It is a popular free bathing spot in Taupō - the Otumuheke thermal stream in the town's Spa Park. But for one tourist, it became deadly.
The Otumuheke Stream is visited by thousands of tourists and locals every year. And when Lu San Quing, a Chinese man visiting his son in New Zealand, went to the hot stream at the Spa Thermal Park with his son, he enjoyed it so much that he asked to go back again.
Sadly, he did not return alive from his second trip to the hot stream. According to a hearing on the papers by Coroner Gordon Matenga, Mr Lu was overcome by the high temperature of the water, which was 44.4C. He fainted in the hot pool and drowned. The formal Coroner's verdict was death by misadventure.
The finding was made in November 2018, a year after Mr Lu's death on November 21, 2017 but only recently released after an Official Information Act request.
The Coroner found that Mr Lu, 69, a retired man who lived in China, was in New Zealand visiting his son Chao Lu, who lived in Hamilton. Chao Lu had previously worked in Taupō and was aware of the thermal pools in the Otumuheke Stream, accessed via a short walk through Spa Park. The temperature of the pools vary as they mix with cooler water from the Waikato River, but are hotter upstream.
Chao Lu and Mr Lu had visited the hot pools in October together, spending about 30 minutes soaking in the thermal water. When Chao Lu had a day off work in November, Mr Lu asked his son if they could visit the hot pools again before his return to China the following week. They drove to Taupō and Chao Lu dropped his father off at Spa Park at 11am before going to visit a friend.
At around 12.20pm a German tourist at the pools with two friends saw Mr Lu lying face down in one of the pools. He was unresponsive, so she and her friends dragged him from the pool, called emergency services and began CPR, but Mr Lu could not be revived.
A post-mortem report revealed that Mr Lu had drowned. Toxicology revealed he had not been overcome by excessive levels of hydrogen sulphide which have caused hot pool deaths in the past. The pathologist instead considered that Mr Lu had fainted in response to the high temperature of the water.
The Coroner found that although there were signs in the area warning of the dangers of swimming in the nearby Waikato River, there were none regarding the hot stream water or that it got hotter further upstream.
"The fact that the water is hot should be immediately apparent to bathers, but there is nevertheless a danger, as seen by the death of Mr Lu, for an unsuspecting member of the public to underestimate their ability to cope with the warm water temperatures for an extended period of time," the Coroner's report said.
He did not make a formal recommendation about signage but encouraged the Taupō District Council to consider whether the signs at the Spa Park entrance adequately warned of the risks of enjoying the Waikato River, thermal pools and "natural wonders of the area".
At the time of Mr Lu's death, the council had planned to upgrade facilities at the Otuhuheke thermal stream, adding toilets, changing rooms and lockers, pathways and a water fountain, work which was completed the following year.
Acting council chief executive Dylan Tahau says that as part of the redevelopment of the Otumuheke Stream, hazard signage and fencing was erected in the area.
That included fences and signs that prevented access to the most dangerous area, where Mr Lu's death occurred.
The council was also currently reviewing all the signage in the area to ensure they were current and clear, he said.
A 2010 coroner's inquest into the deaths of two men in Rotorua motel geothermal hot pools who had been overcome by hydrogen sulphide gas, recommended that bathers in geothermal pools should always be with another person.