Hot, steamy adventures
Good’s guide to Rotorua’s top hot spots.
Even on a gloomy day the attractions of Rotorua beckon. Luxuriating in a hot pool beneath an overcast sky is a perfectly wonderful thing to do, not to mention deeply relaxing and even therapeutic. National and international tourists have travelled to Rotorua since the 1800s to experience the power of its healing waters and to see the wonders of the geothermal landscape first-hand.
If your muscles need a soak after an adventurous day hiking and mountain biking, or you just want to indulge in some pampering, we’ve got your weekend itinerary sorted.
Take a shinny dip
Secret Spot Hot Tubs Rotorua is conveniently positioned beside a mountain bike park and is the perfect spot for soaking your feet while enjoying a cold beer after a bike ride.
Shinny dips – soaking your shins and feet in a cedar hot tub – are free if you order a drink from the bar, and are a fun way to reminisce with friends after a day on the trails.
However, you don’t need to be a sporty spice to come here and take part in a shinny dip. And, if you prefer, you can also put on your bathing suit and luxuriate in one of 12 hot tubs, each thoughtfully landscaped for bathers’ privacy with views looking into paradisiacal dells and native bush.
It wasn’t always this way. Secret Spot sits on what was formerly a dusty overflow carpark with portaloos and has been transformed into a hot tub haven on the edge of the Whakarewarewa Forest. It’s the brainchild of brothers Keith and Eric Kolver, who dreamed up the concept while paddling down the Whakatane River in a canoe in a storm.
“We were freezing and Eric said, ‘think of something warm’. I said ‘mulled wine’, and he said ‘mulled wine in a hot tub’ and it was the start of three hours of paddling in the rain just talking about warm stuff,” says Keith.
Five years since that canoe trip, Secret
Spot has become a dream come true.
The Kolver brothers have planted more than 3000 native plants and cleared the area
of shoulder- to head-high blackberries to transform it into a little piece of paradise.
Walking to your private hot tub along the boardwalk has a sense of discovery and while there you can enjoy bar service with the press of a button.
Unlike the geothermal waters of nearby Polynesian Spa, the water source for Secret Spot is fresh forest spring water that is heated and freshly circulated for each new visitor. And its Enviroswim treatment system is friendly on the environment and bathers, without lots of chemicals. We reckon it’s still fun to visit a secret spot even if the secret’s out now.
A world-class day spa as well as legendary hot pools await at Polynesian Spa, a superb place to book in for a massage or geothermal mud wrap and hot pool experience overlooking Lake Rotorua. Polynesian Spa has exclusive access to both alkaline and acidic natural springs, which feed into the 28 mineral pools available at the spa.
The slightly acidic Priest Spring is recommended for easing aches and tired muscles, while the alkaline Rachel Spring is where you want to be for fresh, rejunvenated skin.
The Priest Spring is named after Catholic priest Father Mahoney who believed he cured his arthritis after soaking in the acidic waters in 1878. Legend has it that after being carried to Rotorua because of his crippling condition, he was able to walk back to Tauranga and declared himself cured of his ailments. The news of his miraculous cure saw visitors come in their droves.
The Rachel Spring is named after Madame Rachel, an English cosmetician who promised youthful complexions thanks to the purported softening effect of silica water on the skin.
Whether you believe the legends or not, it is heavenly to soak in the pools under the sun, clouds or stars (last pool entry is 9.15pm).
Kerosene Creek is 35km south of Rotorua and perhaps the original secret spot. It’s picturesque, free and you get to relax in a stream of running hot water beside a waterfall surrounded by native bush.
A sign to Kerosene Creek points from the Thermal Explorer Highway down Old Waiotapu Road. A five-minute stroll along a bush track will bring you to this serene waterfall pool.
“Walking through the valley is spellbinding. It features blue lakes, steaming craters, boiling hot springs and beautiful silica formations.”
Walk Waimangu Volcanic Valley
There’s strictly no bathing here but if you haven’t yet discovered Waimangu Volcanic Valley, you are in for a treat. This area is home to Lake Rotomahana, the site of the world-famous Pink and White Terraces prior to Mt Tarawera’s eruption
in 1886. The valley itself was created by the eruption, which blasted Lake Rotomahana to 20 times its original size and extinguished all life within 6km of the lake. Around 1915, bird and plant life began to return to the area.
Walking through the valley is spellbinding. It features blue lakes, steaming craters, boiling hot springs, and beautiful silica formations. One such marvel is Frying Pan lake, which covers 38,000 square metres and is one of the world’s largest hot pools.
It’s important to stay on the footpaths at all times here and remember that this area is a living, breathing geothermal valley that changes daily and has an explosive history. Between 1900 and 1904 the Waimangu Geyser would regularly erupt and became a major tourist attraction. On 1 April 1917 Echo Crater erupted, destroying the Waimangu Hotel in front of where the visitor centre is today, killing two people.
So, it pays to be mindful while taking a self-guided walking tour through the valley. The scenery is so spectacular you’ll want to make loads of photo stops if photography is your thing.
Options to explore the Waimangu Valley include a self-guided walk along the length of the valley. A free bus will return you to the carpark if you don’t want to walk back. You can also take a guided tour and a Lake Rotomahana boat cruise which offers a 45-minute circle of the lake to view geothermal and volcanic features not visible from the shore including steaming cliffs, geysers and fumaroles. To truly go off the beaten track, discover Lake Rotomahana with a guided tour by kayak.