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Some people like to theme their New Zealand holidays; they may chase lighthouses, waterfalls or wineries. Well here’s a new theme that you’ve probably never thought of - geothermal hot pools.
The North Island of New Zealand is loaded with volcanoes, and hot pools are a very pleasant side effect of all this subterranean angst. In the South Island active fault lines create heat down below, so you’ll find hot pools where you least expect them. Some have been developed, which means you’ll need to pay admission. Others are still ‘wild’ and entirely free-of charge.
Here you will find a selection of commercial and wild hot pools, throughout New Zealand, described from north to south.
Great Barrier Island
East of Auckland in the farthest reaches of the Hauraki Gulf is Great Barrier Island, where you can hike to a magical free-of-charge hot pool experience deep in the forest. Just follow the Kaitoke Hot Springs walking track from Whangaparapara Road.
Te Aroha Mineral Spas are located south of Auckland, beneath Mt Te Aroha. Modernised to resort standard, these pools retain the charm of the Edwardian era. A drinking fountain lets you ‘taste the waters’, which are believed to promote wellbeing (the fountain of youth?) and the town’s domain features the world’s only hot soda water geyser.
The Lost Spring near Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula harnesses crystal clear water that flows from a hot water spring 600 metres below the earth’s surface. With sculpted pools and soothing waterfalls framed by native forest, the Lost Spring promises a very picturesque soaking experience.
Down the coast from Whitianga is Hot Water Beach, where heated water bubbles up through the sand. A couple of hours either side of high tide, you can dig your own spa pool then lie back and watch the waves breaking on the beach. Amazing! This hot soak is totally free-of-charge, unless you need to rent a spade from the local store.
Inland from Tauranga is Rotorua, a city built on top of an active volcanic zone. Nearly every accommodation establishment in Rotorua offers private, exchange-heated spa pools. You’ll also find a selection of hot pool complexes, including the famous Polynesian Spa, where you can choose from four bathing areas.
Near Reporoa is a free-of-charge hot spring called Butcher’s Pool. Rated highly by regular soakers, this pool is owned and maintained by the Rotorua District Council. It has sealed walkways, toilets and changing rooms.
A free treat near Lake Rotowhero is Kerosene Creek, which has a hot waterfall and a clean pool with a sandy bottom. There is a good old Kiwi corrugated-iron changing shed here, which adds to the rustic ambience.
Taupo’s supreme free-of-charge hot soak can be found at Otumuheke Stream, a hot stream that flows into the Waikato River. At the confluence of the two waterways, the hot and cold waters mix together. Just swim around to find a water temperature that’s exactly to your liking.
South Island - Hanmer Springs & Westland
There are fewer hot springs in the South Island, which has very different geography to the North Island. However the huge Alpine Fault that created the Southern Alps has done the world a favour with Hanmer Springs, an all-seasons hot spring resort that regularly wins awards for its facilities. At Hanmer you’ll find thermal mineral, sulphur and freshwater pools, as well as a large children's activity area with water slides. Beauty and massage treatments put the finishing touches on your relaxation.
The most southern free soak can be found at Welcome Flat in Westland, but you’ll have to work for it. Beginning south of Fox Glacier, follow the Copland Track for seven hours until you come to a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut and campsite (you’ll need to make a booking with DOC to stay the night). The pools are a short walk from the hut and have one of the best wilderness views in New Zealand. During the spring thaw you can lie back in the hot water and watch avalanches cascading down the mountains.
Hot pool safety: When swimming in natural hot pools, where the water comes out of the ground, keep your head above water because there is a small risk of contracting an illness called amoebic meningitis. While very rare, this illness is serious.