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August 2011 Issue
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Hot springs heaven

Waitaha Hot Springs are in a dramatic location and require care to reach. Photo: Sally Jackson

Soak your aches and pains away by tramping to these amazing natural hot springs. By Sally Jackson

Choosing favourites amongst hot springs is quite a challenge for me – such a task always brings to mind the response of a fellow hot springs enthusiast when asked to name his favourite: “It’s always the one I’m currently immersed in!”

So apologies to the pools omitted – nothing personal but 10 is the limit today.

Welcome Flat Hot Pools, Westland National Park
These popular springs are located south of Fox Glacier, deep in the heart of Westland National Park. Those prepared to hike 18km through rainforest and up the rocky banks of the Copland River are rewarded with four large steaming pools of highly mineralised water. Recent testing by GNS scientists has revealed this water is on average 250 years old.

On a clear day there are splendid views across the valley to the Sierra Range which towers 2000m above Welcome Flat. When it rains, dozens of temporary waterfalls pour off the mountainsides. During winter and spring you might be lucky enough to safely witness avalanches from the comfort of a hot pool!

Nearby is the 31-bunk Welcome Flat Hut as well as several grassy campsites. Check with DOC for the latest updates as a booking system is on the cards. Also check the weather forecast and be prepared to stay longer due to flooding as this location averages seven metres of annual rainfall.

Cedar Flat Hot Springs, Hokitika
Inland from Hokitika is the starting point for a 10km hike into Cedar Flat. The track up the Toaroha Valley includes a stiff climb to avoid the Toaroha Canyon. A four person pool is located on the true left of Wren Creek, approximately 200m from its confluence with the river. I’ve passed many delightful hours ensconced in this spring’s silky, sulphur-infused water. Don’t be fooled by the tepid spring on the true right about 150m upstream. Fifteen minutes down valley there’s a standard six-bunk hut and also a two-bunk historic hut.

Hot Spring Flat, Wanganui River, West Coast
This destination is best left for the cooler months when fording the Wanganui River becomes a saner prospect, most of the sandflies have succumbed to hypothermia and the lack of shade becomes a bonus. Check the river where it’s crossed by the West Coast’s SH6 and proceed only if it’s running low and clear.

The one hour hike upstream to these springs starts down a side road on the true right. Park near the white gate and follow the road to the Wanganui River, passing below a quarry en-route. At the confluence with Hot Spring Creek there is usually a large diagonal bar of gravel crossing the river where it may be safe to ford. I’ve crossed here a few times during low flows when it’s barely up to my knees.

There are two sets of springs on the true right of the creek. The first is 300m up stream near the forest edge and the second is a small hot stream located another 500m up Hot Spring Creek, at the back of a clearing. The enjoyment of soaking in these springs is certainly amplified by the defrosting sensation combined with the lingering adrenaline of having successfully crossed a large icy river.

Smyth Hot Springs Wanganui River, West Coast
These hot springs are located a mere 10-minutes downstream from the six-bunk DOC hut of the same name but a knee-shattering 22km from the car park mentioned for Hot Springs Flat. Many people take two days, staying at the six-bunk Hunters Hut en-route. This is where the track crosses to the true left of the Wanganui courtesy of a cableway.

The springs are located in a large flood channel strewn with quartz-streaked greywacke boulders. Numerous sulphur springs issue from this area forming pools amongst the rocks. The setting is sublime and on a clear day includes views of a hanging glacier.

Whataroa Hot Springs, Whataroa River, West Coast
On the true right of the Whataroa River, about twenty minutes downstream of Butler Junction (an 8hr hike from near SH6), there’s a rather elusive set of hot springs. An old DSIR report alluded to the existence of hot springs somewhere on the river. I’d asked scientists, DOC staff, rafting companies and locals but no one had heard of them. Labour Weekend 2009, I flew into Ice Lake then hiked down to the six-bunk Butler Junction Hut.

Thanks to the flight, we had time to go sniff out some sulphur and to my great surprise and delight we located an area of geothermal activity. There were no pools but this issue was resolved the next day when we left one of our buddies behind with the shovel while the rest of us went for a hike. We returned at the end of a gruelling day to find a six person soaking extravaganza awaiting us!

At Whataroa Hot Springs you’ll need to create your own pool. Photo: Sally Jackson

Otehake Hot Springs, Arthur’s Pass National Park
A remote set of hot pools set in a flood channel with fantastic camping nearby. They are reached via a moderate 11km hike from the Taramakau Valley parking area on Arthur’s Pass Highway. This is a fine weather tramp with several unbridged river crossings.

There is a junction at the end of Lake Kaurapataka where you can descend to the Otehake River and walk the gorge which is the faster, although wetter, option if the river isn’t running too high. Alternatively, follow a rough track to have only one crossing of the river just before reaching the springs.

The track upstream from the springs to Otehake Hut is not maintained and would take several hours to reach. When visiting backcountry hot springs, doing some homework and taking a map is recommended – the last time I did this hike we came across four parties and three of them were lost or temporarily disorientated!

Hurunui Hot Springs, Lake Sumner Forest Park
I have a soft spot for this area because it is where I visited both my first backcountry hot spring and hut.

Accessed via Lake Sumner Road, winding 45km from SH7, the 24km tramp can be quickened if you have a 4WD or mountain bike.

The 20 bunk Hurunui Hut is a terrific amenity but everyone asks why it isn’t located a bit closer to the springs which are another hour’s hike upstream, where a cosy hot pool is positioned on a forested hillside overlooking the river. There is usually a cold water pipe for temperature control.

Across the river is the Mackenzie Stream confluence where there’s a track leading to another little geothermal beauty.

Waitaha Hot Springs, West Coast
To reach these springs requires a certain amount of tenacity and a head for heights!

The access begins on the southern side of the West Coast’s Waitaha River and permission is required to cross farmland (Hokitika DOC has the numbers). It’s a two hour hike upstream to the Waitaha’s confluence with Glamour Glen. An overgrown track sidles above Morgan Gorge. When you see a large rock in the gorge, descend a side-creek and carefully climb down to the springs – some people opt to use ropes as falling here is a one way ticket into the river.

Clear sulphur water issues out of cracks and used to flow into three pools but floods in January raised the riverbed and only one small pool remains – fingers crossed that another flood will undo this damage.

I usually bring sacks and an aluminium colander to dig out and enlarge the pools.

Mangatainoka Hot Springs, Kaweka Forest Park
Behind Napier, a 55km winding road leads to Puketitiri and from here it’s another 25km to the end of Makahu Road where there’s a DOC campsite which boasts a set of free hot pools – Mangatutu Hot Springs. Beyond the campsites begins the 11km track leading up the Mohaka River to where two recycled tubs from a trout hatchery have been installed to capture the spring’s flow.

There are excellent campsites nearby and the 20-bunk Te Puia Lodge is located about 45 minutes downstream.

Maungataniwha Hot Springs, Te Urewera National Park
Hiding in Te Urewera National Park is one of the North Island’s most remote hot springs. Be prepared for an adventure and to build your own pool upon arrival.

The track begins at the Mimiha Bridge on SH38. It will take about five hours to hike to the confluence of the Parahaki and Wairoa Streams (the nearby Parahaki Hut has been destroyed by fire).

Reaching the springs then involves a slippery two hours of walking through the Wairoa Stream which includes a couple of deep spots in small gorgy sections making it another dry weather destination.

– Sally Jackson is the author of Hot Springs of New Zealand which lists almost 100 hot springs around the country