Fans of Ngāwhā hot springs are being assured a $4.3 million redevelopment won't take away the thermal pools' unique character.
The upgrade of Te Waiariki Ngāwhā Springs has been planned for a decade but finally got under way on December 2 with a dawn blessing and a symbolic sod-turning.
The ceremony was attended by hapū, contractors, councillors, local residents and members of the Parahirahi Ngāwhā Waiariki Trust, which owns the land.
Earthworks are now well under way for the first phase of the project, which involves building new changing rooms, a cafe, shop and meeting room. The lead contractor is Kaikohe firm Henwood Construction.
Trust chairman Te Tuhi Robust said the redevelopment was focused on facilities and services, which were no longer adequate for the increasing number of visitors, while the pools themselves would retain their ''distinctly Ngāwhā look and feel''.
The trust's other priority was keeping the pools accessible to all.
"People have been coming from all over the world to benefit from the healing properties of these natural waters and we want to ensure it remains a welcoming place for visitors. We also have a responsibility to ensure it is here for our mokopuna,'' Robust said.
"The upgrade of the facilities is a critical requirement to ensure all visitors local and international alike have a safe, authentic and enjoyable experience. The project will breathe new life in to our aging facility while ensuring the unique Ngāwhā experience isn't lost.''
One way of keeping the pools accessible for local residents could be to set a price structure with different rates for locals and tourists.
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The trust had recently, and reluctantly, put up the entry price by $1 for the first time in 25 years.
Originally the upgrade was expected to cost $2.4m but adding protection against the floods which regularly hit the area had upped the price to $4.2m.
The trust had raised $4.3m, of which $1.79m came from the Provincial Growth Fund, $1.8m from Foundation North and $710,000 from Lotteries. Funding also came from Te Puni Kōkiri and Northland Inc.
Robust said the pools would remain open throughout most of the project.
At some point they would have to close temporarily while a flood wall designed to withstand a one-in-50-year event was built.
By then the trust planned to reopen the pools at the former Ginns Ngāwhā Spa so people still had somewhere to go.
Construction is due to be completed next December with the new facility fully operational by January 2021.