Good’s guide to Rotorua’s top hot spots.
Even on a gloomy day the attractions of Rotorua beckon.
Luxuriating in a hot pool beneath an overcast sky is a perfectly wonderful thing to do, as well as relaxing, and even therapeutic.
National and international tourists have travelled to Rotorua since the 1800s to experience the power of its healing waters, and to see the wonders of the geothermal landscape first-hand.
If your muscles need a soak after an adventurous day hiking and mountain biking, or you just want to indulge in some pampering, we’ve got your weekend itinerary sorted for you.
Take a shinny dip
Secret Spot Hot Tubs Rotorua is conveniently positioned beside a mountain bike park and the perfect spot for soaking your feet while enjoying a cold beer after a ride.
Shinny dips – soaking your shins and feet in a cedar hot tub – are free if you order a drink from the bar, and a fun way to reminisce with friends after a day on the trails.
However, you don’t need to be a sporty spice to come here and take part in a shinny dip.
Or, if you prefer, you can put on your bathing costume and luxuriate in one of 12 secret hot tubs, each thoughtfully landscaped to be private with views looking into paradisical dells and native bush.
It wasn’t always this way.
Secret Spot sits on what was formerly a dusty overflow carpark with portaloos and has been transformed into a hot tub haven that fringes the Whakarewarewa forest.
It’s the brainchild of brothers Keith and Eric Kolver who dreamt up the concept while paddling down the Whakatane River in a canoe in a storm. “We were freezing and Eric said ‘think of something warm’. I said ‘mulled wine’, and he said ‘mulled wine in a hot tub’ and it was the start of three hours of paddling in the rain just talking about warm stuff,” says Keith.
Five years since that canoe trip, Secret Spot is what it is today.
The Kolver brothers have planted more than 3000 native plants and cleared the area of shoulder to head high blackberries to transform it into a little piece of paradise.
Walking to your private hot tub along the boardwalk has a sense of discovery and while you are there you can enjoy bar service with the press of a button.
Unlike the geothermal waters of nearby Polynesian Spa, the water source for Secret Spot is fresh forest spring water which is heated and freshly circulated for each new visitor.
And its Enviroswim treatment system is friendly on the environment and bathers, without lots of chemicals.
It is a place not to miss, and we reckon it’s fun to go to a secret spot even if the secret’s now out.
A world-class day spa as well as legendary hot pools await at Polynesian Spa.
Book in for a massage or geothermal mud wrap and hot pool experience.
Start off with a soak in the therapeutic springs that overlook Lake Rotorua.
Polynesian Spa is the only bathing facility in New Zealand that has access to both alkaline and acidic hot springs, each sourced from the acidic Priest Spring for easing aches, and alkaline Rachel Spring for fresh, rejunvenated skin.
The Priest Spring is named after Father Mahoney who cured his arthritis after soaking in the acidic waters in 1878.
Legend has it that after being carried to Rotorua because of his crippling arthritis, he was able to walk back to Tauranga, and declared himself cured of his ailments.
The news of his miraculous cure saw visitors come in their droves.
The Rachel Spring is named after Madam Rachel, an English cosmetician who promised youthful complexions because of the softening effect of silica water on the skin.
Whether you believe in the therapeutic effects or not, it is heavenly to soak in the pools under the sun, clouds or stars (last pool entry is 10.15pm).
There are lakeside private pools as well as family pools too.
Kerosene Creek is 35km south of Rotorua and perhaps the original secret spot.
It’s picturesque, free and you get to relax in a stream of running hot water beside a waterfall surrounded by native bush.
A sign to Kerosene Creek points from the Thermal Explorer Highway down Old Waiotapu Rd.
A short five-minute stroll along a bush track will bring you to the waterfall pool.
Walk Waimangu Volcanic Valley
There’s strictly no bathing here but if you haven’t yet discovered Waimangu Volcanic Valley you are in for a treat.
Walking through the valley is spellbinding, passing blue lakes, steaming craters, boiling hot springs, a mini geyser and beautiful silica formations.
Frying Pan lake covers 38,000 square metres and is the world’s largest hot spring.
It’s important to stay on the footpaths at all times here and remember that this area is a living, breathing geothermal valley that changes daily and it has an explosive history.
Between 1900 and 1904 the largest geyser ever recorded would regularly erupt every five to six hours and became a major tourist attraction.
On 1 April 1917 the western basin of Echo Crater erupted, completely destroying the Waimangu Hotel in front of where the visitor centre is today, killing two people.
The valley itself was created by the Mt Tarawera eruption in 1886. Seven of the craters formed in 1886 make up the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
So, it is important to be mindful while taking a self-guided walking tour through the valley.
The scenery is so spectacular you’ll want to make loads of photo stops if photography is your thing.
Options include a self-guided walk along the length of the valley.
A free bus will return you to the carpark if you don’t want to walk back.
You can also take a guided tour. And/or a Lake Rotomahana boat cruise which offers a 45-minute circle of the lake to view geothermal and volcanic features not visible from the shore including steaming cliffs, geysers and fumaroles.
Lake Rotomahana was the site of the world-famous pink and white terraces prior to the Tarawera eruption.