joggers, tourists and plenty of other kids. The first section from beach level is incredibly steep, with large stairs. The tracks were well signposted (with estimated times). We chose which route we wanted to take and off we went.

Our chosen track had plenty of stairs, but lots of amazing views. Bits were incredibly steep (gradients measured up to 27%) but the kids managed well, and we were impressed with the number of (presumably local) runners who were flying up the trails, picking their way through the rocks, kids and tourists.

Again we had a day with magical blue skies and you could see for miles. The water was the usual fabulous blue-green for this area, so there was no shortage of spectacular scenery as we followed the trail up.

Zinnia napped most of the way up, but it did get pretty sweaty with her on my front in the ergo…..and a great leg workout.

The trails were not really fenced and there were a few terrifying drops off the side of steep sections of the mountain. The kids were as usual pretty compliant with holding our hands when required, but definitely a few sections that required caution. That said there were no shortage of kids winding their way up the mountain and putting some adults to shame in the walking stakes.

Soon we were at the top and emerged to this stunning view, where we could see all of peninsula.

It’s a little over 1.2km of walking to get to the top but you do ascend 232m in that time, so it is a fair effort but worth it for the views.

Once we’d enjoyed the vista, we decided we’d head back down via one of the different trails. Our chosen track took us over the back of the mountain with view in the other direction. There were less stairs but quite slippery sections of gravel which were a challenge with Zinnia in the ergo.

The views on the way down were also pretty spectacular and we avoided twisted ankles and anyone falling off a cliff, so a good mornings work.

Yep, we just went up there! Definitely worth the effort on a nice day……..

Zinnia woke up just as we got to the base of the mountain. We were all hot but after a refill of drinking water the kids were convinced that we should do the walk out to Moturiki Island to check out the blow hole.

To get to Motoriki Island you walk back along the beach or board walk past all the cars and cafes. There is a man made bridge from the beach over to the island and the views back along the beach to The Mount are fabulous.

The walk on the island was less steep but there were still plenty of stairs to get our legs working. We eventually found the blow hole, but without much swell it wasn’t spurting water all that well today. It was still a pleasant walk and some pretty views. Soren enjoyed clambering over more rocks and managed to not fall in!

By the time we’d finished the 1.5km return from the beach to the blow hole, the kids were keen to remind us we’d promised rewards for their walking efforts. There were quite a few ice cream vendors on the beach, so with ice creams purchased we enjoyed the shade while the kids consumed their calories. Soren has become quite a fan of New Zealand’s favourite flavour – Hokey Pokey. Zinnia just loves icecream!

It was now after 12.30pm as we made it back to the car, and approaching 30 degrees. The car air conditioning was well received as we had all gotten rather sweaty.

We bid farewell to Mount Maunganui and drove off the peninsula, heading in the direction of Rotorua. It was another travel day but we’d planned some activities for along the way. Our planned lunch stop for the day was 50 minutes drive away at Okere Falls, where there was a cafe that got good reviews.

Zinnia, was not impressed with another day in the car so a lot of distracting and singing was required. We did eventually make it to the Okere Falls Store – an organic/eco cafe and store. It was rather popular but we managed to get a table and ordered some food.

Our food selections included, brezel, bratwurst, a German breakfast and an enormous plate of vegetarian nachos. Despite being hungry after a long morning and plenty of walking we couldn’t get through it all. Zinnia had heard that the older kids were fond of smelling Anto’s beer all the way through Europe, so had to have a go!

Despite all being tired we decided to go ahead with our planned activity for the afternoon – a visit to Hell’s Gate thermal park. It was on the way to Rotorua and our accomodation and the kids were excited about the prospect of mud baths.

It was a 20 minute drive to Hell’s Gate from Okere Falls, meaning we arrived around 2.30pm. Zinnia was well overdue for her afternoon nap so we decided we’d start with the walks around the park and then do the mud baths last for some relaxation.

During our time in Iceland we had seen plenty of geothermal activity and mud pools. Those in Iceland were definitely less ‘touristy’ than Hell’s Gate, but it had rated well on reviews and looked like it was worth trying for one our paid experience, especially as the kids were keen on some mud baths. There are no shortage of options for geothermal parks and mud baths in this area – some paid and some free, but we figured we should try some to compare to our Iceland experience.

The more touristy experience did get us boardwalks, explanation signs and less chance of getting caked in thick mud than what we did in Iceland. Most of the geothermal activity in Iceland seemed to involve a lot of snow and sticky mud, neither of which were fun to deal with in our motor home!

The mud was also quite a different colour here – much more grey with plenty of yellow from the sulphur. It was of course just as smelly, but you do get used to it pretty quickly.

Zinnia was off too sleep in the ergo pretty quickly, which made it a little quieter (although didn’t stop the question or commentary from the other 2) but very warm wandering with a sleeping baby in the hot sun.

There were geothermal pools at various temperatures, with plenty of boiling mud and even a small volcano. Travelling on boardwalks made it much easier and less messy than our Iceland experiences and there was close to a 35 degree Celsius temperature differential too!

The geothermal pools are always ‘other worldly’ and it’s fascinating watching the steam and boiling mud. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it, although were keen to get to the mud baths so were happy to keep moving.

The park is quite big and did take us awhile to walk around but soon we’d done a good lap and were pretty much over being hot, so figured we’d go and soak in some hot water instead.

We did know that Zinnia was under the age limit for the mud baths (it’s 2) so the adults were going to have to take turns. Off we went to get changed. The changing facilities were clean and big but they certainly don’t have the same protocols regarding showering and wet/dry areas as in Iceland. Astrid was quite disappointed that people were not following the Iceland rules!

There is an allocation of 20 minutes in the mud pools, so Anto, Astrid and Soren were first in. There are 3 separate pools and you either get one to your group or smaller groups share. Luckily for other tourists we had ours to ourselves.

The kids were straight into rubbing the mud on themselves and relaxing in the warm water. Anto also got a kid assisted mud scrub. The kids were in heaven, licence to play with mud to their hearts content.

Zinnia was surprisingly tolerant of sitting on the edge with me while her siblings got to swim. I expected much more protest given it’s close to her favourite activity. She was placated with the promise of a swim in the thermal pools soon. Once Anto and the kids 20 minutes was up I subbed in and they whisked Zinnia off for a swim, with a swing past the cold pool first, which apparently was not as cold as in Iceland.

Soren did kindly give me a mud rub first though……. Got to get some benefits from having kids!

Much to Zinnia’s delight she was allowed in the thermal pools. Like in Iceland there were a few different temperatures, generally between 37 and 40 degrees, so we needed to find our favourite ones. Unlike Iceland it was very warm outside the pool and not sub-zero and snowing! I kind of liked the Iceland experience better but it was certainly still relaxing after a busy holiday of riding and hiking.

I pretty quickly tired of the heat and we didn’t want to cook Zinnia so we wandered off to get changed. The other 3 would have stayed all day……

Unfortuantely it was now 5pm so we had to eventually drag them away and head for our accommodation in Rotorua. All changed and with our gear picked up we were back in the car for the 25 minute drive into Rotorua and to our Airrbnb home for the next few days.

We’d booked a lovely big house with a huge yard. The over-tired kids took full advantage of running around like crazy things while Anto escaped to the nearest supermarket for some dinner supplies.

We did require quite a bit more scrubbing in the shower that night to get all the mud off, and out of clothes but the kids declared it worth it, since they got to play in mud and didn’t have to deal with all the washing!

Daily statistics for Thursday the 23rd of January…..

We started the day in Mount Maunganui with a pleasant 16 degrees Celsius. It had reached a very warm 28 degrees by the time we were hiking up The Mount. Our afternoon in Rotorua was around the 25 degree mark but felt significantly hotter wandering around the steam and mud in Hell’s Gate! It didn’t stop us from soaking in those nice thermal and mud pools though…..

Our total walking for the day was 13.1km. This included our 2 hikes – up The Mount and over to the Moturiki Blow Hole. Our Strava activities for the hikes are below. They weren’t fast but a lot of great elevation for the little kids legs (and the adults carrying the baby!). As usual the big kids did all of that walking.

We covered 86.5km in around 1.5 hours in the car in our travels for the day – visiting Mount Maunganui in the morning, Okere Falls for lunch, Hell’s Gate Thermal Park for our afternoon activity and then arriving in Rotorua for our base for the next few days. Here is a google map of our driving for the day.

Up next……

We explore more of Rotorua with a hike through the Redwoods and then take to the tree tops with the Redwoods Treewalk. We also discover more of the wonderful free activities in Rotorua with some fun and thermal activity in Kuirau Park

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