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No longer solely seen as an indulgence, Rotorua’s myriad spa options are within easy reach of everyone whether a simple soak in a natural bush-lined thermal stream or a full day at a luxuriously-appointed spa complex.
Rotorua’s geothermal water, mineral enriched muds, Maori massage and even indigenous herbs play a special role in local spa culture. A mud wrap, bath or mask exfoliates and enriches the skin to leave it feeling silky smooth. An Aix spa massage under running geothermal water is another unique treat as is Rotorua volcanic stone therapy. Those keen for a spa experience with a Maori twist can try traditional Miri Miri massage or even a herbal sauna using indigenous kawa kawa leaves.
The history of spa is long-established in Rotorua. In European terms it stretches back to the 1878 when an Irish priest bathed in the acidic waters of a spring in (what is now) Government Gardens. Attracted by tales of therapeutic benefits, Father Mahoney was carried from Tauranga seeking relief from his arthritic pain. Able to return home on foot, he declared himself cured.
Generations of Te Arawa Maori had bathed in Te Pupunitanga, which was renamed the Priest’s Bath after Father Mahoney’s visit. They recognised the relaxation benefits of the geothermal water, but also believed in its healing powers. The natural geothermal activity at Tikitere was also a magnet for olden day Maori. For centuries warriors returning from battle bathed there to salve their wounds. Today it’s international and domestic visitors who flock to the same site, now known as Hell’s Gate and Wai Ora Spa, to relieve 21st Century stresses and strains.
Spa culture’s influence in Rotorua is reflected in the fact that thefirst building of the new Government township of Rotorua was the Pavilion Bath House, opened on the site of the Priest’s Bath in 1882.The present day Polynesian Spa stands on the site of the former Duchess Bath (opened in 1901) and the former Ward Baths (opened in 1930). The multi-award winning Polynesian Spa has been named among the world’s top 10 thermal, medical and natural spas six times in the past decade by Conde Nast Travel magazine’s European readers; each time it has been the only spa outside of Europe the receive such an accolade.
The Victorian and Edwardian pre-occupation for ‘taking the waters spread to New Zealand, and the ‘Great Spa of the South Pacific’ was opened in Rotorua in 1908. The magnificent Bath House remains today (now home to the Rotorua Museum), but the therapeutic geothermal spa treatments it was famous for were transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital back in the 1960s. Renamed QE Health, the facility is renowned for its treatment of chronic musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis through the benefits of balneotherapy (mineralised water healing). It also welcomes casual visitors seeking spa treatments.
SOME ROTORUA SPA SUGGESTIONS:
- Spend the day at Careem Wellness Day Spa on the shores of Lake Okareka
- Benefit from a traditional Miri Miri massage that begins and ends with a karakia (prayer)
- Visit the Te Manaroa Spring at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. Gushing 1800 litres of boiling (98°C) water per minute, it is the largest single source of natural boiling water in New Zealand
- Find simple pleasure in soaking in natural thermal stream’s like Kerosene Creek
- Sail or kayak to Manupirua Hot Springs outdoor thermal pools only accessible by watercraft
- Swim in naturally warm water at Hot Water Beach (where hot thermal water enters the lake)