A multi-million dollar luxury spa and wellness centre is being developed on Rotorua's lakefront, offering holistic wellbeing treatments with a Te Ao Maori focus.
Stakeholders are promising the Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa will boost the local economy by tens of millions of dollars a year as well as creating dozens of new jobs for Rotorua residents.
The centre, which will sit on land previously leased to Rotorua hospital and hospice, will be about the size of a Mitre 10, will cost about $30 million to build, and is due to be completed by the end of 2019.
Preliminary earthworks will start later this year.
Wai Ariki is the latest development by Pukeroa Oruawhata Group and will form just one element of the wider health and wellness vision for the group's 11ha site on Rotorua's lakefront.
The centre will be managed by an Australian-based company, Belgravia Leisure.
Pukeroa Oruawhata chairman Malcolm Short said Ngati Whakaue, Te Arawa and Maori culture would sit at the heart of Wai Ariki and a personalised, one-on-one experience would set the centre apart from competitors.
The kaupapa of the centre was a focus on hauora, or total wellbeing.
Conferences Mr Short had attended overseas showed there was rising demand for this kind of spa treatment among consumers internationally.
The 650-year history of the tribe and Rotorua's spa heritage formed an intrinsic part of the development and Wai Ariki would cement Rotorua's reputation as a globally competitive spa destination, he said.
"While specific details around Wai Ariki and its offerings remain commercially sensitive, we are confident this development is something which Rotorua, and in fact New Zealand, has never seen before," Mr Short said.
"Our vision for a health and wellness campus at the Rotorua lakefront includes a range of different services and offerings, including dedicated space for a clinical and rehabilitation provider."
The estimated benefit to the Rotorua economy was tens of millions of dollars a year, Pukeroa Oruawhata Group director and finance and expenditure chairman David Tapsell said.
"This is a very exciting day for us, one that's been in the planning for a number of years," Mr Tapsell told media earlier today.
The estimated build cost of $30m meant the group had "obviously put a lot of time into getting it right".
"One of the key instructions [given to Belgravia] was we've got to employ our people," he said.
Construction jobs would be created during the building phase over the next two years and, once the centre was up and running, Wai Ariki would initially employ 35 staff, expanding to 80 over time.
Employment at the facility would not only be a job but would also offer training in Maori-focused wellness, offering local Maori a chance to connect with their culture, said Pukeroa Oruawhata trustee and kaumatua Monty Morrison.
Cultural authenticity was critically important, he said.
"We want to respect and acknowledge our tupuna, and ensure the branding, concept and wider development tells the stories of Ngati Whakaue."
Mr Morrison said hot springs traditionally were about relaxing, re-energising and resting to feel replenished in body and spirit and Wai Ariki would recreate that.
Maori have had a special relationship with hot springs for centuries.
"The water has mana and a sacredness about it."
Hot water was in Rotorua's DNA and Wai Ariki would reflect that, both in its branding, designed by Ngati Whakaue local Inia Maxwell, and in the welcome and treatment of guests, Mr Morrison said.
"The experience of coming to Wai Ariki is creating what we did back in the early days. It was a one-on-one experience, it was a people experience."
The centre would offer high-end treatments for high-spending visitors, but Mr Morrison promised there would be something for everyone, with services offered at various different price points.
Wai Ariki meant chiefly waters and was a reminder of the origin of Rotorua's thermal waters, which were called to Aotearoa by Ngatoroirangi, a legendary chief and tohunga of the Arawa waka.
Maori folklore said heat and fire were brought to Aotearoa by Ngatoroirangi's sisters after he was overcome by snow, ice and wind on the peaks of Tongariro, and he prayed to them in Hawaiki to send fire to revive him.
Mayor Steve Chadwick said the announcement was a major step towards achieving Rotorua's spa destination aspirations.
"Health and wellness is a big growth area internationally and the spa, health and wellness sector has been identified as a key driver for developing Rotorua's tourism economy, to build on what makes our district unique."
The project fitted with the council's recent refresh of their 2030 vision for Rotorua, where the city's active environment, strong culture and diverse economic opportunities were acknowledged as three of four key strengths, she said.
"Growing the value of tourism to our district and making our culture more visible were identified as key opportunities to help us build on our strengths and the Wai Ariki concept contributes to both of those opportunity areas."
Rotorua was once known as the spa capital of the South Pacific and Mrs Chadwick was keen to see the district reclaim that title, saying there was plenty of untapped potential to develop further in the spa, health and wellness sector.
"I congratulate Pukeroa Oruawhata for committing to this substantial investment, which I expect will bring many benefits for Rotorua in the long term."
Locals in Rotorua's town centre were divided in their reactions to the news.
"I think this is undeniably positive for Rotorua," said resident Curtis Bidois.
"It's another draw card for people to spend time enjoying the treasures that we're blessed with in the Waiariki."
Local woman Libby Fletcher said the facility looked "very upmarket".
"If it's bringing jobs to the city it can only be good can't it," she said.
Charles Landsdown, who works in hospitality in Rotorua, was sceptical the project would bring in the amount of money stakeholders were claiming.
"They say that every time," he said.