From RNZ

The iconic Waiwera hot pool complex closed its doors for a $3 million renovation in February 2018. It never reopened.

Instead the past two years has seen court battles over rent and trademarks, liquidations, cancelled leases, and a realisation that the damage to the infrastructure of the 50-year-old water park (and its more recent bottling plant) is so bad almost nothing is salvageable.

Which leaves residents with a "bomb site" on their doorstep, and a hole in their local economy. They are asking what is going to happen - and when.

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But there's a potentially happy ending to the tale: the present owners have just this month made preliminary decisions on a $250m masterplan

Evan Vertue, Waiwera project director for property company Urban Partners, said the pools and the slides could return to Waiwera, along with a day spa, a hotel spa complex, a micro-brewery and apartments.

Evan Vertue has plans to rebuild Waiwera's thermal resort. Photo / Supplied
Evan Vertue has plans to rebuild Waiwera's thermal resort. Photo / Supplied

"We are very advanced with our council resource consent for the extraction of the geothermal water."

While the wellness/spa complex might be a cheaper and less risky project, Vertue reckons it makes sense to start by building the water park and slides.

"It's a strong, high-foot traffic attraction and would get Waiwera on the map.

"We haven't scoped up the whole investment, but we are in the $250m stage, so we are going to look for other parties to hold hands with us on this one."

Waiwera Thermal Resort, north of Auckland, has been closed since February 2018. Photo / Leon Menzies, File
Waiwera Thermal Resort, north of Auckland, has been closed since February 2018. Photo / Leon Menzies, File

And as for timing? The whole project might not be complete in the next 10 years, "but it will be well on the way. Patience can't go on forever".

Waiwera means "hot water" in te reo Māori, and for centuries people have bathed in the mineral springs that originally bubbled up on the beach.

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European settlers realised the tourism potential early. Stories of miracle cures (like the mill owner who arrived at Waiwera in the 1870s "a complete cripple" and after six weeks in residence "threw away his crutches" and set off to walk the 38km back to Auckland) fuelled the resort's popularity.

At various times there has been a large and grand hotel, a 400m wharf to bring passengers in by steamer, and numerous bath houses on the beach.

The slides at the Waiwera resort were popular with generations of domestic and international tourists. Photo / Greg Bowker, File
The slides at the Waiwera resort were popular with generations of domestic and international tourists. Photo / Greg Bowker, File

But since the 1980s, Waiwera's fortunes have waxed and waned, culminating in the purchase of the thermal pools and water bottling businesses by Russian oligarch Mikhail Khimich in 2009.

Khimich, a fast-living, oil company magnate, tasted Waiwera sparkling mineral water at an Auckland restaurant while on a trip to New Zealand to get his superyacht refurbished - and decided to buy the company.

He wanted the bottled water, but was forced to also take a water park he never wanted.

Waiwera Infinity Thermal Spa Resort in its heyday in 2014. Photo / Greg Bowker, file
Waiwera Infinity Thermal Spa Resort in its heyday in 2014. Photo / Greg Bowker, file

By 2018, Khimich and his business partner (and reported Las Vegas-based diamond trader) Leon Fingerhut had run Waiwera Hot Pools into the ground and vanished from the country, owing significant amounts of rent on the pools - among other debts.

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That gave New Zealand-based, family-owned property company Urban Partners, which owned the Waiwera land, but not the water park lease, the chance to take over the business and develop a plan to start the pools and slides again from scratch.

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