Sun, surf and boiling mud

From digging for dinosaurs to a cooking school, Deborah Dickson-Smith comes up with six holidays you may never have thought of.

IT REALLY is possible to find something to interest kids in most holiday destinations but we tend to stick to tried-and-true favourites. So here are six ideas if you're looking for something different. After all, it's your holiday, too.


A jungle adventure up the River Kwai

Kanchanaburi, near the Burmese border in Thailand's west, is best known for a certain bridge across a certain river. But if your kids are anything like mine they won't give a hoot about the area's extraordinary history. They might have fun with the self-guided audio-headset tours at the beautifully appointed memorial for about 30 seconds.

Luckily, the memorial isn't the only attraction here for visiting families. The accommodation here really is special. You have the choice of a lodge, safari camp or rafts floating just offshore, way up river in the middle of the jungle. There's no electricity (so no TV) and no internet connection. It is a total escape from everyday life.

We're greeted on arrival by three elephants bathing in the river literally at the back verandah of our rooms. Their mahouts lead them to the kids' outstretched arms in greeting - an experience to last a lifetime.

The river is fast flowing and one of the popular activities here is to float down it from one end of the long line of rafts to the other, clamber up, run the length of the hotel and jump in again.

The nearby River Kwai Resotel has thatched, cabin-style accommodation, a gorgeous pool and free bikes so you can explore the vast (mainly flat) property and cycle up to the enormous Lawa Cave, only discovered about 40 years ago.



Geothermal wonders and extreme sports

Until recently all I knew about Rotorua was its reputation for bubbling pools of mud and a sulphurous smell. I have now discovered it is in fact a giant theme park of extreme adventures and natural wonders.

There is a wide range of wilderness experiences to choose from here, from mountain-bike trails and scenic walking tracks to geothermal attractions.

Whakarewarewa Forest provides a fantastic array of purpose-built mountain-bike trails suitable for all ages and fitness levels and access is free. There are plenty of white-water rafting and river-jet operators nearby and you can also race each other down Mount Ngongotaha on a luge.

A visit to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley takes you past a boiling lake, bubbling creeks and Inferno Crater, a phosphorescent pale-blue lake of sulphuric acid. Nearby Wai-O-Tapu is home to a completely different set of natural wonders including the Champagne Pool, so named for the size of its bubbles.

If you really want to get the kids' adrenalin pumping, there's a range of extreme adventures at Agroventures. It's home to the Schweeb, a Kiwi-invented human-powered monorail ride, as well as a giant swing that takes you plummeting to earth at 130km/h from 40 metres high and the Rotorua Bungy (minimum age 10 years).

Up the road at Agrodome is another Rotorua must do: zorbing, the sport of rolling down a hill at high speed inside a giant inflatable sphere, also invented by the Kiwis.


Turning grocery shopping and cooking into a game

The success of MasterChef and Junior MasterChef show kids really do like cooking. Words have appeared in my kids' vocabulary that didn't exist before, such as "plating".

So it's no surprise that the highlight of a recent Bangkok family sojourn was a Thai cooking class. The Baipai Thai Cooking School is one of a few in Bangkok that allow children to participate and it's very reasonably priced.

We're taken first to the local market for a lesson in purchasing spices and fresh produce. The markets are a whirlwind of colour, smells, activity and the odd grisly sight. We pass by a bucket filled with foul black liquid and goats' heads, thin strips of raw beef drying on car bonnets and countless chooks hanging from their necks ("awesome").

At school we learn how to make coconut sticky rice, savoury prawn salad, satay chicken and chicken with cashew nuts. My youngest is lapping up the attention from fellow tourists in her new role as teacher's helper, revelling in new-found responsibility. We end the day with a Thai feast of our own making and the kids become a bit more adventurous with their culinary tastes.;

Kuala Lumpur

Sunway: something for the whole family

In the middle of Kuala Lumpur is an enormous crater that was once a tin mine. Inside this crater is a rather grand hotel, a resort, a lake, a surf beach, an amusement park and a zoo. Oh, and a shopping centre, nightclub, a couple of spa resorts and so many restaurants I stopped trying to count them. It literally has something to suit even the fussiest of your travelling companions. It even has Hollywood- or Arabian-themed rooms.

Its Balinese-inspired Mandara Spa is tucked away in a secluded garden and offers a menu of more than 30 treatments.

In the resort's playground, Sunway Lagoon, are thrill rides, a water park (which includes the world's largest man-made surf beach) and extreme sports rides including a flying fox that traverses the length of the park and a suspension bridge that takes us a good half hour to cross. Behind all this is the lake, a quad-bike track and a zoo.

The Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall, which you can access from the lobby of the hotel, is home to more than 500 specialty outlets as well as a 48-lane bowling centre, indoor archery, ice-skating rink and 10-screen cinema complex.

Have they missed anything? Did I mention the kids' club?

Rocky Mountains

Dinosaur hunting

The badlands of North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming in the US are famous for the rich collection of fossils found there. The area is dotted with wonderful museums and there is a wide range of tours available, allowing you to get your hands dirty and dig for dinosaurs.

The Dakota Dinosaur Museum in Dickinson features 11 full-scale dinosaurs, including a real triceratops skeleton. In the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora you'll find the skeleton of a 30-million-year-old horse, mesohippus, and in Bismarck there is a life-size mastodon on display.

The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota, contains the largest concentration of Columbian mammoths in the world. Guided tours take you within a couple of metres of the 26,000-year-old fossils.

The kids can explore the famous Montana Dinosaur Trail with a Prehistoric Passport, which describes the dinosaur displays, exhibits and activities found at each of the trail's 15 facilities. Each passport includes fun fossil facts, a section for field notes and space for the official "Dino Icon" stamps that verify the passport owner has visited each site.

Once you've collected all 15 Dino Icon stamps you receive a gold seal, a certificate of completion and an exclusive Montana Dinosaur Trail Prehistoric Passport T-shirt.;


Kayaking, snorkelling and zorbing

Port Vila's sheltered lagoons are perfect for children and most of the resorts have a wide range of water-based activities to choose from.

If you're looking to venture beyond your resort, a short trip on the Reef Explorer will take you to Iririki Island where the kids can snorkel and hand-feed tropical fish.

The lagoons are also great for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Kayaking Vanuatu can pick you up from your hotel and take you to the nearby Mele Bay, where you can paddle your own glass-bottom kayak, snorkel and get up close to the colourful coral gardens.

Back on land (sort of), Wet 'N' Wild water park has a huge range of activities, including an inflatable water park and water-walking balls. The real attraction here is hydro-zorbing, in which you can slip and slide your way down the Mele hills inside a 2.5-metre inflatable ball.

You can rent a buggy or take a guided buggy tour through black-sand beaches and local villages or go on safari through the jungle.

Hideaway Island makes for a great family day trip, where you can snorkel and swim in clear turquoise water and post a letter at the famous Vanuatu underwater post office, located 50 metres offshore.