Every year more than two million visitors come to New Zealand. For those staying in our top hotels and visiting our big tourist drawcards, a spa visit is increasingly on the menu, but what do they experience?
We checked out a few of the "New Zealand" treatments on offer to find out if they are worth recommending to overseas visitors or trying yourself. A growing array of treatments are being added to spa menus in response to interest from tourists. While they can't compete price-wise with the Asian-style beachside massage, they do fill what has been a gap in the market for those looking for an experience unique to this land.
As ever, experiences vary depending on the quality of individual establishments and therapists, but at top-end facilities there has been a conscious effort to lift New Zealand spa treatments to global standards. Here's a sampling:
This treatment is essentially a hot stone massage, with the New Zealand flavour not at all over-stated, yet conveyed in an authentic way that will leave visitors impressed. The Hyatt Regency's well-appointed spa has a surprisingly low profile round town, perhaps relying on business at the adjoining pool and gymnasium facilities which are well used by people in neighbouring businesses and residences. The spa's new New Zealand treatment was actually developed by an American therapist, but her connections are convincing: she's married to a Kiwi and has worked in Hawaii where she gained a good grounding in Polynesian-style massage. Lomi Lomi is the name for the flowing massage from the northern islands and the very professional Carmel could converse easily about its similarities with Maori miri miri.
When translated to spa-style massage, traditional joint manipulation aspects are less to the fore, leaving an extended, rhythmic style involving medium but relaxing pressure.
Greenstones, both hot and cold, are used in the treatment and Carmel travelled to Hokitika to personally select appropriately shaped unpolished stones from the factory there. A nice touch comes at the end when each guest is given a tiny flax kete with a small piece of greenstone inside and told of the Maori tradition that pounamu should always be a gift.
* The Greenstone Massage costs $150 for 75 minutes at The Spa at the Hyatt Regency Auckland, cnr Princes St and Waterloo Cres, ph (09) 355 1242.
This relaxation facial not only nourishes skin with New Zealand native bush honey and refreshes with kiwifruit, it also uses a host of other natural ingredients in its various steps. It's recommended for dull, tired skin and will appeal to someone looking for a gentle approach with few risks of breakouts. My skin was left looking refreshed without being weighed down with products.
First up is an oatmeal cleanse, toning with cucumber slices, and the application of fresh yoghurt with polenta as a gentle exfoliating scrub. Flaxseed oil provides a good medium for regenerating massage, with antioxidant rich, freshly fragranced green tea oil also used to ease tension in the face, neck and shoulders.
Therapist Janine then applies the warmed manuka honey mix, covers it with a fine gauze mask and tops this with freshly sliced kiwifruit and another layer of gauze to hold it in place while she massages my head. The enzyme-rich fruit juice steeps into the skin through the honey.
Janine says kiwifruit also has a mild exfoliating effect and once it is added to the honey I notice a very mild tingling, counteracted by its cooling sensation. After a wipe down my face is finished with a layer of delectable Ilsci Apricot Whip - this Hungarian organic product may be from the other side of the world, but it fits the fruity, fresh theme of a treatment
East also offers a Milk and Honey cocoon, in which the body is brushed then wrapped in a native bush honey mask while a scalp or face massage is administered.
* The East Aotearoa facial costs $110 and lasts 60 minutes at East Day Spa, SkyCity Grand Hotel, 123 Albert St, Auckland, ph (09) 363 7050.
The Polynesian Spa doesn't need to sell its New Zealand-ness, there's the lake view just outside the spa windows and the distinctive Rotorua aroma in the air. Do take in both, with a pre-treatment soak in the series of thermal pools which are separate from the public bathing area.
The spa comes with an international reputation and the luxury of plenty of space. I like the individual cubicles off the changing area and the airy, lakeside relaxation room. Forget minimalist spa decor, this place has sunny yellow walls which, while they may sound a tad dated interiors-wise, are pleasantly unpretentious. So is the whole friendly, efficient experience, with staff used to catering for large numbers.
The therapist coats me in manuka honey and wraps me to let this hydrate and calm the skin. I drift off, enjoying the feeling of fresh air entering the room. It takes a little wiping down under the shower for me to remove the honey mask from my skin, but I bet the detoxifying mud wrap would be even messier. Or the kiwifruit souffle wrap, which also starts with a salt scrub before the enzyme-rich fruit extract is applied.
Once rinsed, I lie back to enjoy an all-over massage, leaving with my aches eased and my skin softened. On the way out, it's worth checking out Polynesian Spa's streetfront shop which has one of the best skincare and gift selections about.
* The Manuka Honey Wrap costs $150 and takes one hour at Polynesia Spa, 1000 Hinemoa St, Rotorua, free phone 0508 765 977.
Chuan Spa developed this new treatment for its international clients, and introduces it by explaining that the massage style draws inspiration from the contours of the land and the circular fronds of native ferns. While miri miri does indeed draw on such natural references, the explanations I'm given are very "spa-style", especially when I ask more about the significance of the use of greenstone. I'm told pounamu has "ancient energies".
These minor quibbles aside, the treatment is first rate and therapist Susan, who helped develop it, delivers a wonderfully relaxing massage using a pantry full of indigenous ingredients that anyone would appreciate. Attention has been paid to using genuine New Zealand products throughout, with warmed Living Nature Oil used for the massage. This features plenty of flowing, circular movements along the body's length. A scrub uses extracts of kelp, clay, manuka and ginger to invigorate the skin and after a rinse, flat Hawkes Bay river stones help polish the body.
I'm particularly taken with the application of a mask of manuka honey to the face. This natural humectant has proven healing properties and leaves my skin feeling moist and soothed. The honey is delicately applied with a sliver of greenstone and I like that in experiencing this, visitors will be introduced to our natural bounty.
* Aotearoa Aura costs $210 for 90 minutes at Chuan Spa, the Langham Hotel, 83 Symonds St, Auckland, ph (09) 300 2960.
The first facial
Taking a 9-year-old for a facial is a venture into the unknown, but a holistic approach - and a sensible 30-minute treatment time - makes it an exotic and manageable adventure at Spa Ayurda.
I'm a fan of the Ayurvedic spa's 60-minute adult facials which feature plenty of massage, and when I learn they offer mini-facials and massage for children aged six and over my interest is piqued.
"You're preparing a building," explains owner Rippan Sandhu, of why it's natural to extend treatments, designed to bring balance to the body and mind, to the young. I wonder how this will work on my high-energy daughter, but she's taken by the exotic look of the spa and is happy to be left in the capable hands of therapist Jane. Afterwards I quiz her.
Livia recounts the application of hot towels and describes the massage of her lower legs and ankles as "really nice". Her fingers, wrists and arms were also gently rubbed. "It was really soothing, really relaxing."
Jane asked a number of times if the pressure was alright and: "One time I said it was perfection".
The facial itself consisted of a simple cleanse, exfoliation and moisturising with gentle products, which the spa has specially made in India.
Livia said she felt like she'd been treated to a really nice occasion and she now saw why this spa stuff appealed to grown-ups. It was good for kids too, she added. As a special treat, just this once, thought mean mummy, not wanting to cut into her own "me" time.
While massage is widely used to calm children across Asia and beauty routines start young in Europe, I'm thinking my daughter can start with DIY homecare until she's old enough to understand the value of what she's enjoying.
The seeds of indulgence have been sown already though, with this her verdict on the facial: "It just kind of relaxes you, and you fall into a dream."
* A child's facial at Spa Ayurda, 213 Ponsonby Rd, costs $50 and adult facials cost from $110. Ph (09) 360 0007.