Sally Jackson tests the waters at five of New Zealand's lesser-known hot springs
Waiariki Pools, Ngawha Springs
In the heart of Northland, this low-key commercial hot spring is run by the Parahirahi Trust. A visit to these traditional pools feels like going back in time — a feeling enhanced by the low admission fee. The outdoor, wood-lined tubs contain highly mineralised water of different colours and temperatures. The Waiariki Pools are of great spiritual and cultural significance to the Ngapuhi people. A taniwha named Takauere lives under the entire area and his eye is represented by the pools. Many believe these springs to have exceptional healing properties.
Wairua Stream, Rotorua
Until a few years ago, Wairua Stream could be reached only by boat. Today, a new foot-track along the forested shores of Lake Tarawera allows walkers to access both Hot Water Beach and Wairua Stream. The large, shaded pool at Wairua Stream usually hovers just above body temperature. The last stretch of the scenic walk is on a faint, unmarked path off the main track, so detailed directions, including GPS co-ordinates or a map, are recommended. The Totally Tarawera water taxi can drop you at the springs, making it a more manageable 15km day hike back to the carpark from nearby Hot Water Beach.
Kawhia's hot water beach
Almost everyone has heard of the Coromandel's Hot Water Beach but the same can't be said for Kawhia's hot water beach. It's accessed via a long no-exit road on the Waikato's remote west coast. The owner of Kawhia's Beachside S-Escape Holiday Park has set up a couple of posts in the sand to aid in locating these elusive springs, which can be accessed only about 1.5 hours each side of low tide. Most of Kawhia's accommodations supply spades to take to the beach, as some intensive digging is required to scoop out a shallow hot pool in the fine black, volcanic sand. A GPS unit will reduce the "needle in a haystack" feeling on this sweeping stretch of beach.
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Ruapirau Hot Springs
The southern section of the Kaweka Forest Park is home to one of the North Island's most remote hot springs. A bathtub has been flown into a ravine that harbours the modest Ruapirau Hot Springs. Only a handful of people have been to these springs, which don't even appear in scientific records. It took me two years of sleuthing to track them down. They are destined to remain little-visited as canyoneering skills are required to reach them. These springs have been named after the Ngati Ruapirau, an early tribe in the area.
Cow Stream Hot Springs, Hanmer Springs
The South Island's Cow Stream Hot Springs is relatively unknown because from 1862 to 2008, it was located on a high-country sheep and cattle station. The government bought this land and turned it into the St James Conservation Area, which covers 78,000ha of native forests, alpine tussocklands, rivers, lakes and formerly inaccessible geothermal areas. The chain of delightful stream-side hot pools can be reached by foot, mountain bike or horseback. Permission for four-wheel drive access can be obtained from DoC (only during the warmer months).
Sally Jackson is the author of Hot Springs of New Zealand. The newly revised edition contains detailed information on more than 100 thermal springs (almost half of them are free).