New Zealand is renowned for its geothermal activity and across the land you’ll find various heated waterways safe for wallowing in.
New Zealand’s beautiful beaches and waterways are a major attraction and, turning up the temperature from just plain cool to steamy, some of the best soaking spots boast heated water – and, even better, no-one has to pay the electricity bill because nature provides the power.
Hot Water Beach, Coromandel
Two hours either side of low tide, Hot Water Beach (aka Te Puia) fills up with visitors eager to dig their own spa pools in the sand. On the Coromandel Peninsula between Tairua and Whitianga, this thermal sandpit is a star attraction, with temperatures ranging from tepid to scalding. Either dig with your hands or hire a spade and, while it’s perfectly fun to soak here in summer, on a cold winter’s day it’s hard to beat. At night, when the moon is out and the stars are twinkling, it’s utterly heavenly. But do be warned, the open sea can be rugged so less experienced swimmers must take extra special care.
Hot Water beach is 2.5 hours’ drive from Auckland – make sure you don’t forget your swimming costume and towel. When you’ve had enough of those thermal charms, choose from one of the cafés, but note that many close during the winter. Nearby Hahei has eateries, a brewery, bicycle hire and kayak tours. The area is also home to Cathedral Cove – a spectacular natural archway and marine reserve that is popular with snorkellers. Explore on your own or take advantage of various tour companies offering excursions.
Polynesian Spa, Rotorua
The biggest collection of hot springs are in Rotorua. Three hours drive south of Auckland, this city is in the centre of New Zealand's most active thermal region, where many private homes, hotels and motels have their own natural spas. At the Polynesian Spa, you can choose from a range of temperatures and mineral compositions in a beautifully landscaped lakeside environment, or opt for a luxurious spa therapy service with seaweed and mud wraps, and massage. Rotorua's history as a spa resort goes back to pre-European times when the hot springs were used for bathing, cooking and heating.
Rotorua is only a 40-minute flight from Auckland or an easy three-hour drive along the Thermal Explorer Highway. Located in the central North Island, Rotorua is a 90-minute drive from the cities of Hamilton and Tauranga, and less than an hour from Lake Taupo.
Te Rata Bay, Lake Tarawera
On the southern shore of Rotorua’s Lake Tarawera, Te Rata Bay (also referred to as Hot Water Beach) is understandably popular. Fringed with pohutukawa trees and alive with native birds, as well as wild wallabies, the thermal vents on this beach help keep campers’ coffee hot while they roast their daily catch in sandpits.
Accessible by boat or via a fabulous five-hour bush walk (the 15km Tarawera Trail), you’ll need to plan ahead to visit the beach. If you plan to stay overnight at the campground (or glamp it) you must book, and stock up on supplies as there are no shops. Happily, water taxis are easy to arrange through Totally Tarawera, with plenty of options for enjoying this area either overnight or as part of a day-trip.
Kaitoke Hot Springs, Great Barrier Island
The largest and furthest-flung island in the Hauraki Gulf, Great Barrier/Aotea is 90km from Auckland. A rugged rock that’s completely off grid, it tends to attract a capable sort of citizen. Renowned for unspoiled beaches, impressive wildlife and rich history, it’s also home to a picturesque thermal pool. Kaitoke Hot Springs is an easy, pram-friendly 45-minute walk from Whangaparapara Road. But be sure to take any provisions you need with you, as aside from two long-drop lavatories, this beautiful spot is completely non-commercial.
Isolated Great Barrier/Aotea Island is popular with visitors who enjoy fishing, surfing, hiking and anything to do with nature. Recently awarded International Dark Sky Sanctuary status, be sure to look heavenward after dark when the stars astonish. Accessible by a 30-minute flight or a five-hour ferry ride, there’s plenty of accommodation and a reasonable selection of eateries (although you’re wise to take some food). Be sure to allow a good few days to get to grips with all the island has to offer.
Kawhia Ocean Beach, Waikato
Less crowded than Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach, hot springs can be found at Kawhia’s Ocean Beach for two hours either side of low tide. Steeped in history, Kawhia is where the Tainui waka (one of the original canoes carrying the first Polynesians) came to rest after its epic trans-Pacific voyage, and today is a sleepy little spot, far from the madding crowds and all the better for it. If you’re not sure where to dig to gain access to the steaming seams, a friendly local will show you the way. But be warned, because this is a black sand beach, it can really heat up in summer, so don’t forget your shoes.
Kawhia is a peaceful King Country town 200km from Auckland. It offers accommodation (including a campground), a museum, a couple of cafés, a general store and a fish and chips shop. Popular with history buffs, fossil fans and fisher people, it’s heavenly all year round. And do experience the cooler charms of nearby Waitomo Caves if time allows.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa - Hanmer Springs
Water is the life blood at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, the South Island’s main natural spa resort. In one of the largest businesses in the rural Hurunui North Canterbury region, the role of kaitiaki (guardian) - the responsibility to leave the environment and community in even better shape for future generations - is foundational. It’s also a place where visitors are welcomed as whānau (family), treated with care in a relaxed environment and leave enriched with stories and treasured memories.
Hanmer Springs is 90 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch and is the South Island's main natural spa resort, offering massage, sauna, steam and beauty treatments.
Welcome Flat Hot Pools, West Coast
And don’t forget the South Island, because 20km south of Fox Glacier you’ll find Welcome Flat Hot Pools, near a conveniently positioned DOC (Department of Conservation) hut. Surrounded by snowy peaks and forest, there are several temperature options with even the fussiest bathers catered for – provided they don’t mind mud. The pools are accessed via the Copland Track, which is 18km one way (it takes about seven hours to complete), so ensure you book ahead for one of the 31 beds in the DOC hut. Of course you’ll need to take your food, sleeping bag and swimming suit as well. It’s open year round, so pack for the conditions and keep an eye on weather reports.
Welcome Flat is found in South Westland in the South Island, four hours’ drive from Queenstown or six hours’ from Christchurch. The Fox Glacier region is bursting with tourist highlights, from kayak tours to scenic flights. The Hobnail Café and Souvenir Shop is a great spot to refuel, Gillespies Beach is grand if you’re into geology, rainforest and seals, and always look out for the kea, New Zealand’s cheeky parrot.