Yes, that was back in the day when I was still married to the father of my children, who had thoughtfully banned eating and drinking in the car, so I'd commited the unforgiveable sin of not packing snacks.
Even though we'd been up and had fed the kids early, they were starving an hour into the trip, so we had to stop at a service station for supplies.
And so we found ourselves queuing for nearly 25 minutes at the service station café, for what was possibly the worst coffee I have ever tasted in my life (and that’s from someone who has spent a lot of time in country Australia).
The kids were happy with their haul though – juice and brownies – especially as we broke the rules to allow them to snack as we drove to save time.
Cambridge was the next stop, where we literally spent a penny (actually it was 50 cents each) to use the loos. A farmer’s market was on nearby, so the kids picked up a bag of organic apples and juice for the journey.
Finally, after a very scenic 4 hour drive, we made it to Rotorua, where the first sights of steam rising from cracks in the ground prompted cries of excitement (from the adults as well as the kids).
We stopped at a local park, where the kids excitedly checked out a few hot springs, whilst complaining about the smell.
Yes, we’d been warned about ‘stinky’ Rotorua, but were still overwhelmed by “The Stench” as C. called it.
Still, there was a bright side. “Now we can fart and you won’t know if it’s us or the hot springs”, he announced excitedly. H. wickedly lost no time in testing out the theory! "It's true!" she announced happily.
I’d booked an internet special online, and after reading a few trip advisor reviews (after instead of before the booking), I was a bit worried about what we’d find.
But the Hotel Sudima was fine. Sure they lost our booking, but they found it again; and our room wasn’t ready on arrival, but they gave us a key to the pool and loads of towels so we could go for a swim in their thermatically heated pool.
It was divine! Even warmer than the hydrotherapy pool I used in Brisbane for my arthritis exercises.
There were even private spa rooms where you could lounge in peace. The spas were only partly covered, so you could sit back and watch the stars at night or enjoy the sensation of a cool rainshower while your nether regions were toasty and warm. These had to be booked, but there was no extra charge, which I thought was awesome.
For NZ $129 a night for all of us, including a full buffet breakfast, you couldn’t really ask for more … even though the Rotorua smell somehow followed us everywhere.
We walked around the lake, napped, and enjoyed hot spas in the afternoon, before heading to a Maori show and hangi that evening. It was touristy, but fun, and the kids were spellbound.
We all enjoyed the hangi, and later, the Princess joined me on stage for a poi dance, while the big and little men got to do the Haka.
The kids with two of the performers. Weren't they tiny back then?
Next morning, we visited the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Billed as New Zealand’s most diverse area of geothermal activity, it’s a bit like visiting the Land That Time Forgot.
Steam rises from eerily coloured pools and vents, mud gurgles and plops, steam vents hiss, and cavernous craters dot the land.
It is seriously one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to in the world. Right up there with unforgettable must-sees like the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls.
Even the Princess forgot to ask to be ‘luppied’ (carried), so entranced was she by the sights and sounds (and even the offensive smells).
The Little Dude was taken by the names of some of the attractions: the Devi’s Home, Devil’s Bath, and the Infernal Crater, to name a few.
And they both loved the eruption (induced by soapflakes) of the Lady Knox Geyser, which soaked them both as it erupted about 20 metres up into the air.
We would have loved to have stayed longer at Rotorua (and I for one, would love to return to try the world-famous Polynesian Spa – girls’ weekend anyone?), but reality and work in Auckland beckoned.
One day I hope we'll return.
And "It smells like Rotorua" has become a favourite family saying, usually spoken when one of the kids has let one rip. (I, of course, never fart. And if I did, it would smell like roses. Not Rotorua!)