Weekend Wanderings #2: Waiwera

Itching to explore, this time to another world, where water bubbles up from the ground, naturally...and only 35 mins from downtown Auckland.

 

I often find myself twiddling my thumbs itching to get out and explore the world we live in, in fact its most of the time but the strongest urges usually fall on Sunday’s, hence my series of what I like to term, ‘weekend wanderings’, which you may see will increase to encompassing a weekend, and perhaps a larger slice of the following week as time goes on depending on the location. Reminded by the new local calendar image of Waiwera back in the 1900’s I thought I better finish off this post from my most recent wander…

A couple weekends ago I decided to head out to the local settlement of Waiwera, about a 15 minutes drive from home. For centuries this idyllic little beach and bay nestled below some towering bush covered hills, has been used by travelling Maori for its thermal hot mineral water qualities, thus giving it its name in Maori, literally ‘Hot Water’. Apparently the thermal hot spot was so revered that it was also given the name as Te Rata, meaning ‘The Doctor’ as the pools of hot water on the beach in which Maori immersed themselves were so beneficial to their health and recovery from sickness or battle wounds given the mineral content, it was seen as a place of refuge and re-cooperation.

So it still is more than 150 years later after European’s first came across Waiwera, as soon as you turn off the old State Highway 1, take a sharp left turn at the dairy, you are greeted by the rather imposing high walls of the Waiwera Thermal Resort, a place of many fond memory’s for me over the years and for many kids growing up in this diverse region of Auckland. I often thing how fortunate we are in Auckland really, West Coast rain forests, rugged beaches, golden sand bands of the East Coast, a stunning harbour with various inlets, Volcanoes and other hilly vantage points, rolling farmland to the north of the CBD and volcanic rich soils to the south, thermal water in the north and north west…what a wonderful place indeed on earth we live in, however, more on that in another future post.

Waiwera Thermal Resort has been here for yonks, attracting visitors from far and wide for generations. Probably NZ’s first thermal hydro slide water park, it features the good old rustic kiwi wooden (once slippery) tower with some classic old kiwi stainless steel hydro slides, with a few recent fiberglass slide additions and a few subtractions too sadly (the main being the open and highly dangerous ‘Bob’s Mistake’ slide, not very ‘safe’ sadly for todays OSH requirements I could imagine). All these slides have the warm soothing thermal water flowing through them (Apart from the old Coke Twister…be prepared to get a cold shock when the end finally nears). There is something, much like the other ‘water parks’ we have in NZ that is uniquely ‘New Zealand. Unpretentious, laid back, not flashy, not over the top like other overseas parks. If you come to Waiwera expecting the mayhem of Australias Wet ‘n Wild then you have come to the wrong place.

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Bit of random trivia…Out in the car park of Waiwera on the eastern corner of the compound along from the main entrance stands the site of the former main entrance to the park and right where you walked in now there is a big round concrete thing. That there is a bore where they extract some of the hot water from underground for the pools. It was found I think in the mid 90’s and it just had to be there so I think it might have been a reason why the main entrance was moved since this bore hole was going to be in the way, but I find it quite cool, to think that spot there, all the way down under the ground is where this thermally heated hot water comes from…fascinating, to my mind at least.

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Moving on from the hot pools (of which I will cover in more detail in a later post, also incorporating Auckland’s other thermal spot, Parakai and all its “glory”) my focus, like many when faced with the coast, turned towards the famous beach. If you hang a left at the end of the road past the hot pools, you can drive down the small one lane access way for beachfront homes to a cool car park down the end. Its a cosy little nook that provides some great views but without prying eyes of other car park ‘parkers’. Is is around here too that the actor that played Charles Widmore in ‘Lost’ had his NZ home, which he has since sold but its still kinda weird. Lost conspiracy theories anyone?

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It is said you can dig a hole here, like on Hot Water Beach on the Coromadel Peninsula and sit in the hot water but it must be at some certain time of day or year otherwise I think more people would be doing it. Today there was myself and one other human on the entire beach, that was quite large given the tide was out and Waiwera is a largely shallow bay. Walking out some 200m from the shoreline looking back at the land, blocking out the sounds of a harley roaring its way up the nearby hill and making the houses disappear, I could very much imagine being one of the first people to walk here and see the natural beauty on the day that I had. 

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Soaring deep green bush peppered with smatterings of ferns hung on the cliffs and hills surrounding the flat settlement where Waiwera now is built. Looking up I could see seagulls and birdlife in the trees on the headland across at the mouth to the Waiwera estuary, which is part of Wenderholm Regional Park. The sun was warm and bright, the blue sky gleaming in the late autumn afternoon, the spectrum of color and contrast was gorgeous and a sight to behold. From brown sand to a deep blue ocean. Tan cliff faces into deep green foliage which races to the tree tops to touch a crisp, baby blue sky. I was walking in a state of bliss, I didn’t wait it to end!

I tried to imagine the horrendous wharf that used to be here, extending out hundreds of metres near where I was standing, cutting across the nice long beach front, to waiting ferry paying passengers back in the early 1900’s to the then made famous ‘Waiwera Estate’ which boasted amongst other over extended luxury’s, 2 croquet lawns, bowling green, 3 tennis courts with the accompanying club house bar, not to mention a 50 bedroom hotel which was stunning in its own architectural right, all of which recreating the European ‘bath house’ experience in newly colonized New Zealand. Unfortunately this magnificent building was destroyed by fire in 1939, the land not allowed to be rebuilt on. Its hard to see it now this great building standing somewhere amidst the low bach like dwellings that litter the streets on ‘the flats’ now days but fortunately many images from this great era in New Zealand history still survive. 

It still is a fact of life here in Waiwera that the thermal mineral water still attracts many from around the globe to bathe in its waters, but Waiwera is now being exported to the world. Waiwera Water has even been voted the Worlds Best Water as well as winning multiple awards including Best Bottle Design which is based on their original Waiwera Water bottle from the 1870’s. Water is still bottled on site in a bottling plant just off to one side of the hot pools complex. The reality of how reliant this town is on its thermal water became evident as I walked along the road to the car park, seeing Kiwi Welldrillers drilling a new bore hole in the back yard of someones cottage, presumably for them to draw their quota of the resource.

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Before I knew it I had actually spent about 3 hours aimlessly lost in another world wandering around the beach and the mouth of the estuary, casually observing the sights while trying to ignore the unnatural sounds from the nearby main road but given the day it was all considering, a blissful afternoon. I relished the afternoon sun, spreading light across the different hues in the native bush canopy of Wenderholm head. The soft lapping of the beach many meters from the shoreline does tend to put you at ease, a quiet feeling of peace. 

It was time to head home, but not before spelling my name out in the sand, just for the sake of it. This is how I like my wanderings to pan out. Relaxed, lost in the moment, but never rushed, just taking everything in as it comes. Like they say, the mind is like a parachute, it has to be open to work!

Anyone heading north or south for that matter, should take the ‘Free’ route instead of the Northern Gateway Motorway along the old State Highway 1 and stop in at Waiwera, even just for a quick walk romantic walk on the beach. Think of the history that is in the area, absorb it. For those wanting a bit more of an experience, jump into hot pools, just watch out for some possible floating band-aids. You can also re create your own ‘rejuvinating’ weekend at Waiwera by staying a couple days and enjoying some real spa treatment at Waiwera’s spa clinic which is in the main hot pools grounds. Just as they came by boat all those decades ago to bathe in its mineral pool goodness, you can too, by a 35 min meander north of downtown Auckland.

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