New Zealand is located where two tectonic plates of the earth’s crust meet. This causes a large amount of geothermal activity, allowing warm water to bubble up through the earth’s crust to form hot pools. These pools often contain minerals dissolved from the rocks they seeped through.
For centuries locals have enjoyed these hot pools, with some believing that sitting in mineral water helps with medical problems. Some hot pools have been developed to include day spas, which means you’ll need to pay admission. Others are still ‘wild’ and free-of charge.
Here you will find a selection of commercial and wild hot pools, throughout New Zealand.
In Rotorua, a city built on top of an active volcanic zone, nearly every accommodation establishment offers private, exchange-heated spa pools. You’ll also find a selection of hot pool complexes, including Hells Gate and the Polynesian Spa.
Near Reporoa is a hot spring called Butcher’s Pool. Rated highly by regular soakers, this free-of-charge 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.
Lake Taupō is home to a range of naturally-heated hot pools - perfect for a relaxing soak after a busy day of exploring.
Long time local favourite, Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs(opens in new window) offers heated indoor and outdoor pools while Tokaanu Thermal Pools offer private and public hot pool experiences.
If you're looking for a thermal soak and massage in a quiet setting, head to Wairakei Terraces and if you’d like to explore some of the region’s thermal pools without pulling out your wallet, head along to either the Lake Terrace or Spa Park.
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(opens in new window), 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.
If you'd like the unique experience of bathing in heated glacial waters, head to Tekapo Springs(opens in new window). Or soak in fresh mountain water and glorious alpine views at the outdoor Omarma Hot Tubs, just 90 minutes from Aoraki/Mount Cook.
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.
The Lost Spring(opens in new window) 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.
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.
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.
New Zealand’s larger cities offer luxurious day spas that make an ideal addition to your holiday. There are also quiet retreats in the countryside or deep in the forest that combine relaxing therapies with picturesque landscapes. In a day or two you’ll feel and look like a new person.