Normally one tries to avoid getting themselves into hot water, but in Rotorua, it’s highly encouraged and people have been doing it here for centuries.
Chilly winter weather gives you the best excuse to take advantage of the abundance of geothermal hot pools and spas here, so pack your favourite swim gear and head to Rotorua for a toasty dose of relaxation and pampering.
A new $60 million ultra-luxury kaupapa Māori spa complex opened in June, the largest investment in the city’s spa and wellness sector for more than 120 years. The new world-class Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa is a feast for the senses, providing unique mineral-rich, geothermal pools – hot, cold and herbal – plus saunas, a mud room, and wellness treatments, built on the legacy of Ngāti Whakaue culture, healing practices and manaakitanga. The spa’s location alongside Lake Rotorua provides the perfect backdrop to this luxurious experience.
As soon as you dip your toes in the water in one of Polynesian Spa’s 28 hot pools along the edge of Lake Rotorua, you’ll see – and feel – why this place is world famous.
The spa’s geothermal hot mineral waters are sourced from two natural springs, giving you the option of relieving tired muscles, aches and pains in the slightly acidic Priest Spring waters, or nourishing your skin in the alkaline waters of the Rachel Spring. Of course, you can try both types, and add in a dip into the cold plunge pool for some rejuvenating hot-cold therapy.
Another very special place we love to visit is Hell’s Gate, New Zealand’s only geothermal mud spa. Thanks to its beauty and the healing properties of the geothermal mud and waters, the Tikitere area where Hell’s Gate is located has been a destination for spa and nature seekers since 1871.
This Māori-owned valley is known as the fiercest of the geothermal areas, so plan plenty of time here as you’ll want to walk through the incredible geothermal park (with a guide or self-guided) before enjoying a soak in the unique mud pools followed by a hot soak in the mineral-rich waters of the thermal pools.
You don’t earn a World Luxury Spa award by remaining a secret! Last year Secret Spot Hot Tubs (pictured above and at top) won the Global Award in the Luxury Forest Bathing Spa category and it came as no surprise to anyone who has experienced the lush, forest-enshrined fresh-water cedar hot tubs.
Each of the dozen tubs is screened from the others with native trees and shrubs on three sides, and Whakarewarewa Forest along the back, giving you the sense of being in the middle of nowhere. And yet, tub-side service is available at the press of a button.
If you have just a short time to spend relaxing, do it here by reviving your feet and lower legs in what might be the world’s first Shinny Dip. Shinny dipping is free with the purchase of a beverage, and in winter Secret Spot has their famous mulled wine at the ready, as well as barista-made coffee, hot tea, and a selection of cold drinks both alcoholic and not.
Two more Rotorua lakes have hot springs along the water’s edge but these are a bit tricky to get to. Lucky for you, we know people with boats and floatplanes!
To arrive with a splash, book either Volcanic Air’s floatplane tour, or Katoa Lake Rotorua’s jetboat tour, both of which start on Lake Rotorua and deliver you to the secluded Manupirua Springs Hot Pools along the shores of Lake Rotoiti.
Another method to get to these hot pools is quite special, and that is via Tiua, a luxurious 53-foot sailing catamaran operated by Pure Cruise. Tiua is moored on Lake Rotoiti near VR Rotorua Lake Resort, ready for exclusive private charters that allow you to discover this stunning lake and its rich cultural history and birdlife. Pure Cruise also operates a direct water taxi service, taking just 20 minutes to get you to your hot pool fix.
Yet another geothermal beachfront is located in Te Rātā Bay on Lake Tarawera. Lake Tarawera Hot Water Beach is accessible only on foot or by water. Totally Tarawera offers a water taxi service directly to and from the beach, as well as a variety of eco tours that include going ashore for a geothermal soak. If you choose to get there under your own steam, the 15km Tarawera Trail takes fit trampers five to six hours one way. You can camp overnight and walk back out when you’re ready, or pre-book pick up via Totally Tarawera or another one of Volcanic Air’s floatplane tours.
If you love a good ole country drive, just head south of the city on State Highway 5. You’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by forest blocks, then sprawling green farmland alternating. About 25km from the city, you’ll see the historic Waiotapu Tavern, turn right here onto Waikite Valley Road to get to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools.
These geothermal pools are another local fave as they’re more off the beaten path and set in a gorgeous, relaxing rural location. Here, several hot pools await, including one for younger kids who enjoy a good splash. Take a few minutes first to unwind by wandering down Te Manaroa Spring Walkway and Eco-Trail onsite to the largest single source of boiling water in New Zealand.
With all these options – and others listed in our Spa & Wellness section – you might need a week to take advantage of them all! Or savour the experiences over several trips. Which one would you start with?