North Island New Zealand: Three Natural Free Hot Springs
January 1, 1970
by Nicola Amy
There are so many magical things about New Zealand – lush greenery, gorgeous blue waters and picturesque mountain ranges. All of which I adore. However, my most favorite natural wonder from my homeland is the surprising amount of naturally occurring Hot Springs. On all my adventures around New Zealand, I make sure to seek them out for a nice relaxing soak.
There are quite a few dotted around the South Island in somewhat unexpected places due to the numerous fault lines that create heat underneath the surface of the land. But the North Island is literally teeming with them due to the numerous volcanos which create geothermal activity just beneath the surface.
Many of these spots have been commercialized and you will need to pay to enjoy these beautiful healing waters. Thankfully, many have also been left alone for us more intrepid travelers to enjoy in their most natural state – for free! Below I have listed my three favorites that require little more than a set of wheels or a decent pair of shoes to get to.
Please note: As the springs I list below are all naturally occurring and unmonitored, make sure you test the waters before jumping straight in – they can often get incredibly hot! It’s also not recommended to submerge your head underwater when bathing in geothermal waters.
1. Spa Thermal Park – Taupo
I know the name sounds like this is one of the more commercialized pools, but never fear these pools are free and absolutely gorgeous! This spot is so close to town (less than a 10-minute drive from the center of Taupo) that it’s popular with both locals and travelers. In fact, many locals enjoy bringing down a few beers in the evenings and chilling there with friends. If you’re looking to make yourself a few Kiwi friends on your travels – this could be a good way to get started. You’ll find that the majority of Kiwi’s are usually up for a chat and more than happy to share their knowledge of other great local spots to visit.
The spot pictured above comprises of a few shallow to medium hot pools that are naturally segregated with large rocks (perfect for resting on when the water gets too hot!). Feeding into the pools are several waterfalls that are tall enough to enjoy a sort of outdoor shower under. The walking bridge in the picture provides a nice bit of shade over the largest pool – New Zealand sun can be very strong for anyone who’s not blessed in the melanin department.
As these pools sit right beside the beautiful Waikato, they have the added bonus of a naturally occurring cold plunge pool right next to them – naturally formed by rocks and filled with fresh cold river water.
To get there: Take Spa Road away from the town center – by car or on foot. Once it turns into Centennial Drive you need to turn left to continue onto Spa Road. Once you reach Spa Thermal Park park in the second car park and walk along the very obvious path until you get to the foot bridge. Then relax and enjoy!
Note: Leave anything valuable or unnecessary at your accommodation, as it’s not wise to leave any such things in your vehicle or near the pools themselves.
2. Kerosene Creek – Rotorua
This tranquil spot is hands down my most favorite discovery on my travels around New Zealand and one I dream about returning to often. The long winding stream and waterfall are encased in a beautiful area of native New Zealand bush, which makes for a very calming scene and a great shelter from New Zealand’s hot sun.
The water can get very hot and unlike Spa Thermal Park there is not a natural plunge pool. However, the creek is lined with large flat rocks to take a break on when the heat gets overwhelming. If the waterfall area is not too crowded when you’re there, make sure you sit under it and enjoy a nice shoulder massage from the pounding water.
Unlike other natural springs that can be very popular and feel crowded, Kerosene Creek tends to feel incredibly serene. The curves of the stream and the abundance of natural bush create several different pockets/areas that allow different groups to enjoy their own secluded area. The dense bush is also great at soaking up sounds, you can almost feel as though you’re the only ones there even though there are people less than 50m away from you.
To get there: You will need a vehicle to get here. From Rotorua take State Highway 5 for 30km, driving towards Taupo. Turn left onto Old Waoitapu Road and take this gravel road for a few minutes until you notice a verge where other cars are parked. From here there is a short trail to follow into the bush that will take you to the waterfall at the beginning of the creek.
Take your time to really soak here and you’ll come out feeling cleansed and rejuvenated, not to mention serenely calm.
3. Hot Water Beach – The Coromandel
These ‘hot springs’ are very unique and unlike the other spots I’ve mentioned, you have to put in a bit of effort before enjoying your relaxing soak. But hey, it’s all about the experience right! Due to the immense popularity of this spot, it’s unlikely you’ll experience the serenity you would at Kerosene Creek. But the sound of the ocean and the buzz of happy people makes for an equally wonderful experience.
At Hot Water Beach there are no pools as such, just hot thermal waters that bubble up through the sand. So you’ll need to take a shovel or two and dig your own pool. Apparently, you can hire shovels nearby if you forget to take one with you. I would also suggest taking a couple of buckets – if the water is too hot you can cool it slightly with some cold water from the ocean. On that note, a cold dip in the ocean is also lovely when you get a little overheated.
Before making your trip be sure to check the tides here. So that you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor for as long as possible, try to get here 2 hours before low tide. When you get here, head to the southern end of the beach near the rocks, pick a sweet spot where the water is bubbling up through the sand and start digging your own pool!
To get there: Hot Water Beach is located on the Coromandel Peninsula between Hahei and Tairua. If you’re arriving or staying in Auckland it is approximately 2 1/2 hrs drive from the city center.
Note: Make sure you also allow time to visit the beautiful Cathedral Cove while you’re in the Coromandel!