Enjoy ‘taking the waters’ at Te Aroha
Bathing in nature’s healing properties
Living in Waikato-haurakicoromandel puts most of us smack in the middle of nature, or at least just a short distance from parks and gardens, riverside walks, cycling trails, native forests and waterfalls. How lucky we are as mighty locals living — and playing — in such a rich natural environment. Research reveals — and we know anecdotally too — that being in nature increases pleasant feelings, making us feel better emotionally as well as contributing to physical wellbeing; it reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones. While there are now feel-good locales throughout Waikato, as well as the likes of yoga and wellness retreats, meditation, forest bathing and breathing workshops to be experienced, the town and surrounds of Te Aroha is where people in search of wellness and wellbeing were first drawn to. As far back as the late 1800s, people flocked from Auckland and elsewhere to Te Aroha to ‘take the waters’ — naturally bubbly, silky mineral water renowned as a cure-all and appreciated by locals and visitors alike. At the peak, some 30,000 bathers a year arrived by train and boat to soak and sip, returning home feeling revitalised with the result the hot springs did more for the local economy than the discovery of gold, which proved to be a short-lived boom. The springs and the surrounding land that is today Te Aroha Domain were gifted to the government of the day by Ma¯ori chief Mokena Hou (Ngati Rahiri) so it could be developed as a health resort to benefit everyone. Varying in temperature, Te Aroha’s springs include natural hot soda water springs, the water being infused with sodium bicarbonate as it rises from under the ground. In the 1930s to improve access, a bore was sunk resulting in the world’s only hot soda water geyser. Named the Mokena Geyser in honour of the gifting chief, it erupts approximately every 40 minutes and is one of the great free attractions in the Waikato region. Te Aroha Mineral Spas offer a range of luxurious experiences, from spa baths in wooden tubs to massages and beauty treatments. Next door are the Te Aroha Leisure Pools where mineral-infused waters are also a feature at the No. 2 Bath House. The range of pools includes family-friendly options suitable for young children and toddlers. For more restorative experiences there are walking and cycling trails, ranging from easy to challenging. In the domain itself short walks through native forest include a 25-minute round trip to the honeymoon spring where newly married couples are invited to dip their wedding rings in the water to ensure a long and happy marriage. Another easy 45-minute walk is the Howarth Memorial Wetland loop, part of which follows a section of the Waihou River. For a natural high there is the top of Mt Te Aroha, which stands tall over the township. The spectacular views over the surrounding countryside are a fine reward for the steep climb. There are also walking trails through the Waiorongomai Valley where in the late 1880s gold was discovered. Still visible along the trail are the remains of the Piako County Tramway, New Zealand’s oldest bush tramway, plus other machinery and miners’ lodgings. Waterfalls are well-known to bring pleasure and soothe. The Wairere Falls, plunging 153 metres — the highest in the North Island — are just a 20-minute drive from Te Aroha township. Among the ways to take in nature on two wheels is the Hauraki Rail Trail. The 197km cycle trail can be ridden in day-trip sections, or in its entirety over a period of four to five days. For mountain bikers, there are the purpose-built tracks lacing through the forest-clad foothills of Mt Te Aroha. Track options range from suitable for family groups to plenty of challenges for more daring riders. With the Waihou River wending its way through the Te Aroha region other ways to connect with nature include kayaking and fishing for trout. At Te Aroha Golf Club, along with the regular game of golf, there is also foot golf — that fun hybrid game where players kick a football aiming to get the ball to the hole with the lowest number of kicks.