Thermal springs, resulting from New Zealand's location on the Pacific Rim of Fire, are found right throughout the length of the country.
In early days, these were favourite areas for the indigenous Maori people for the location of villages. The arrival of European settlers in the 19th century coincided with a fashion for 'taking the waters', and spas were established at Rotorua, Te Aroha, Lake Taupo and Hanmer.
While many claim medicinal benefits from bathing in thermal waters, the majority of pool complexes now cater for the recreational user. Some springs have swimming pools, cafes and health and wellness spas attached, and many visitors find a dip in a soothing spa is a relaxing end to a day's sightseeing.
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 motels and hotels have their own natural spas. At the Polynesian Spa, you can choose from a range of temperatures and mineral compositions in a beautifully landscaped natural environment, or even opt for a luxurious spa therapy service including seaweed and mud wraps, and various styles of massage.
Hanmer Springs, north of Christchurch in an alpine setting, is the South Island's main natural spa resort, offering massage, sauna, steam and beauty treatments.
Rotorua's history as a spa resort goes back to pre-European times when the hot springs were used for bathing, cooking and heating. The Rotorua Bathhouse opened in 1908 complete with the latest balneological (bathing) equipment and therapeutic treatments, then in vogue in Europe. The Bathhouse is now the city museum. Many hotels and motels in the tourist area have their own private thermal pools.