North Island hot pool tour of New Zealand

Our first stop on leaving Whangarei was Wenderholm Regional Park, where we parked up overnight in the Auckland Regional Council’s camping area. From here it was a short walk to the estuary and beach, then we took a longer path that encircled the headland. It was a stunning spring day and the kowhai was in full bloom attracting tuis galore. The hot pool complex at Waiwera is less than a kilometre south of Wenderholm. Set back from the beach between two headlands, the Waiwera Thermal Resort has a fabulous setting and relaxing in the pools with a backdrop of native bush was a great way to spend the late afternoon. People have travelled to ‘take the waters’ at Waiwera since 1848 – it became the Southern Hemisphere’s first spa at a time when water cures were all the rage around the world. Carbon dating has shown the water in Waiwera’s geothermal aquifer is between 10,000 and 15,600 years old and it is claimed to be the oldest water in the world. South of Auckland, we turned west and headed to Miranda on the Firth of Thames. Ray’s Rest near the Shorebird Centre is always a great place to stop with the sea on your doorstep, amazing views of the Coromandel Ranges and wide skies. Miranda Hot Springs is a few minutes south of Ray’s Rest. It is a low key, traditional complex with a main pool, a children’s pool and an adult’s only sauna pool. In the early 1900s, there were many natural hot springs in the area and a photograph in the sauna pool shows a pool set into the peat bog, circa 1910. Later the swamps were drained, the present pool being built in 1959-60. Both our first hot pools were large complexes but the next place we visited was more intimate. We freedom camped beside the long sandy shore at Waihi Beach but we had seen a sign indicating hot pools at nearby Athenree so decided to explore. So, after a long walk along Waihi’s beach, we took the car and found Athenree Hot Springs in a holiday park in the attractive village. There were campervan sites available so staying here would have the bonus of being only a minute away from the pools, which are free to guests. The main pool has a high mineral content and felt very silky. The adult ‘relaxing’ pool, a large spa area, was about five degrees hotter at 39.5C. We were the only soakers until just as we were leaving when four others arrived. Although there were not the fabulous views here, such as those we experienced at other hot pools, the setting was very pleasant indeed. The view from our next hot pool certainly was dramatic – the 232-metre-high Mauao, Mount Maunganui. We rewarded ourselves with a soak after walking the perimeter of the mountain. The base track was an undulating hour’s stroll, though there are several paths to the summit of the Mount for those wanting more strenuous exercise. The Mount Hot Pools has a point of difference – the thermally heated water is salty. Salt water bathing has long been claimed to help muscle and joint mobility. Hippocrates, back in 500BC, extolled the benefits of warm salt water bathing and I have to concur. I really like the combination of hot water and the buoyancy of salt water. Rotorua was our next destination. There is no getting away from thermal activity here; there are not only hot pools but bubbling mud, steaming vents and geysers. To fully appreciate the geothermal experience, we went to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, 20 minutes south of the town, for a walk through an area created as a direct result of the Tarawera eruption in 1886. There is quite a lot to see here – we spent several hours marvelling at sights such as the world’s largest hot water spring (Frying Pan Lake), steaming cliffs, silica terraces and much more. There are rare and unusual geothermally adapted plants as well as regenerating native forest. The track meanders past craters, streams and terraces to Lake Rotomahana where boat trips are available. We took advantage of the shuttle bus back to the visitors centre and had lunch in the cafe. Then we treated ourselves to a soak at Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa. There are several groups of pools within the complex, we chose the adult pools which comprises of seven pools with different temperatures and fed by different springs – some acidic, others alkaline. Bathing in the Rachel Spring water is said to confer ageless beauty. We will have to wait and see about that. Lying in a relaxing pool overlooking Lake Rotorua on a warm spring afternoon takes some beating anyway. Waikite Valley Thermal Pools are tucked into a valley off SH5 between Rotorua and Taupo. Time constraints prevented us from calling in this time but we visited on the last occasion we passed that way and, because we were early in the morning, had little difficulty finding a parking spot for our bus. It would be tricky for big vehicles at busier times though. We loved sitting in the hot pools and admiring the views of the surrounding countryside. The pools are heated by Te Manaroa, New Zealand’s largest single source of pure boiling water, which cascades down from further up the site, steam clouding above it. There is an eco-trail through the complex, complete with information panels explaining the geological and botanical areas of interest. In Taupo we headed for DeBretts Hot Springs, another of New Zealand’s earliest hot pool facilities. First discovered by Sir William Fox in 1874, the present pool complex was created in 1958 and modernised in 1987. Now it is part of a holiday resort with accommodation and camping, though the pools themselves, accessed down a steep driveway, feel private and secluded. Our journey home started in Taupo, where we had freedom camped at the lakeside in the area Taupo has set up for motorhomes adjacent to the town centre. We decided to put in a long leg and drove through Auckland before heading north-west to Parakai, near Helensville. Friends had recommended staying in the campground at Parakai Springs as this gives half price discount on entry to the pools. After a long drive we were looking forward to a quiet relaxing soak but unfortunately the complex was too popular for that on this occasion. Obviously a great spot for groups and families – it was very lively! We returned home relaxed and with our aches and pains at bay. Hot pools were a nice focus for a quick trip away and it has given us ideas for next time. There are plenty of free hot pools to sample around the country, such as the famous Kerosene Creek, and we intend to seek out as many of these as we can during the summer months. Never miss an issue of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine. Subscribe here.
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