En­joy a get­away at home

If you’ve left it too late to plan a get­away for the school hol­i­days, why not try a stay­ca­tion, writes Thomas Manch.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - SCHOOL HOLIDAYS STAYCATIONS -

Win­ter wear­ing you down? That’s gen­er­ally the pitch from travel com­pa­nies pro­mot­ing last-minute deals as win­ter wanes. The cold­est sea­son is a good ex­cuse for a break, but not when you’re just a week out from the school hol­i­days.

But there’s plenty of value in a stay­ca­tion. They are a chance to see your town with new eyes.

Un­sure where to start? Here are some school hol­i­day stay­ca­tion tips for the main cen­tres:

Auck­land

For­get Sea World, Kelly Tarl­ton’s Sea Life Aquar­ium is an un­der­wa­ter world wait­ing for you around the cor­ner. The aquar­ium is full of new life and ro­mance in spring. Spot the baby sea dragons and jel­ly­fish, and see the gen­too pen­guins court­ing each other. Tick­ets are $39 for adults, $22 for chil­dren – but cheaper tick­ets are avail­able on­line.

The Mu­seum of Trans­port and Tech­nol­ogy doesn’t pro­vide the thrills of Dream­world, but the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence is prob­a­bly more valu­able than an adren­a­line rush. Colour is the fo­cus of its up­com­ing hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ence, which in­cludes a ‘‘Glow Zone’’ and op­ti­cal il­lu­sions. At $16 for adults and $8 for chil­dren, the price won’t give you a head-rush ei­ther.

If you’re look­ing to es­cape the city, head to the Awhitu Penin­sula, west of Pukekohe. Drive out to the end of the penin­sula where you’ll find the his­toric Manukau Heads Light­house, one of few in the coun­try that you can climb to the top.

Just north of Auck­land you’ll find the black sand beaches of rugged Muri­wai. Take a spin on a blo-kart, or view the gan­net colony as the birds set­tle in for sum­mer.

Hamil­ton

You don’t need to head to the Gold Coast to learn to surf. Raglan, de­scribed as a world­class, fam­ily-friendly, surf­ing beach with a pi­o­neer­ing surf school by Na­tional Geo­graphic, is only 45 min­utes from cen­tral Hamil­ton. Be­gin­ners lessons are $89 and, with wet­suit rental in­cluded, all you have to do is show up.

There’s an un­known world in the King Coun­try, right un­der­neath your feet. The myth­i­cal Wait­omo Caves are great for the ad­ven­tur­ous; you can ab­seil, raft, or boat into its glow­ing depths. Prices vary, but check out the Caves’ web­site for school hol­i­day deals.

Back in town, the Hamil­ton Gar­dens are worth a spring af­ter­noon pic­nic. Take a cruise on the Waikato River Ex­plorer, which sails on Tues­days, Thurs­days, and week­ends. Tick­ets for the scenic cruise are $30 for adults, and $15 for chil­dren.

And it wouldn’t be a hol­i­day with­out a trip to the zoo. Hamil­ton Zoo of­fers ‘‘Face2Face’’ en­coun­ters with the lemurs, chee­tah, and even the rhino for $15. On the up-close ‘‘Eye2Eye’’ tour, at $75 for a group of five, you learn how the an­i­mals are cared for, the is­sues they face in the wild, and what the zoo is do­ing for con­ser­va­tion.

Welling­ton

It’s the ‘‘lit­tle city that could, and did’’, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent ar­ti­cle on The Huff­in­g­ton Post‘s web­site which af­firmed Welling­ton’s sta­tus as the cre­ative cap­i­tal. Boast­ing more cafes, bars, and restau­rants per capita than New York City, why would you need to leave town to splurge th­ese school hol­i­days?

As with pop­u­lar get­away des­ti­na­tion Mel­bourne, lanes are in­creas­ingly play­ing host to the city’s of­fer­ings. The freshly ren­o­vated Eg­mont St and neigh­bour­ing Eva St are host to nu­mer­ous des­ti­na­tions for foodies, in­clud­ing the Eg­mont Street Eatery, Welling­ton Cho­co­late Fac­tory, and peanut but­ter mak­ers Fix and Fogg.

Hol­i­days are all about try­ing some­thing new, but you can al­ways bring the des­ti­na­tion to you. Head to the night mar­ket and try a dish at one of the many food trucks of­fer­ing cui­sine from other lands. Head in with an empty stom­ach and you could have mul­ti­ple hol­i­days in one evening.

If you haven’t seen the two war ex­hi­bi­tions in the cap­i­tal, now might be your chance. The Great War Ex­hi­bi­tion at the his­toric Do­min­ion Mu­seum, and Te Papa’s Gal­lipoli: The Scale of Our War are highly re­garded his­tory lessons. Both are $15 for adults, and it’s $10 for chil­dren at Te Papa, and free for un­der-16s at the Do­min­ion.

Te Papa has school hol­i­day ac­tiv­i­ties with lighter sub­ject mat­ter. Kids can take part in a ukulele jam ses­sion, an im­prov­com­edy work­shop, or learn how to sing with a NZ Opera singer.

If you’re look­ing to get out­doors, visit the of­ten over­looked eco-sanc­tu­ary Zealan­dia. The en­trance fee helps sup­port the na­tive birds, lizards, and bugs that call the re­serve home.

Christchurch

Miss­ing the beaches of Fiji? If you’re stay­ca­tion­ing in Christchurch, for­get the golden sands all to­gether and head for white pow­der. Mt Hutt is open through­out the school hol­i­days, with lift passes and lessons start­ing at $71 for a day for un­der-10s.

And if you’re seek­ing that re­sort treat­ment, in­dulge in the ther­mal pools of Han­mer Springs, a 90-minute drive north of the city. Push your kids down the slide and, if you’re feel­ing par­tic­u­larly lux­u­ri­ous, in­dulge in a spa treat­ment.

If in­dul­gence isn’t your thing, the scenic town­ship of Lyt­tel­ton is worth a trip. Stroll around the port town known for its off­beat charm, visit the Satur­day farm­ers’ mar­ket and, if you like the port lifestyle, take the three-day Learn to sail course with the Naval Point Club for $175.

It’s pos­si­ble to take a stay­ca­tion far off the beaten track with the Mini New Zealand Ice­fest and its Our Place in Antarc­tica ex­hi­bi­tion, on the per­ils of trav­el­ling and sur­viv­ing on the world’s cold­est con­ti­nent. The first week of the school hol­i­days is the ex­hi­bi­tion’s last week, so get in quick be­fore it melts away.

PHOTO: FAIR­FAX NZ

If you’re in Hamil­ton, visit the in­trigu­ing Wait­omo Caves.

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