New Zealand offers unique spa treatments, often at sites of thermal springs.
"That was fabulous." I uttered these words involuntarily as I walked out of Lake Tekapo's Alpine Springs & Spa park into the chilly mountain air.
Two hours earlier I'd hobbled in, stiff from a day's skiing at nearby Roundhill. Everything hurt. It was nothing, however, that Alpine Springs massage therapist Avinita couldn't ease out with her repertoire of soothing techniques ranging from gentle massage to, when asked, pummelling. The soreness evaporated.
I was on a luxury weekend at Peppers Bluewater Resort at Lake Tekapo and there are few things more luxurious in my book than a massage and facial. The five-star resort recommends clients visit the nearby Alpine Springs park for beauty treatments, although therapists will come to the hotel if requested.
Treatments range from hot stone and head massages to body wraps, "tribal body care", a variety of facials and all the standard treatments a girl could want. The spa has a growing business doing wedding make-up as well.
The advantage for me of going to the Alpine Springs is that the experience includes more than just a massage. At the end of my hour on the table, which overlooks the park's hot pools and Lake Tekapo's shimmering waters, I headed to the sauna and steam room to cap off the experience.
From there, it was into the alpine air - the chill has similar physiological effects as the plunge pool - and I sank into the hot pools, which range in temperature from 36 to 40 degrees. The pools are shaped and themed after local glacial lakes: Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo. Like the lakes themselves, Tekapo is the highest followed by Pukaki, and Ohau at the bottom.
There aren't many places in New Zealand where you can soak in hot water, while snow falls around you. The Tekapo pools are just three years old and were the brainchild of Alpine Springs park owner Karl Burtscher, who was looking for a use for the waste energy being extracted from the ice rink cooling process. The heat is transferred to spring water and heats the pools.
The day was finished with Peppers Bluewater Resort's annual midwinter Christmas dinner featuring, among other things, salmon from the Mt Cook Alpine Salmon farm.
The newly opened Alpine Springs is a winter fun park. As well as the spa and popular hot pools, there is an ice skating rink and, for the kids and adults alike, a snow slope for tubing. It's quite possible to spend an entire day at the park, especially with a family in tow. Mum takes the spa treatments, while dad has fun with the kids or vice versa.
Tekapo is fast becoming known as a destination. Five years ago it was little more than a road stop on the way to Aoraki Mount Cook. All that has changed thanks to the Alpine Springs park, and Peppers, which between them have become a drawcard for discerning visitors.
Finally, the other words I uttered on leaving the Alpine Springs was: "Why don't I do this more often?"
Why don't I?
Alpine Springs: Full body massage (including hot pool entry) $115
Peppers Bluewater Resort: Prices $145 to $575 per night.
Other top spas around New Zealand:
Voted one of the World Top Ten Spas (natural/ thermal/ medical) by readers of the UK Conde Nast Traveller magazine, the Polynesian Spa is a must-do for spa-lovers. Set on the shores of Lake Rotorua, with beautiful views through the thermal steam, you can soak in the hot pools and then indulge in a range of therapies, many of which use the local thermal mud that has long been renowned for its healing and restorative properties.
Top treatment: Rotorua Mud Replenish Body Wrap: The spa's "most decadent therapy", giving you a luxurious full body exfoliation with a honey walnut scrub followed by a Rotorua mud wrap. While lying enveloped in mud, you'll receive a relaxing scalp massage.
The Lost Spring, Whitianga
The Lost Spring is a back to the future spa. The site was once a traditional New Zealand campsite. Owner Alan Hopping dreamed of finding the nearby thermal spring that had disappeared 100 years earlier. He drilled down and on the third attempt struck thermal water that now fills the perfectly manicured pools. This place is unique. It's my favourite North Island spa. Walk through the door and you're whisked away in mind to an exotic fantasy-land, meet Fijian-island experience.
Top treatment: Rainforest Retreat. A warm nut oil massage on back of legs, feet and back, followed by a facial of your choice.
East Day Spa, Auckland
This spa was the brainchild of business woman Ina Bajaj. If you like your spa to smell of incense and all things exotic, then the East Day Spa at the Sky City Grand Hotel is the place to take your treatments. It's not set beside thermal pools, but is a haven of calm where east meets west.
Top treatment: Royal Bee Venom facial. Treat yourself to the same facial that Kate Middleton and Camilla Parker-Bowles used to prepare for the royal wedding.
La Spa Naturale, Paihia
Relaxation takes on a double meaning at a beach-based spa. La Spa Naturale is on the waterfront at Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Enjoy a massage or facial, then a wander along the beach or take a dip in the waters of the winterless north.
Top treatment: The Texan Scrub for men is described as: "A hot and spicy sea salt blend guaranteed to tame the toughest hide. Thoroughly applied to the body and cleansed off with a massage from the warm Vichy shower."
The South Island's best known spa has to be Hanmer Springs. It's one of the 101 top must-dos for Kiwis. It offers everything from hydroslides for the kids to a pamper pack for the girls - or anyone.
Top treatment: Vichy massage - under warm rain showers to release muscle tension.
It doesn't have to be summer to enjoy Mt Maunganui - you can head there to rejuvenate body and soul any time of year. The Hot Salt Water Pools will re-open next month, so you can head to them for a soak after your spa treatment at Sanctum down the road.
Top treatment: Pure Fiji warm seashell massage. Drift away while enjoying a relaxing massage with polished tiger clams and a tropical blend of exotic nut oils.
Kiwis have flocked to the healing waters at DeBretts for over a century. Today it's a full holiday resort with something for every member of the family.
Top treatment: Group treatment. Head for Taupo with a group of six or more and have a group indulgence session in a relaxed setting followed by a hot mineral soak. Each guest chooses his or her favourite treatment from a selection including massage, facial, hand and foot therapies. Perfect for a girls' weekend.