The team members at Polynesian Spa say they are "beyond excited" to be celebrating the Rotorua tourist destination's 50th birthday this month.
The geothermal spa is marking its milestone with a recap of its journey from natural healing springs to today's geothermal hot springs and spa therapies destination.
Chief executive Gert Taljaard says, "I'm beyond excited to celebrate with everyone 50 years of Polynesian Spa".
He says it is rewarding to know that 50 years ago the founders of this business had a vision - and were prepared to invest in that vision - which enabled a then rundown facility to eventually become an internationally recognised spa.
"We operate in Rotorua and we employ local people first, in addition to providing our Rotorua customers with some excellent opportunities to enjoy the product.
"Telling our story hopefully further encourages our local community to continue enjoying our variety of products and appreciating that they have a world-famous facility right here in their city."
Gert says as international travel returns, Polynesian Spa will continue to provide its product and find ways to enhance the experience for all its customers.
"We also look forward to our business being able to employ more local people as the market recovers."
He says, "We are thankful for the continued support from the Rotorua community."
Polynesian Spa celebrations include a limited-edition Mud and Manuka gelato, which will be available for its birthday year.
This hand-churned gelato was developed for the spa by Hannah Wood, of Little Lato, and is a cheeky play on the spa's signature mud treatments and products, as well as the geographic elements found on its site.
Manuka gelato is topped off with chunks of brownie rocks in a dark waffle cone with flakes of gold to celebrate its golden anniversary.
Celebrations also include an exclusive open day for annual pass holders today, a Facebook giveaway for a wellness group getaway worth $1550, and 50 golden tickets for monthly pass sign-ups in May that will give bonus entry to the Deluxe spas.
History of the site
Before the geothermal wonders of Rotorua brought tourism to the city, the local Te Arawa iwi recognised the waters' healing properties. For centuries, they used the rich iron oxide mud to treat wounds and the healing waters to ease aches and pains.
The geothermal waters are sacred taonga (treasures) to Māori that must be protected and preserved by kaitiaki (guardians).
In 1878, Father James Mahoney, an Irish Catholic priest who suffered from rheumatism, was carried from Tauranga to Rotorua to soak in the waters of Te Pupūnitanga thermal spring.
After a few months of soaking in the spring, Father Mahoney indicated the discomfort from his condition had gone.
The news of the healing properties of the spring caused settlers to flock to Rotorua, seeking the water's miracle for themselves.
Te Pupūnitanga spring later became known as the Priest's Bath.
The first baths
The first bathhouse on the site of the Priest's Bath, and later Polynesian Spa, was the government-run Pavilion bathhouse opened in 1882.
Development continued, with the Duchess Bath opening to honour the Duchess of Cornwall and York who visited in 1901.
The Pavilion and Duchess baths later closed due to their decaying state and were replaced with Ward Baths in 1931, named after New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward, who had a passion for geothermal waters.
Commercial development begins
Polynesian Pools Ltd was officially founded in 1968 by Neville Lobb, who left his 19-year role as chief executive of the New Zealand National Travel Association to take over the pools.
The Lobb family and their investment partners, Rangatira Ltd, converted the rundown Ward baths, ending 90 years of government involvement in the bathhouses.
Renovation plans included 20 private pools, a coffee lounge, a souvenir shop, and facilities for groups.
The plans brought in a new era of public bathing that was open for both men and women to enjoy simultaneously and an AIX therapy area.
The new Polynesian Pools officially opened on Easter of 1972 and had 2000 visitors a day during its first weekend.
The Polynesian Pools were rebranded to Polynesian Spa in 1996, coinciding with the opening of the Lake Spa Retreat featuring 10 therapy rooms that offered a variety of AIX mineral water and mud therapies, massage therapies, and beauty treatments.
In addition, five shallow lakeside thermal pools opened among lush greenery, stonework, and mini waterfalls, all overlooking Sulphur Bay.
Over the past 25 years, there has been continued investment and development of the geothermal and hydrotherapy services. For example, instalment of geothermally heated recliners and a cold-water plunge pool.
Two springs feed into the pools at Polynesian Spa, the Priest Spring and the Rachel Spring. The slightly acidic Priest Spring waters relieve tired muscles, aches, and pains, while the alkaline waters of the Rachel Spring nourish skin.
The Priest and Radium pools closed for bathing in 2003. However, due to their cultural significance, the pools remain in place and are protected by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, with their water feeding into current pools, maintaining the important historical link.
After Neville Lobb's retirement as managing director in 1986, his son Martin Lobb returned from overseas and took over the role until 2012, when he stood down.
He remains one of the company's four directors.
Gert Taljaard came on board as Polynesian Spa's chief executive in 2015, bringing his tourism expertise from his time working in the hotel sector.
Polynesian Spa today
Despite Covid-19 and worldwide lockdowns, Polynesian Spa has persevered and stood strong amid operating and travel challenges.
Gert says it is an honour to be stewarding Polynesian Spa through one of the most challenging eras New Zealand tourism has seen.
"Ensuring that the spa survives and carrying on its legacy has been critical for us to continue its important history and respect the spa's significance to the local Rotorua community."
Today, Polynesian Spa continues to be recognised as one of the top 10 spas globally.