Hot Water Beach, Coromandel
Two hours either side of low tide, Hot Water Beach fills up with visitors eager to dig their own spa pools in the sand. Located on the Coromandel Peninsula between Tairua and Whitianga, this thermal wonder often rates as one of the world’s most renowned beaches – and an experience that should be on your bucket list.
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 simply magic. But do be warned, the open sea can be rugged so less experienced swimmers must take extra special care.
Polynesian Spa, Rotorua
The biggest collection of natural hot springs in New Zealand is in Rotorua. Polynesian Spa’s geothermal hot mineral waters are sourced from two natural springs and feed into 28 hot mineral pools.
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. The slightly acidic Priest Spring waters relieve tired muscles, aches and pains while the alkaline waters of the Rachel Spring nourish the skin.
Te Rata Bay, Lake Tarawera
On the southern shore of Rotorua’s Lake Tarawera, Te Rata Bay (also known as Rotorua’s Hot Water Beach) is understandably popular. Fringed with pōhutukawa 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 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 daytrip.
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, Great Barrier is renowned for unspoiled beaches, impressive wildlife and rich history.
It’s also home to a picturesque thermal pool. Kaitoke Hot Springs is an easy 45-minute walk from Whangaparapara Road. Take any provisions you need with you, as aside from two long-drop lavatories, this beautiful spot is completely non-commercial. It was recently awarded International Dark Sky Sanctuary status, so be sure to look heavenward after dark.
Kawhia Ocean Beach, Waikato
One of the Waikato’s best kept secrets is Kawhia Hot Water Beach. Less crowded than Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach, the hot springs can be enjoyed 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.
To access the hot water beach, drive to the end of Ocean Beach Road, walk over the sand dunes and down to the beach. If you’re not sure where to dig, ask one of the friendly locals who will likely show you the way.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa
Surrounded by mountains and forests, the township of Hanmer Springs has a resort-like vibe that infuses a sense of relaxation.
The star attraction of the town is the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, the South Island’s main natural spa resort with a range of 22 outdoor thermal pools including the new cascades, relaxing rock pools, soothing sulphur pools, an array of water jets and bubbles, at a range of temperatures.
Welcome Flat Hot Pools, West Coast
Located 20km south of Fox Glacier, Welcome Flat Hot Pools have some of the best views in the country. Surrounded by snowy peaks and forest, there are several temperature options, and if you go in November you can sit in the pools and watch avalanches cascading down the opposite face.
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 swimsuit as well. It’s open year-round, so pack for the conditions and keep an eye on weather reports.
Whale Island (Moutohorā)
Moutohorā/Whale Island is a pest-free oasis that is home to many of New Zealand’s rare and endangered plants, birds, and reptiles. Located off the coast of Whakatane, the island can only be accessed through a DOC approved tour operator.
Enjoy a tour of this precious wildlife sanctuary before warming your toes in the hot waters of Onepū/Sulphur Bay. Tour guides will provide spades for digging, so be sure to bring your swimming gear and indulge in a relaxing soak on this incredible island.