Polynesian Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand
Putting it out there. Sulphur has to be one of the more under-rated mineral cousins around town.
Sure, it doesn’t have the bank balance of gold, or bring about an economic boom like coal or iron, but readers, there is a lot to be said for endless hot water. Naturally hot water (with added minerals) that in a town like Rotorua, produces more hot pools per street corner than traffic lights.
New Zealand’s Rotorua, or ‘Rotovegas’ as it is commonly known, is Sulphur HQ downunder.
This makes it many things. Possibly the world capital of fart jokes (before you judge, I’m not going there), a great place to find a reliable erupting geyser (see above) and as previously noted, a town with a spa bath at every turn.
I’m serious. They practically give them away. It’s impossible not to find a motel room without the ‘private spa, ’jet streams included, pink flamingos optional.
Rotorua is situated in a hotbed of volcanic goings-on with the geothermal activity making it one of New Zealand’s largest tourist towns.
As a child I have distinct memories of visiting Rotorua’s hot pools with an equal mixture of excitement and fear. Excitement, because there might be the occasional water slide and I could later drink a Pink Panther mocktail at Cobb & Co family restaurant. Fear because the water colour was always a muddy green, the temperature was scalding hot and there was that persistent rumour of a flesh eating bug that could swim into your ear drum if you put your head underwater.
25 years later, I’m pleased to report that the world, including Rotorua, is a slightly different place. The standard of hot pools have really cleaned up their act (literally).
Leading this charge is one of the most iconic pools of its time, the Polynesian Pools (now known as the Polynesian Spa).
First built around the late 1880s, it was originally based around an acidic spring discovered by a disabled priest who found relief for his arthritis. The ‘Priest’s Pool’ as it was then known was a popular local attraction. By the 1970s it was a much bigger complex of pools that then became known as the Polynesian Pools, until in 2007 a $4 million upgrade transformed the lake side hot pools into a award winning spa complex (actually, top ten in the world according to Conde Nast for a few years, if you’re asking).
Visiting the hot springs at the end of a grey summer’s day our first challenge was deciding on our pool of choice. Here’s a breakdown on your options if you are planning a visit.
Lake Spa Deluxe ($NZ 45 adult)
If you are after a bit of bathing bling, the Lake Spa ‘ deluxe’, which overlooks Lake Rotorua is billed as the ‘premium experience’. It offers five different pools around the lake, each a different temperature ranging from around 38 to 41 Celsius.
The pools are either alkaline, which means they are an inviting clear water, or for more healing qualities, there’s an acidic pool, (more of a peppermint than sludge green).
Some serious landscaping means you can easily meander from pool to pool, surrounded by lovely native green ferns, and just generally lose yourself in the foreign languages and holiday accents. This is not the place to come if you are after some legit kiwi culture, as this place is 100 per cent on the tourist-tastic map.
The upside of this means that the facilities are to an international standard. Towels and free lockers are provided, and the change facilities are excellent.
The heated loungers were especially big with the Japanese, so much so a confrontation ensued when a large New Zealand woman tried to tell them their time was up, but they weren’t budging. (Footnote, I gave her my lounger just so the cross-cultural awkwardness would end). Pity, as they were fairly outstanding.
Adult pools ($27)
If you’re watching your pennies the nearby adult pools (standard) still offer a great soak with a view, including the newly created ‘reflexology walk – a thermally heated foot bath.
Communication between ‘deluxe’ and ‘adult’ can be difficult so if your party is divided, best to make a plan to meet at the end of the soak.
Private pools ($27 deluxe, $19 standard)
If you’re after a bit more privacy my money is on the private pools deluxe. Trust me, it’s worth the extra $9upgrading from the standard adult private. Facing out onto the lake the view is ridiculous, if you just want to be on your jack jones, or prefer to soak sans budgie smugglers.
Of course Rotorua offers so much more than tourist trail hot pool complexes. Sulphur offers so many colours and landscapes you can spend days, just weeks exploring moonscape landscapes, and pools the colour of a highlighter pen.
Unfortunately we ran out of time to explore the many free pools and hot springs in the area, including Kerosene Creek and Waiotapu Springs. If your idea of a good time is a long soak in a tub then Rotorua is your Utopia (nose plugs recommended).
High points: Getting spoilt for choice with so many dips to choose from, the heated loungers were a most excellent touch when the hot water became too much. Watching the travelling lawyer get followed from pool to pool by a French family of five, provided added entertainment.
Low points: My jewellery dissolved. Make sure you read the sign. And slightly unrelated, visiting Cobb & Co as an adult. Something’s need to stay in childhood.
Attire: foreign tattoos and mud packs
Best for: Unwinding after frantic Rotorua day chasing erupting geysers, boiling mud and Maori shows
Overall rating. 8.7
* all prices are NZ $. A big thanks to the Polynesian Spa who facilitated my visit