Great spots to cool off this summer

By Danielle Wright

Want a break from the beach when the weather heats up? Danielle Wright goes in search of alternative places to cool down, still surrounded by natural beauty.

Piroa Falls, Waipu. Photo / Paul Gordon
Piroa Falls, Waipu. Photo / Paul Gordon

Mother Nature has been kind to us in New Zealand. She's provided us with natural pools in beautiful settings as well as an alternatives to a white sandy beach. Around these pools she's added a bit of adventure park fun with rock slides, and thrown in majestic waterfalls to restore the senses. Here are some popular watering holes to unwind at on a summer's day. Do remember to always put safety first, especially with children, and research the area and water safety before you go.

PIROA FALLS

Waipu
Take the Waipu Gorge Rd to the Waipu Gorge Scenic Reserve, signposted on State Highway 1 at the foot of the northern side of the Brynderwyn Hills.
Waipu is famous for its glorious white sandy beaches, but head inland to the Waipu Gorge Scenic Reserve and you'll be rewarded with an impressive waterfall and clear rock pools, to swim in the freshest water, surrounded by native bush. To warm up for a swim, there's an hour-long walk near the Waipu Caves, as well as the new Paparoa walkway.

RERE FALLS

Gisborne
Wharekopae Rd, heading towards the Eastwoodhill Arboretum.
Get wet and wild on the natural rock slide, 2km from Rere Falls. Slide on your boogie board or rubber mat before enjoying a picnic on the grass under the shade of native trees, complete with barbecue and toilet facilities. The waterfall itself forms a beautiful wall of water, with rock pools to splash in.

WAIAU KAURI GROVE AND WATERFALL

Coromandel
The 309 Rd, Coromandel - about 3km south of Coromandel town.
After attempting to hug the giant trees in the Waiau Kauri Grove, cool down in the swimming hole near a small but perfectly formed waterfall. Further up the 309 Rd, The Waterworks tourist attraction provides more chances to cool down - if you don't mind being shot at by your children using water cannons.

OLD CEMENT WORKS

Warkworth
Wilson Rd (off Pulham Rd), Warkworth.
After exploring the ruins of the old cement works, leap off the grassy banks into clear, cool water. Just be aware that the lake gets deep quickly, so keep a close eye on young or inexperienced swimmers.

KAREKARE FALLS

Waitakere
There's a carpark at the bottom of Karekare Rd, then cross the bridge to Lone Kauri Rd, go 100m up the hill until you see a sign directing you to the falls.
A short walk from the beach and you'll feel like you've entered another world with rare taraire groves and subtropical rainforest. The pretty stream leads to the falls and a walk back to the beach via Pohutakawa Glade will take about 20 minutes. Another option in the Waitakere Ranges is the Kite Kite Falls on Kite Kite Track, Glen Esk Rd, Piha. It's a nice easy walk and after 30 minutes you're rewarded with a cool dip in a rock pool.

MANGATAWHIRI

Hunua Ranges
Only accessible by foot, it's a 7km walk from the Upper Mangatawhiri car park. Follow Hunua Rd from Papakura passing through the Hunua Village and turn left up Moumoukai Rd (metal road) to reach the Mangatawhiri Dam and carpark.
The Lower Mangatawhiri stream has beautiful swimming holes adjacent to the Lower Mangatawhiri backpack campsite. It's the perfect cooling-off spot after working up a sweat shopping for bargains at the market in Clevedon. The Upper Mangatawhiri stream has the spectacular Hunua Falls - but don't swim here, just take in the spectacular view before heading downstream.

KARAMATURA STREAM

Huia
Huia Rd, Huia. Start at the Karamatura Valley picnic grounds then follow the Karamatura Track for around 35 minutes until you reach the junction of the Karamatura and Tom Thumb Tracks - the waterfall is here.
There's a Maori tale of two lovers from different iwi who elope to this stream and hide behind the waterfall. A couple of days later, they emerge, deaf from the sound of the waterfall. This feat proves to the elders their love can't be broken and they give the couple their blessing. Create your own romantic day out by stocking up on supplies at the Huia Beach Store and Cafe before heading through caves and bush to find watering holes to cool down in, near waterfalls. It can be muddy in the rainy season and is not recommended for the younger members of the family.

LAKE WAINAMU

Bethells Beach
Tasman View Rd, off Bethells Rd, Bethells Beach.
If you don't feel like swimming in the rough West Coast ocean, take a walk over spectacular sand dunes, past sportspeople training up them and kids sliding down them, until you hit Lake Wainamu. It's about a 2.5hr return walk around the lake to Waitohi Falls, with a swimming hole underneath. The sand gets hot so don't forget your jandals, but leave your dog at home - no four-legged friends allowed.

KAI IWI LAKES

Kauri Coast
Take Kai Iwi Lakes Rd to the Taharoa Domain, Kauri Coast.
Three freshwater lakes, 35km northwest of Dargaville, are known as Kai Iwi Lakes. The lakes are rain-fed and clear with white sandy beaches. Cool down after a spot of fishing for crayfish, crabs, mussels, eel, tuna and rainbow trout. There's also a walking track around the largest, Lake Taharoa, as well as a 2.5km walking track from the lake to the coast. There's also a coastal walkway from the lakes to Hokianga Harbour, just over 50km - about a three-day walk. Visit Tane Mahuta, the giant kauri tree in Waipoua Forest, while you're here.

TE WAIHOU WALKWAY AND BLUE SPRINGS

Putaruru
Whites Rd, Putaruru, South Waikato.
Take cooling off to the extreme - probably only in the height of summer and even then just to dip your toes in. But, if you like the clearest water, spring fed and at a constant 11C, head to Waihou Stream. The water is so pure that much of New Zealand's bottled water comes from here and the Blue Spring has an intense blue colour. There's also a nature walk through farm and bushland, as well as past waterfalls.

RAINBOW FALLS

Kerikeri
Start at the Stone Store at the Kerikeri Basin and follow the Kerikeri river up to the falls, about 1.5hrs.
Take the well-formed track through young kauri, totara and past the remains of a historic powerhouse, built as part of a hydroelectric generation scheme operating between 1930 and 1967. Swim at the base of the Wharepuke Falls or Rainbow Falls, which both have waterfalls tumbling over basalt lava fields, from ancient eruptions. If you don't feel like a walk, just drive to the Rainbow Falls end of the track where there's parking and picnic areas. Watch the rainbows formed by the mist from the waterfall.

Safety first

* Before heading off into the bush, tell someone where you're going, who with and when you'll return.

* Be aware of the dangers of swimming where there are no lifeguards and enter shallow or unknown water feet first. Always check the water depth before getting in.

* It sounds obvious, but don't drink alcohol before swimming.

* For tips on safety in the outdoors, visit adventuresmart.org.nz or Water Safety New Zealand. Rivers have a different range of potential dangers from The ocean or swimming pools because the pressure of moving water is constant and can be powerful. The Water Safety NZ website features a River Safe DVD and toolbox, Which has information about staying safe around waterfalls.

* Always err on the side of caution, especially if you're supervising children. Keep children in your care within sight and reach at all times. Only take them in the water if you're confident of your ability to help if necessary and you know the venue and any associated dangers.

* Do not swim after recent rains when the streams may be swollen and fast-moving.

* Wear water shoes or other footwear in case there are jagged rocks on the bottom.

- NZ Herald

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