The value of Rotorua’s thermal springs had been noted as early as 1874.
In the early 19th Century, not far from the edge of Lake Rotorua in an area known as Te Kauanga, were a variety of thermal pools nestled amongst pumice, sulphur and manuka. When tourists arrived in Rotorua to see the Pink and White Terraces they also came to bathe in this wild thermal area.
1878 - Father Mahoney, a Catholic Priest from Tauranga disabled with arthritis, was carried to Rotorua to bathe in the small waiariki (spring) known by the Arawa people as Te Pupunitanga. After soaking in its acidic waters he was able to walk back to Tauranga, and the pool became known as the “Priest’s Bath”.
1882 - The Pavilion Bath, the first building of the new Government township of Rotorua, was built on the site of the Priest’s Bath. It fell down two years later, a portent of maintenance problems in store for other bath-houses in the area.
1885 - The first sanatorium opened in 1885 and twelve patients were accommodated. The nearby waters were hailed as cures for ailments such as “plethora and corpulency”, “congestions of the viscera” and sexual impotence. Priest water was said to reduce a craving for alcohol.
1885 – The first Blue Baths were opened.
1895 - The highly acidic Postmaster Baths were completed and patients were advised to “sit quietly in the water so as to avoid any unnecessary disengagement of gases.”
1887 - The Pavilion Baths were rebuilt by Camille Malfroy, and in 1896 he added a women’s swimming bath to the facility. A second and larger Sanatorium was built in 1891.
1901 - Bath structures gradually became more imposing. The Duchess Bath, built to celebrate the visit of the Duchess of York, opened on the site of the present Polynesian Spa. Elements of the Ward Baths, constructed on the site of the Duchess Bath in 1930, remain integrated into the present Polynesian Spa.
1908 - The Rotorua Bath House opened and is the only surviving building from the first 45 years of the Rotorua spa. In its heyday the spa gave “from sixty to eighty thousand baths annually, and about thirty thousand special treatments”. A Railways brochure of the day urged people to take a trip to “Cureland.”
T.E.Donne, Superintendent, Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, Rotorua, 1908, once proclaimed “the stream of travelers has certainly set towards New Zealand, and the establishment of up-to-date Government baths will no doubt make Rotorua world-famous and be the means of attracting many thousands more visitors yearly.”
1969 - Rotorua Museum opened in the South Wing of the Bath House and Rotorua Art Gallery opened in the North wing in 1977. In 1988 the two operations combined to become Rotorua Museum of Art and History.