Make the most of winter by getting yourself into hot water. From DIY coastal hot tubs, to luxurious pool complexes, geothermal hotspots and soothing spas, we’ve rounded up some top picks around New Zealand to help you warm up.
Bay of Plenty
Mount Hot Pools
The famous Mount Hot Pools are an extensive complex of hot saltwater pools tucked at the foot of Mount Maunganui. Pick your pool based on your preferences; there are active pools for playing, family and toddler pools for littlies and relaxing pools with massage jets. Temperatures range from 32.3º to a toasty 40º and the pools are open daily until 10pm, so you can relax well into the evening.
Fernland Spa on Cambridge Rd is the most peaceful place in Tauranga to enjoy a relaxing soak surrounded by ferns and birdlife. The geothermal mineral water that runs continuously through all the pools is soft, pure and non-chlorinated. You’ll leave feeling rejuvenated and relaxed.
Ōropi Hot Pools
Like Fernland, bathing at Ōropi Hot Pools 15 minutes from Tauranga you’re surrounded by mature planting for a lush, outdoor experience. The water here is non-mineral, so it’s safe to put your head under. You can also book a private pool, one of which has an open roof for stargazing.
One of the most iconic outdoor swimming spots in Canterbury, Hanmer Springs has been welcoming bathers for over 100 years. Here you’ll find soaking pools, rock pools, mineral pools and sulphur pools as well as a lazy river, a kid’s play pool and some of the best water slides in New Zealand. Set in a beautiful alpine environment, you can soak away the day in naturally heated water while breathing in fresh mountain air. Even better, AA Members get a discounted rate of admission.
Tekapo Springs is another outdoor complex, though this one sits 720 metres above sea level, with incredible views over Mount John and Lake Tekapō. If you’re here after dark you’ll be treated to some of the best stargazing New Zealand has to offer. Pool temperatures range from 36.5º to 38.5º.
He Puna Taimoana
He Puna Taimoana is the newest bathing experience in Christchurch. Set in a beautiful location on the New Brighton foreshore, the pools opened in May 2020. He Puna Taimoana translates to ‘coastal pools,’ an apt name for this seaside spot. There are five luxurious saltwater pools ranging from 26º to 40º, an invigorating 12º plunge pool, steam room and sauna to choose from. You’ll need to book in advance to secure a spot in one of several bathing sessions available each day, as numbers are limited and often sell out.
Te Aroha Mineral Spas
Te Aroha is home to a natural hot soda spring which is utilised for maximum relaxation in the wooden tubs at Te Aroha Mineral Spas. Found at the foot of Mount Te Aroha, you can book a private tub to relax in the silky mineral water or pamper yourself with a massage or spa treatment.
Kāwhia Hot Water Beach
For a more rustic experience, head to Ocean Beach in Kāwhia at low tide – BYO spade – and start digging for a free natural hot water spa accompanied by serene harbour views. While you many struggle to dig a pool more than about 20cm deep in the black sand, the water here is pleasantly hot, though the temperature varies depending on location. It's an ideal spot to catch a sunset if the tide is right.
Maruia Hot Springs
Nestled in a tranquil valley, the river-rock-lined mineral pools at Maruia Hot Springs are all natural and untreated, which means that the water is filled with harmless, though slightly strange-looking black algae. Tip: keep as much of yourself under the water as possible to minimise exposed skin as the sandflies can be vicious. Alongside the outdoor pools is an Onsen-style bathhouse designed with Japanese minimalism in mind. The end wall is a picture window overlooking the valley, so you can practice a spot of ‘shinrin yoku,’ or forest bathing, alongside your actual bathing.
If you’re feeling intrepid and are experienced in backcountry tramping, take a hike to find the natural Wren Creek hot pools, a 3-4-hour walk south-east of Hokitika. The track includes an old logging tramline, boulder-hopping beside the Toaroha River, thick native forest and a long swing bridge near the Cedar Flat Hut. To find the springs, take the junction before the swing bridge and walk into Wren Creek for about 15 minutes, keeping an eye out for the steaming pools above the river. Tip: You can borrow the hut’s shovel to dig the pools deeper.
Where the Waikato River meets Otumuheke Stream in Taupō you’ll find free outdoor hot pools. Rich with historical significance for local iwi, Otumuheke Stream was once a landing point for waka where people gathered to cleanse and heal themselves in the waters. Today, Spa Thermal Park at Otumukehe Stream is still a popular spot with local bathers enjoying the warm geothermal waterfalls and relaxing in natural rock pools. The water temperature changes depending on where you sit in the stream, so you can find a comfortable spot to suit everyone.
The geothermal pools at Wairākei Terraces are iwi-owned, with carved Māori ancestors standing amongst the steam and native bush alongside the pools. The naturally-heated 30° water shoots out in a steamy geyser and is cooled as it flows over a series of terraces. The terraces are human-made but the silica formations on them are natural and reminiscent of the fabled Pink and White Terraces.
Wriggle through a narrow rock crevice to find a naturally-hot waterfall, deep in the bush on the outskirts of Taupō. On a unique adventure with New Zealand River Jet, you can take a jet boat blast through the Tutukau Gorge to reach an enchanted world. Make your way through the warm, geothermal waters as you inch between rocky crevices and clamber over boulders to find this remarkable spot.
The Lost Spring
A geothermal oasis in the heart of Whitianga, The Lost Spring is an ideal setting for indulgence. The 16,000-year-old spring was discovered emerging from bedrock back in 1989. Since then, The Lost Spring has been transformed into a tropical sanctuary, with lush planting alongside the mineral-rich pools. Soak in the picturesque pools, cocktail in hand, swim through the crystal cave set in the beautiful bush, or go for a full pampering treatment at the onsite day spa.
Hot Water Beach
Drop into The Coromandel’s famous Hot Water Beach, a few kilometres down the coast from Whitianga, but don’t forget your spade. As indicated by the name, the distinguishing feature of Hot Water Beach is the natural hot water found by shifting a few inches of sand in the intertidal zone. Time your visit a couple of hours either side of low water to enjoy panoramic coastal views from your improvised hot tub.
A visit to Rotorua wouldn’t be complete without experiencing some geothermal action. Hell’s Gate, in Tikitere, is marketed as ‘the BEAST of all geothermal parks,’ and Hell’s Gate is one of the few places in Rotorua where you can immerse yourself in sulphurous mud, rather than just looking at it. Sink into a warm, murky pool and scoop handfuls of silky and surprisingly soothing mud onto your skin. Rinse off and retire to the steaming sulphur spas next door, emerging sometime later, par-boiled and wobbly with relaxation.
Manupirua Springs Hot Pools
Manupirua Springs Hot Pools on the shore of Lake Rotoiti are special spot to visit, as they can only be reached by boat, kayak or sea plane. Used locals in the know since 1849, they have been operating commercially since 1914, making them the oldest commercial hot pools in New Zealand. Relax in one of several lakefront pools and watch as boats come and go, grab a bite from the licensed café, or BYO picnic to enjoy.
Te Rātā Bay, Lake Tarawera
Another of New Zealand’s hot water beaches can be found on the southern shores of Rotorua’s Lake Tarawera. Like Manupirua Springs, Te Rātā Bay is accessible by boat, water taxi or kayak, or by an overnight tramp on the Tarawera Trail. Take care here, as in some places the sand can get as hot as 86º – hot enough to cook a meal.
Top header image: Spa Thermal Park at Otumuheke Stream, Taupō. © Miles Holden
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