Guest post for Velvet Escape

Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island are the settings for New Zealand’s most famous romance and the descendants of Hinemoa and Tutanekai still live in  Rotorua. Thinking about a trip there makes me think of a Velvet Escape.

Steam billows from cracks in the ground and the air smells like very old eggs: it seems a dinosaur could emerge from the billowing mists it feels so Jurassic Park. Despite appearances, this is not the age of giant beasts in an ancient world but the pungent heart of the worlds youngest country, and Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have been using these geothermal fields for over seven hundred years as a place of healing. read more here at velvet escape

sun, sand self-care, spa, and hot mineral pools

hot mineral pools
hot mineral pools

World-wide the word ‘spa’ has changed: it was once used to describe a healthy environment in the European Alps where sickly children and adults were bought for the brisk clean mountain air. Other spas were the hot mineral springs such as in Rotorua, New Zealand where arthritic aches and pains could be eased and Bath in England was a place for bathing and drinking the mineral rich water to ‘cure’ many complaints.

Today, establishments that range from beauty salons with one or two hours ‘treatments’ through to retreats where you can stay for a few weeks, have appropriated the word ‘spa’.

Ko Samui, an island the east coast of Thailand uses the word in its new sense and the spas there contribute to the western world’s mania or need to indulge, pamper, de-stress and detoxify ourselves.

From a relaxing massage on the beach to mediation, or fasting, facials, scrubs, body wraps and colonic irrigation – this island has it all. If you are looking for a holiday destination that will encompass some self-indulgence, this island is perfect for you.

On entering a spa you will be transported into a world of soft lights, sweet scents, gentle sounds and pure pleasure. For me the two hours of massage by a woman who’s only task was to concentrate on me and my body was heaven.

In a busy life such indulgence is often hard to justly. However it’s a real pleasure, your mind drops all its concerns and sinks into an awareness only of the touch by the masseuse.web hamner spa

Thai massage concentrates on pressure points and is quite different to the more commonly known Swedish oil massage. I found results differed according to the skills and knowledge of the practitioner – and this had nothing to do with price or location!

When travelling self-care is important and a massage is one of the quickest ways to feel better when jet lagged – a shower and a massage during an airport stopover is heaven and you re-board the plane a new person . . . well I do … I love that Thai Air ( ) gives free hands or feet massage in their lounges in Thailand.

In Kuala Lumpur I was able to indulge in some self-care at a day spa where for the first time I had Hot Stone Therapy and became an instant convert. The soothing smoothing relaxing and rejuvenating black stones, the skill of the Philippine masseur and the atmosphere there all combined to give me the best massage I have ever had!.

Although the only curative water in some spas may be in the Jacuzzi, these so-named ‘spas’ can certainly can cure you for a day as they certainly allow you to escape the ‘busyness’ of life with its often self- inflected stress and – overload. Sensory gratification from a massage or other such treatment certainly cures me for a period of time.

Hells Gate Rotorua
Hells Gate Rotorua

So while the promise to ‘rejuvenate me’ and leave me glowing, younger, or healthier after treatment with the traditional herbs and practices, they do not  always live up to the hype (and my expectations) they certainly leave me with a sense of well being and a promise to myself to do this more often.

A New Zealand Spa I can recommend is the in the Southern Alps village of Hanmer Springs (  Christchurch is just 90 minutes away) and as  someone who has spent many hours days and even weeks in this village, I can certainly recommend the whole area.  Many people go there as  a day trip, however, it has great places to stay – from holiday parks and B&B -from simple to classy – to a grand historical hotel and a NZYHA, this area has it all. For more accommodation info see here.

And check out the webcam here!

Other local spa’s I have used and loved are the   Champs Elysees here in my home city (Christchurch)  and in Rotorua where the Wai Ora Spa is part of Hells Gate and which includes one of nature’s gifts – a mud bath, and just recently I had a stone  massage with James Wyatt at Release Therapies in Wellington (at Pearl Day Spa)web mud bath photo from hellsgate

At the Wai Ora Spa fine mud is suspended in the warm water, and in a private room, but still under a blue sky, I smooth the silky mud over my face and body – it’s simply superb. Twenty minutes later I’m relaxing in a geothermal pool before having the uniquely New Zealand, Maori massage, with a relaxing sulphur spa to follow.

So wherever you are, in sand or sun or a cold country, some time at a spa will rejuvenate you.

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And here for good health tips for in or at a spa

youth hostels in NZ are GREAT, but not all ‘backpackers’ are YHA!

Ok you know I am prejudiced and love youth hostelling all over the world and am a life member of YHANZ  (hosteling international NZ) that being so,  here are two New Zealand YHA hostels to consider.

NOTE: A ‘backpacker hostel’ is not a ‘youth hostel”  – they are a world wide chain started ( I  think I remember correctly ) in Switzerland in the 1920s, while  backpacker hostels are usually commercial enterprises. when I travel given the choice I always choose the hostelling International chain/organisation as I know their standards and community involvement

YHA Rotorua Treks
Rotorua’s finest lodge, YHA Rotorua Treks offers budget backpacker accommodation right beside Kuirau Park, Rotorua’s free geothermal attraction, and only two minutes walk from shops, cafes, restaurants and beautiful Lake Rotorua.

There is a wide range of backpacker accommodation to choose from at YHA Rotorua Treks Backpackers: 4 bed share rooms, 6 bed bunk rooms, triple room, standard double rooms, twin/double ensuite rooms. This Rotorua hostel has a choice of indoor or outdoor dining at this Rotorua hostel with a spacious modern kitchen as well a large outdoor deck and BBQ. Communal backpacker facilities include a comfortable separate lounge and TV room with lots of DVDs to watch and a coin operated laundry.

Top 3 activities to do while backpacking in Rotorua:

  • Rotorua is famous for geothermal activity: visit boiling mud pools, see towering geysers and soak in the hot mineral spas.
  • Experience the unique aspects of Maori culture – their traditions, music, arts and craft and delicious hangi (traditional feast).
  • Experience the beauty of Rotorua’s unique bush and lake environments: go hiking, lake kayaking, horse-riding, wild-life viewing, bush walking or mountain-biking.

YHA Springfield (South Island)
The YHA Springfield hostel is one of Springfield’s oldest homes starting its history back in the 1870s as a guesthouse for the Bullock trains passing through. Set on just over one acre of grounds it offers plenty of space for rest and enjoyment and been extensively renovated with all modern backpacking facilities. Backpacker accommodation at YHA Springfield, Smylies Accommodation consists of twins, doubles and multi-share rooms, studio motel and a two bedroom family unit. YHA Springfield backpacker hostel has full recycling facilities to minimize our carbon footprint.

There is an extensive collection of English and Japanese books to be found on the bookshelves and in the TV lounge we have a good collection of videos and DVDs as well as broadband internet. Winter favourites at the YHA Springfield hostel include Japanese bath and kotatsu and skiers love the ski tune up room and drying room. YHA Springfield, Smylies Accommodation also has a popular Japanese restaurant on site.

If skiing at Porters ski field, travel in comfort in one of YHA Springfield’s certified 4wd vehicles.

Top 3 activities to do while backpacking in Springfield:

  • Skiiing: many of the South Island’s best ski fields are close to Springfield including Mt Hutt and Porters.
  • Catch the Tranz Alpine train from Springfield to Arthur’s Pass and back again for a brilliant day’s excursion for some glorious New Zealand alpine views.
  • Castle Hill Reserve basin is famous for its limestone rock formations and bouldering / rock-climbing.

rotorua, boiling mud & geysers

As soon as we arrive I know we are somewhere different: Jurassic Park maybe? Steam is billowing from cracks in the ground and the air smells like very old eggs. Surely a dinosaur – a Tyrannosaurus maybe – will emerge from the billowing mists at any moment.

Despite appearances this is not the age of giant beasts in an ancient world but Rotorua, New Zealand: pungent heart of New Zealand’s geothermal activity. Tourists have been welcomed to this area for over 160 years and its raw beauty continues to enchant. Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have been using these geothermal fields for over seven hundred years as a place for healing and revitalisation.web rotorua copy

Hells Gate Thermal Reserve is the most violent and active of all the Rotorua thermal parks and I walk through the intricately carved gate to follow in the footsteps of Maori warriors. It is eerily beautiful: it could also be dangerous for those who wander off the well-formed paths. Mud pools simmer, boil, gurgle and explode circular mud patterns that change constantly. A sense of imminent explosion hangs in the air with the sulphurous fumes and the forces of the underworld seem close. It is no surprise that the playwright George Bernard Shaw gave parts of the park expressive names – Devils Throat, Hells Gate, and Devils Cauldron – places of no return.

This is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and in Rotorua the earth’s crust seems very thin. A veil of steam hangs over a lake of boiling water while further along the track is Sulphur Bath where the Maori took water for healing wounds. The Kakahi Falls – the largest hot thermal falls in the Southern Hemisphere – were used to wash away the ‘tapu’ or sacredness of war.

After an hour walking around the source of the health-giving mud and water for the Wai Ora Spa, it’s time to experience nature’s gift – a mud bath.

The fine mud is suspended in the water and I sink slowly in its warmth. Bliss. Under a blue sky I smooth the silky mud over my face and body; it’s simply superb. Twenty minutes later I’m relaxing in a hot sulphurous geothermal pool before having the uniquely New Zealand, Maori massage. The young woman, a descendant of the local tribe, says a karakia (prayer) before beginning: it is one of the best massages I have experienced. A relaxing sulphur spa follows and then refreshed, revitalised and rejuvenated we continue our travels.

web one of rotoruas cauldrons of colourStanding on active volcanoes, seeing more boiling mud, massive craters, erupting geysers and cascading water – coupled with unearthly vistas and very smelly smells – makes this a fascinating place. Even the public park in the centre of the city has boiling pools to feed footbaths where locals and visitors can soak their feet after shopping or sightseeing.

Te Whakaweraweratanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao Village (translated as ‘the uprising of the warriors of Wahiao’) is thankfully called Whaka for ease of speech. The village has been in this harsh environment for over three hundred years. Gushing geysers, steam vents and naturally boiling water continue to provide the locals with cooking and bathing facilities. As I walk through the clouds of billowing steam, corncobs, hanging in a bag, are cooking in one of the clear bubbling pools that surround the homes.

The Centra Hotel, which overlooks Whaka, is an appropriate place to watch Rotoruas newest cultural theatrical show – ‘The Legends of Maui’. Against a backdrop of outstanding photography and film, local Maori present fascinating stories of this celebrated demi-god. As we nibble smoked eel and raw fish, Maui moves through his life; fishing up the North Island using the jawbone of his grandmother; gifting fire to humans and transforming himself into a taniwha (sea monster). After the show we enjoy our meal that has been cooked in an oven in the ground and fuelled by natures steam. Delicious.

Next day we travel thirty kilometres south to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland where the Lady Knox geyser erupts at ten fifteen each morning. To ensure that it performs on time, a guide stands beside it and bravely drops a biodegradable substance down its volcano-shaped throat: it starts bubbling and moments later spouts water from 400 metres under the earth and up into the air. We gasp in unison. This park is the most colourful volcanic area around Rotorua. Giant silica terrace formations surround the seventy-meter wide explosion crater: Champagne Pool with its effervescent bubbles and fantastic colours is unique, so bring your camera to record the stunning sights.

A little closer to “Sulphur City”, as Rotorua is sometimes called, is the Waimangu volcanic valley that was born in the violence of the 1886 Tarawera eruption. A hiking-guide leads you down the valley, identifying sights and features along the way. Frying Pan Lake, Echo Crater and Cathedral Rocks are just some of the wonderfully descriptive names. The native bush that cloaks this area has cleverly evolved ways of living in the excessive heat, acidic soils and toxic minerals.

Reaching Lake Rotomahana, a boat cruise takes you around the lake to the site of the old Pink and White Terraces. This ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ had been a tourist site from the 1870s until the Tarawera explosion, which not only buried the terraces but also killed many people.

Rotorua Museum is housed in what has been described as the most photographed building in New Zealand. It weaves the threads of history, culture and nature of the region together. Whether you visit it before, during, or after touring the area it really is a ‘must do’. It pulls everything together and helps explain this part of the Jurassic era super-continent Gondwanaland that New Zealand separated from over 85 million years ago.

I’m not surprised that Rotorua has been voted New Zealand’s ‘Most Beautiful City’ three times: with its wonderful hospitality and fantastic sights it will long continue to be a magnet for travellers. © Heather Campbell Hapeta .

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