Get outdoors this winter (without a big freeze) with a pleasing visit to one of the Western Bay’s numerous hot pools – some of them well off the tourist trails. The Mount Saltwater Hot Pools is perhaps the best known of local pools, with its prominent spot at the base of Mauao (the Mount). But it’s one of seven pools between Mount Maunganui and Waihi Beach, all with a different character. There’s a pool to satisfy almost anyone’s needs – from very family-oriented outfits to ones that are near-deserted for a peaceful little getaway. Our summary starts with one of the best known, centrally-located pools, Fernland Spa Mineral Hot Springs, and ends with Athenree Hot Springs, near Waihi Beach.
Fernland Spa Mineral Hot Springs
Fernland offers a soak in a genuine mineral spring, the clear thermal water drawn from two deep bores – and they even bottle the stuff and sell it as a tasty drink. The owners say the mineral water flowing constantly through all Fernland Spa hot pools rises from a deep underground aquifer, and scientists have classified the Spa as a true mineral spring. It is rich in minerals, trace elements like zinc and selenium, and ions. These are superb pools nestled in a secluded valley off Cambridge Road, with a backdrop of mature ferns that provide a Kiwi bush atmosphere in the evening – without the discomfort of having to tramp through it! There’s one big public pool, and eight private pools—filled with non-chlorinated mineral water at temperatures around 37.5—40˚C. The once shabby pools are in good condition, after an ongoing facelift in recent years. Cost: adults $6, child $4, senior $5, family pass $17. Private pools adults $10, child $4.50. Fernland caters for campervans, with some sites available. Location: 250 Cambridge Road, Tauranga, off Waihi Road. Tel 578 3081, www.fernlandspa.co.nz
Mount Maunganui Hot Salt Water Pools
An old favourite, the Mount Hot Pools remain one of the big seaside tourist drawcards. The Mount Hot Pools are set to get a multi-million dollar makeover, to drag them into the modern tourist era. The redevelopment plan calls for features including a Cultural Heritage Centre. That’s not to suggest these pools aren’t kept in tip top condition. Located at the base of Mount Maunganui (Mauao), they remain a must do local attraction – especially when you combine a climb to the summit for spectacular views – with a good après-hike soak. Part of their appeal is in their unique status as the only hot sea water pools in the country, using naturally heated salt water. The 18 metre ‘active pool’ is cool enough at 32 degrees to get some exercise swimming lengths, in quieter times.
The facilities include:
- Two Spa Pools heated to 39° degrees
- 18m Active Pool heated to 32° degrees
- Passive Pool heated to 38° degrees with jet sprays
- Kids Pool with Waterslide heated to 35° degrees
- Private Heated Pools
- Massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, deep tissue massage, etc.
Cost: adults $9.90, child/senior $7.30, under two years free. Family pass – two adults and two children, $29. Concession cards are available. Tauranga locals get significant discounts - $3.50 off adults – if they can show an ID card. Location: Adams Ave, Mount Maunganui, off Maunganui Road. Tel 575-0868, http://www.tcal.co.nz/
Oropi Spa Pools & Country Café
The pools are located in a peaceful rural setting, around 20 minutes drive from downtown Tauranga. The public pool was designed with a gently sloping ramp to provide easy access for all ages, and is filled from an underground stream. The cold water is heated with a thermal bore to about 38˚C (it’s turned down in summer). There are also four private ‘jet pools’ heated to about 40 degrees which can each comfortably seat six people. The backdrop to the public pool is sub-tropical, and the cafe (home baking – everything from omelettes to burgers and snacks) has doors that open out onto a grassy grove circled by banana palms, perfect for a summer barbecue. Open Wed to Fri 10am—10pm, Sat & Sun 10am—10pm. Cost: adults $5.50, child (6—12) $4, under 5s $3, private pools adult $7.50, family pass (2 adults 2 children) $16. Location: head up Oropi Road from State Highway 29, and turn left into Warner Road. Contact: 543 3913, www.oropicomplex.co.nz
Omokoroa Thermal Holiday Park
This holiday park around 20 minutes north of Tauranga, has three thermal pools which are open to the public. The natural alkaline mineral water comes direct from a hot-water rock stream metres below the earth's surface. The largest pool is 10 metres long and heated to around 35 degrees C. There’s also a large hexagonal pool (ideal for children, around waist-deep) heated to 37 degrees. A smaller circular pool is for adults only. The public pool hours are from 8.30 am to 9 pm (8 pm in winter). Cost: adults $5 and children under 14, $3. Location: 165 Omokoroa Road.
Welcome Bay Hot Pools & Campground
These nicely renovated pools are also tucked away in a quiet rural area – the hills of Welcome Bay – but just 1 km from downtown Tauranga. The pools are part of a small family holiday park, just off Welcome Bay Road – that winds through farms and crop land to the south of Tauranga. Welcome Bay Road is reached by heading out of town via 15th Ave. The crystal- clear un-chlorinated water is replaced daily, and its clear water is something many visitors comment on, with some rating it the best pools they’ve been to. There is a big kidney shaped main pool, and then a hotter circular plunge pool. Beside the pool are grassy areas and wooden tables – to make for a top notch summer BBQ spot. The setting is classic rural Tauranga; the facility nestles in a valley with a typical orchard shelter belt on one side of the pools, and mature avocado trees on the other. The owners more than achieve their aim of providing a ‘clean, family-friendly facility.’ Open Mon-Fri 2 pm to 9pm, Sat and Sun 10am to 9 pm (same hours public & school hols). Cost: adults $5, children and seniors $3.50, family pass $14.
Sapphire Springs Holiday Park
This park set in bush in the foothills of the Kaimai Ranges near Katikati, has a real out-in-the-bush feel. Two of the three pools have been completely renovated and they are filled with a mix of spring and mineral water. They are a pleasant 32 degrees while the large pool is 28 C. This ‘haven in the bush’ has all the ingredients for a good family day out, with access to bush walks and a large barbecue area. Cost: $5 adults (13 and over) and $3 children ( 5 to 12 years old). Under 4’s are free. Private spa $12 per person. Campers...there are 80 power sites for caravans or campervans, and 200 tent sites, in a bushy setting with lots of native birds. Location: Hot Springs Road, Katikati, tel 549-0768, www.sapphiresprings.net.nz
Athenree Hot Springs & Holiday Park
‘Beautiful water, clean camp’, as described by some American visitors. The friendly, award-winning park has natural, mineral pools – the larger one at 35C. The smaller ‘adult relaxing pool’ is at 39.5C. The pools are fed from an underground aquifer 250 metres deep - mineral water is pumped constantly through the pools and the volumes are replenished every 3 hours. Both pools are emptied and cleaned daily. Open daily 10:00am to 7:30pm. Cost adults $7.00, seniors $6.50, children (5-13yrs) $4.50, pre-schoolers $3.00. Location: Athenree Road, Athenree, near Waihi Beach, tel 863-5600, www.athenreehotsprings.co.nz
Hot pools a little tame? Get in the snow – it’s less than three hours drive from Tauranga! At time of writing, the ski season had kicked off on Ruapehu, if not quite full throttle. Turoa has led the way with upper mountain lifts in action – the Movenpick and Highflyer chairlifts, along with the very novice-friendly Alpine Meadow Beginners area. Things have been happening more slowly on the Whakapapa side of the mountain, with only Happy Valley up and running. By the time this newsletter is out, it’s hoped more lifts will be firing.
The roads to both ski areas are fully sealed with two lanes the whole way, so driving yourself to the slopes is a doddle. They're totally suitable for campervans and buses as well as normal two wheel drive cars (unless it’s snowing like hell).
If you’re not keen on mountain driving, there are plenty of options. At Whakapapa, leave your vehicle at Whakapapa Village where there’s ample free parking, and catch a free carpark shuttle. The Turoa Mountain Road runs for 17km from the town of Ohakune to Turoa Ski Area and takes longer – about 20 minutes by car. There are two transport operators who provide regular shuttles, The Snow Express and Matai Shuttles. For information on Express call (6) 385 4022, or (6) 385 8724 for Matai Shuttles.
For updates on ski conditions, and information on passes, lessons, accommodation and activities, go to www.mtruapehu.com It’s a user friendly site stacked with information on both fields, including trail maps, weather forecasts and webcams.