A unique location on the fringes of the Pacific plate make New Zealand one of the most thermally active places on the planet. Here are our hottest experiences, brought to you by the team behind our weekly Travel magazine, published on Tuesdays.
Te Puia Geothermal Valley, Rotorua
Te Puia percolates not only with geothermal activity but also Māori culture, crafts and hospitality. The Whakarewarewa valley has been welcoming visitors for 170 years, making it one of the original seats of kaitiakitanga. Set up as an institute to foster Māori arts and culture in the 1960s, it was later vested to Rotorua iwi as a home for traditional carving and cuisine. Restaurant Pātaka Kai offers traditional hangi on selected Fridays and Saturdays.
One of the valley’s biggest attractions is the Pōhutu geyser, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Hell’s Gate, Rotorua
Tikitere or Hell’s Gate is all about volcanic mud, glorious mud. Health buffs from around the world have come to bathe in the stuff – or to simply stare into the mesmeric, primordial pools. It’s said that many of the thermal features gained their name from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who visited in 1934 and is said to have noted “this could be the very gates of hell”.
Nearly a century on, a full-day experience comprises thermal spa treatments and hangi.
Welcome Flat Hot Springs, West Coast
The North Island doesn’t have a monopoly on hot springs. Among New Zealand’s most southerly hot pools, the Welcome Flat Hot Springs are also some of its most scenic. Sit back and bathe in the alpine views of Aoraki’s Sierra Range. Getting there is not so easy – it’s at the end of a seven-hour walk on the Copland Track, south of Fox Glacier.
The cleft mountain, Mt Tarawera still bears the scars of the 1886 eruption. Once home to pink terraces, the natural spa pools were obliterated in a violent explosion that killed more than 100 people and buried entire villages. The Te Wairoa archaeological site provides a glimpse into the darker side of New Zealand’s geothermal activity.
While the impressive terraces are at the bottom of Lake Rotomahana, there are still hot springs and thermal beaches on the shoreline which are completely free to visit. There’s a Department of Conservation trail but you may wish to avoid the 30km hike and splash out on a water taxi.
More extravagant still, the luxury Solitaire Lodge offers a two-night thermal springs and boat transfer package from $3500 a room.
Kawhia Hot Beach, Waikato
You’ll dig this. About an hour south of Hamilton, on the other side of Kawhia, you’ll find a thermal experience at the ocean’s edge. Like the Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach, but with a fraction of the crowd, take a spade and dig at low tide to unearth your own, instant thermal spa. You’ll have to dig around until the temperature is just right, but you’ll always be able to cool down with an ocean dip.
This is an amended version of a story by Thomas Bywater, which was published in the Herald on November 19. For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com
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