Ngawha Springs in Northland, NZ

September 10, 2009

Ngawha Springs, New Zealand

When it comes to living abroad or at home, I like fewer options; why should I decide between twelve brands of toothpaste when the decision can be made for me with only one available? In Kagoshima, there was generally only one event going on for foreign residents; rarely did I have to divide my time. In Thailand, the 7-11 was my sole source of non-restaurant food. And in northern New Zealand, there is only one hot springs within a few hundred kilometer radius.

To be honest, the hot springs of New Zealand had yet to agree with me. Even with towns like Rotorua smelling like sulfur, I didn’t get the sense that Kiwis appreciated bathing culture like the Japanese: a dip in the hot springs was nothing more than a light swim to them, not a spiritual cleansing at the end of a long workday. Even the names seem to be in dispute; depending on where you are in the country, “mineral pools”, “hot pools”, or “springs” refer to authentic waters. The Maori, on the other hand, seem to be on top of things, calling the pools waiariki (chiefly waters), and enjoying its medicinal and meditative effects.

As such, most of the pools I had visited until now like Miranda, Rotorua, and Taupo had strayed from their ancestral paths (assuming they ever had any), becoming nothing more than glorified swimming pools in which I’m sure schoolchildren would not hesitate to urinate. When I came across Ngawha Springs near Kaikohe, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, the operator loves to talk shop; mention your interest in hot springs culture and he’ll prattle on to no end about Ngawha and some of the best places to soak. Second, the pools are separated according to mineral content and temperature; if you feel like getting scalded, try the “Bulldog” at 45 degrees Celsius. I settled for Soloman, but would have preferred it to be slightly hotter.

Due to its remote location, Ngawha reminded me a lot of the onsen on the southern slopes of Mt. Aso in Japan: high sulfur content, relatively isolated in the mountains, wooden-sided and mud-bottomed baths. Check them out if you’re up in Northland. Unfortunately, few people make that journey in the winter months.

P.S. These springs are not featured in Lonely Planet. In addition, don’t wear anything you particularly like in the water; the minerals will stain clothes brown and leave them with a strong sulfuric stink.

One Response to Ngawha Springs in Northland, NZ

  1. local kiwi on September 13, 2009 at 4:05 am

    awesome feedback for Ngawha, I will pass on to them 🙂

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