New Zealand: Soak it up

By Jane Jeffries

The upside of living on the rim of fire is we have more than 100 natural hot springs in New Zealand, "gifts from the earth", so they say.

Now winter is here, Kiwis can relax and reap the therapeutic benefits of these mystical gifts.

Caused by geothermal activity it is no surprise the highest concentration of hot springs is found in the volcanic plateau in the North Island, although they can be found in many other parts of the country.

Waiariki Pools, Ngawha

Reason to go: For an authentic Kiwi experience try the Waiariki Hot Pools in the small town of Ngawha, near Kerikeri. Used by Maori for over 700 years, a dip in the pools is like stepping back in time. They are rustic holes lined with ancient timbers and etched with several generations' worth of graffiti, and vary in temperature from the Bull Dog bath at 45C to less scalding water.

Cost: $4 adults, $1 children.

Where to stay: The closest town is Kaikohe with a choice of two motels, but Kerikeri and Paihia are both only about 30km away with more options.

While you're in the area: Visit the Ake Ake Vineyard in Kerikeri and relax around the open fire while you try its eclectic and delicious food and award-winning chambourcin wine.

The Lost Spring, Whitianga

Reason to go: No kids allowed. And they serve cocktails in the pool. Like you need another reason?

Cost: It's $35 for a one-hour pass and $60 for an all-day pass, meaning you can come and go. The prices mark it as a high-end spring.

Where to stay: The Lost Spring runs accommodation packages with the nearby Admiralty Lodge. But in the colder months, there are no shortage of places to stay at in Whitianga.

While you're in the area: Drop into Hot Water Beach at low tide - pack your own shovel and slide into a pool next to a backpacker. If you're in town on the weekend of September 14, check out the Whitianga Scallop Festival.

Polynesian Spa, Rotorua

Reason to go: This is a Kiwi classic. The Deluxe area has a relaxation lounge and impressive lake views.

Cost: You'll get into the main family area for $14.50 (kids are $6.50). The Deluxe Lake Spa area costs $43 for adults and $15.50 for kids. It's $25 to get into the Adult Pools and Priest Spa, so named because a priest found relief for his arthritis with a good soak there. Entry to one area doesn't cover entry to the other.

Where to stay: The spa is right in the middle of Rotorua, with the city's top hotels all nearby. Many of them run deals in conjunction with the springs. Take your pick.

While you're in the area: There's great walking and mountain-biking to be done around Rotorua.

Hells Gate, Tikitere, Rotorua

Reason to go: They claim the mud baths and sulphur pools are good for your skin. With cultural shows and a geyser spraying jets of water, there's no doubt you're in Rotorua.

Cost: $75 gets you in for the mud bath and spa and $20 gets you just the spa.

Where to stay: Tikitere is a 20-minute drive out of Rotorua. The nearby holiday park has cabins, bunk rooms and camp sites.

While you're in the area: DoC maintains a series of excellent walking tracks around Lake Rotoiti.

Wairakei Terraces, Taupo

Reason to go: These beautiful man-made terraces are reminiscent of the original pink and white terraces of Mt Tarawera, once touted the true eighth wonder of the world, before its eruption in 1886. The water, rich in silica flows over the terraces leaving extraordinary crusty deposits of white crystals. The health benefits are believed to be significant, as the silica helps maintain the elasticity of collagen - important for body flexibility.

Cost: $25. Adults only.

Where to stay: The Hilton Lake Taupo stands out because of its roaring fire at the Hilton Bistro Lago. A huge stag's head above a generous fireplace begs for company. Casual dinners are most welcome to enjoy a few wines and bites from their all-day tapas menu or lunch or dinner. De Bretts hot springs are next door.

While you're in the area: Try Vine Eatery and Bar. There's no better way to spend an evening than enjoying shared plates with a selection of over 250 bottles of wine at retail not restaurant prices.

Morere Hot Springs, near Gisborne

Reason to go: Morere Hot Springs are more than just hot springs - this holistic destination is set in over 300ha of rainforest. The springs produce 250,000 litres of hot water a day, channelled into eight pools, two of which are remote in virgin rain forest.

Cost: $8 adults, $5 children.

Where to stay: Morere Hot Springs has a collection of quaint accommodation 250m from the hot springs. The homestead, cottage and cabins are dotted around the glade on this working sheep and cattle farm.

While you're in the area: Do an easy 20-minute walk or a challenging three-hour hike in the rainforest. It is one of the last remaining tracts of native rainforest on the east coast of New Zealand. Take torches with the kids for a night walk and hear the calls of moreporks and see the wonderland of glow-worms.

Hanmer Springs, near Christchurch

Reason to go: Hanmer Springs, a pretty alpine village off the beaten track has been famous for its hot spring since 1859. The range of pools are expansive: there are 12 open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools and six private indoor thermal pools, as well as a sauna/steam room, plus plenty of fun pools and slides for the kids.

Cost: $20 adults, $10 children.

Where to stay: The villas at The Heritage, just opposite the springs, are ideal for families.

While you're in the area: Hanmer is a winter activity hub offering everything from skiing, white-water rating, mountain biking, forest walks to jet boating. Make local enquiries for all activities. Soak in the hot water afterwards.

Onsen Hot Pools, Queenstown

Reason to go: These hot springs are as close to the authentic Japanese Onsen you will find anywhere in New Zealand. The private pools, each with a retractable roof are set high on the cliffs overlooking the Shotover River canyon offering expansive views.

Where to stay: Arthurs Point or right in the heart of Queenstown. Courtesy transport from Queenstown to the pools is available.

Cost: $46 adults, $10 children.

While you're in the area: Ski one of the four great fields, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona or Treble Cone, but if skiing is not your thing try snow mobiling with Nevis Snowmobile Adventure. After a day on the mountain eat at one of Queenstown's top eateries, Rata, Winnie's, The Cow, Amisfield or Ferg's Burgers.

- NZ Herald

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