Well before Europeans came to this country, Maori were enjoying the comforts of paparata – the earth doctor – which refers to thermal water and particularly to that found in Waikite Valley between Rotorua and Taupo.
Tucked away in an attractive valley of steep farmland is the Te Manaroa Spring, the source of the largest discharge of boiling water in New Zealand, and deeper in the bush smaller springs whose water is harnessed to fill the variety of pools, outdoor tubs, and private spas that form the complex known simply as Waikite Valley Thermal Pools.
Set in gardens of native flaxes and ferns, and drained and refilled every day, these pools are some of the best in the country.
This area was once a very hot swamp. In the 1870s, the book The Wonders of New Zealand Maoriland, touted the spot: “one of these days will be selected by members of the lost tribes as a central sanatorium for restoring and invigorating jaded mortals from all parts of the world.”
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The pools were finally opened to the public in 1972, more than 100 years after the prophecy was made.
Today steaming water gushing from the pipe is 98 degrees celsius. It cools to 30-35 degrees celsius as it flows over the rocks before flowing into the pools.
Later, take a bushland walk beside a steaming Otamakokore river to the boiling cauldron of Te Manaroa Spring, where great clouds of steam rise above roiling water so deep its depth has never been calculated. This blistering river only runs for about three kilometres before tipping into a cool stream adjacent to the pool complex.
There’s a campground next door, overlooking the rivers, with powered sites and thermally-heated drying facilities.