A Whitianga thermal spa is an instant de-stresser, writes Dionne Christian.
Slow Down: Winter's Here" read the road sign - and it wasn't wrong.
As we headed northeast from Thames to Whitianga, the temperature gauge read a chilly 4C outside while radio news speculated about the possibility of snow in places it doesn't usually fall.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" asked my husband, who generously agreed to chauffeur me to Whitianga and look after our girls while I did what I needed to do.
Not only was I sure it was a good - no, an excellent - idea, I was also convinced this midwinter weekend away was a vitally needed sanity saver.
Given the coastal town's reputation as a favourite summer holiday spot, Whitianga in winter may seem like a strange choice. But it's home to one of my favourite North Island destinations: The Lost Spring Thermal Pools and Day Spa, which is perfect at any time of the year, really.
I was lucky enough to spend time there last year and made an on-the-spot executive decision to take an annual midwinter pilgrimage to the Pacific-style haven, which was built from the ground up by its founder/owner Alan Hopping.
Alan spent nearly 20 years transforming his Whitianga Campground and a former schoolhouse into a wonderland where adults - The Lost Spring is open to those aged 14 and older - can relax and recapture magic in their lives.
It features four mineral-rich hot pools, a day spa, a restaurant and a relaxation lounge all within meticulously landscaped gardens. Apart from unobtrusive and atmospheric music, the only sounds you're likely to hear are birdsong and the blissful sighs of grown-ups forgetting about their worries and cares. Tranquillity abounds.
Surviving the drive over the Coromandel Ranges, we stopped for a late lunch at the award-winning Colenso Country Shop & Cafe in Whenuakite, south of Whitianga and about 10 minutes north of Tairua.
Colenso was named Runner-up best cafe in New Zealand 2010, by Cafe Magazine and it is easy to see - and taste - why. Surrounded by orchard and citrus trees and a bountiful herb garden, the food was hearty and delicious and the Atomic coffee superb. Our girls loved the children's playground; not to mention picking and eating mandarins fresh from the trees.
We continued to Whitianga, arriving mid-afternoon at our beachside home-for-the-night, Oceans Resort. After a brisk walk along Buffalo Beach and a once-around the town centre, we could have dined out - there are plenty of options - but chose instead to have fish 'n' chips and an early night.
Day two started with breakfast at Jandals Cafe.
The husband and kids headed to Whiti Farm Park, a family-friendly attraction, home to more than 40 farmyard and exotic animals, birds and reptiles; I danced into The Lost Spring.
Guests enter through a resort-style reception area with a cafe and a sublime relaxation lounge with expansive views to the pools and gardens. I changed into one of the cuddly robes and was taken to the day spa located in a light and airy space modelled on a Fijian bure.
The day spa includes a lounge area with stunning views to the Pacific Ocean. Pedicures and manicures are accompanied by appetising tasting platters and champagne or cocktails.
A highlight of my fabulous facial was a mind-melting massage plus hydration treatment using products that smelt so good, I swear you could eat them. Feeling well and truly spoiled, I headed to the therapeutic mineral pools for an hour-long soak.
The pools are filled with geothermal water from a well, 644m below the property. Temperatures range from 36 to 44C while the water has a healing mix of minerals.
As I climbed in, one of the staff arrived with a yummy fruit cocktail of apple, ginger and carrot, a thoughtful and delightful addition. After a stressful few weeks, being able to sit peacefully and unwind was idyllic. When light rain began to fall, it simply added to the soothing atmosphere.
I certainly "slowed down" and felt better for it, but I'm not sure I can wait a full year to lose myself again at The Lost Spring.
Given that Whitianga is situated between a deep water harbour and the rugged Coromandel Ranges, it is an ideal spot for boating and kayaking, diving, fishing and sea safaris as well as bushwalks, horse treks and mountain biking.
That sounds like the basis for a summer holiday, so we may just be returning sooner rather than later.
Where to stay: Oceans Resort, 18 Eyre St, Whitianga, (07) 869 5222.
Where to eat: Colenso Country Shop & Cafe, SH 25, Whenuakite, (07) 866 3725; Jandals Cafe, 5 Albert St, Whitianga, (07) 866 0323.
Where to soak: The Lost Spring Thermal Resort & Day Spa, 121A Cook Drive, Whitianga, (07) 866 0457.
Where to take the family: Whiti Farm Park, 2414 SH25, (07) 866 2349; Mercury Bay Museum, 11 The Esplanade, Whitianga, (07) 866 0703.
Further information: See whitianga.co.nz.