Tauranga: Harden up or head to a hot pool

Cindy McQuade chooses the latter and finds a hot spot on the outskirts of Tauranga

Visit the Oropi Hot Pools and Country Cafe for a relaxing paddle, a boisterous game of paintball and a barbecue or picnic.
Visit the Oropi Hot Pools and Country Cafe for a relaxing paddle, a boisterous game of paintball and a barbecue or picnic.

Sometimes I just can't get warm enough, and once the seasonal southerlies start to bite and snap their way up the country, no number of woolly jumpers seems to help. There's a choice to be made, then: harden up or head to a hot pool. Obviously, I choose the hot pool.

Instead of heading towards the Bay of Plenty tourist hive of Rotorua, though, I make my way up into the foothills of Tauranga. There are a number of geothermal gems tucked away in the city's outer suburbs, and Oropi Hot Pools is at the top of my list.

The entrance to the pools is flanked by a gorgeous gully of giant pine trees, ferns and native trees, with a sign announcing "paintball". Unfortunately, my crew is too young for paintball and I'm eager to shake off the chill of the overcast day, so we head towards the pool quick-smart.

Inside, we're greeted by a glinting oasis of steaming blue water. Surrounded by palms and ferns, the pool is really pretty and I can't wait to sink in.

The kids are just as keen and swoop in like hungry seal pups. I like to savour the hot pool experience and slowly immerse myself in the warm, liquid-velvet water. While the seal pups are eagerly ducking, diving and occasionally popping their heads up for air, I camp out over a vent of hot water. And there I stay, mother seal, poaching.

As other family groups enter the complex, I indulge in my other favourite pastime - people watching. A lone father enters with three children. He sighs loudly as he plunges into the water for the first time, audibly releasing the tension of his day.

That's the hot-pool effect right there. Tight, high shoulders drop, and knitted brows smooth and slacken as the warmth invades tired muscles and minds.

I watch adults basking while their children frolic around them. The odd droplet of rain starts to make patterns around us. Soon the droplets are whipped into a frenzy as we're bombed by a deluge from the slate grey sky. It's wonderful. There's nothing better than being outside on a miserable, rainy day, near naked, as warm as toast in a hot pool.

I don't hear any foreign accents in the pool, so I ask owner, Robyn Cooper, about her customers. Most of them are Kiwis, she tells me, either Tauranga locals or from around the wider region. "Lots of people come over from Rotorua for a [soak] and dinner, then go home, because it's more affordable than their local pools. During the day it's mainly families and the couples come at night," she says.

I'm not surprised it's a hit with the locals as our visit cost only $22 for me and three children. It's nice to find somewhere to take the kids for an outing and an iceblock without needing a second mortgage to pay for it.

The budget-conscious can also make the most of the picnic area and gas-fired barbecues if they're prepared enough to chuck some food in a chilly bin. I'm allergic to food preparation, so I head to the cafe to take a look at the menu and grab a coffee.

Those wanting to give their muscles a workout before a soak in the pools can also take advantage of the seven-acre paintball course. I went for a wander in the gully and could imagine there's a huge amount of shoot-out fun to be had. There's plenty of room to run around and thanks to the lush undergrowth beneath the pines, lots of secret places to take aim - or hide. Robyn says it's a popular for work functions, family get-togethers, and also with stags for pre-wedding bashes.

When the kids are old enough, we'll definitely be back to have a go at paintball. In the meantime, they had to be content with a treasure hunt around the picnic area.

By the end of the day, all the bases were covered for an excellent family outing. The children got the chance to blast off some energy and I was relaxed and, most importantly, toastier than a sausage roll in a pie-warmer.

Super soaking

What: Oropi Hot Pools and Country Cafe
Where: 1 Warner Rd, Oropi. Ph (07) 543 3913
Head to: The southern Tauranga suburb of Greerton and on to the Oropi roundabout
Hot pools: $7 per adult, under 12s $5, under 5s $4; private pools $12.50 an adult per half hour
Open: Wednesday to Friday 4-10pm; Saturday and Sunday 10am-10pm; school holidays and public holidays Wednesday to Sunday 10am-10pm; closed Monday and Tuesday

- NZ Herald

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