Thermal springs and spas are found throughout New Zealand, as a result of the country’s position on the Pacific Rim of Fire, a belt of seismic and volcanic activity which forms an arc around the Pacific Ocean basin. Rotorua, a hotbed of thermal activity with its boiling mud pools, spouting geysers and sulphurous rock pools, is well known for its natural spas. These include Wai Ora at Hells Gate, the Blue Baths and the Polynesian Spa on the lakefront – just to name a few. At other unique locations throughout the North Island you can dig your own spa right on the beach. Try this out at Te Puia Springs in Kawhia and at Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach, or wallow in a naturally heated stream at the somewhat unfortunately named Kerosene Creek, south of Rotorua.
But the North Island doesn’t have a monopoly on New Zealand’s thermal spa activity. At Maruia Springs, deep in the heart of the Lewis Pass in the South Island, each pool is a perfectly formed tarn built from the smoothest of river rocks. Gold miners enjoyed these mineral-rich waters, which are thought to be particularly beneficial for detoxifying and softening the skin. No chemicals are added to change its composition, so the colour palette of the pools changes daily, ranging from crystal clear to milky, and through to almost black. For hardy individuals, there’s a cold plunge pool, or you can take your choice from several private spas. An intriguing feature is the Utase-yu, a Japanese method used to enjoy hot springs. It’s easy to use: you simply sit under a ‘waterfall’ and move your body for a massaging effect.
In the stunning alpine village of Hanmer Springs, 90 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch, the award-winning Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa is spacious and well laid out. There are seven open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools and four private pools, as well as a sauna, steam rooms, a freshwater heated pool, a family activity pool with water-slides, and a picnic area and licensed café."
The pools range in temperature from 33-42 degrees Celsius and are surrounded by a beautifully landscaped natural environment with native plantings. There are four large outdoor rock pools connected by a thermal stream. The completely natural sulphur pools contain no chlorine and leave your skin feeling soft and silky. Hanmer Springs’ naturally therapeutic waters contain a wide variety of minerals including sulphur, sodium chloride, calcium, carbonates, magnesium and potassium, and are said to be particularly beneficial to those suffering from arthritis or similar ailments.
The Maori knew of Hanmer Springs and legends tell of Tamatea, whose canoe was wrecked off the Otago coast. To save his party from freezing he called upon the mountains of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in the north for help. They sent flames down the Whanganui River and across to Nelson where they rose into the air and landed at Hanmer Springs. It wasn’t until 1859 that Europeans chanced upon the springs, but Hanmer’s development was hindered by its inaccessibility and the first bathing shed, made from iron, wasn’t erected until 1879.
The springs, well known for their recuperative powers, have shared a close history with nearby Queen Mary Hospital. They were used to assist soldiers returning from the war and have provided relief for the arthritic and disabled.
Nowadays they are a fantastic place to spend a day with the family or relax and indulge yourself with a hot soak followed by a relaxing therapeutic massage or beauty treatment at Health, Body and Mind. Treatments include Swiss and sports massage, detoxifying body wraps and aromatic facials.