Image of the September 2012 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
September 2012 Issue
Home / Articles / Waypoints

Top 3 hot springs to discover

Steam rises from a hot water beach in Lake Tarawera near Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. Photo: Derek Morrison

For outdoors people there is a massive up side to living in a country created by a series of fault lines. We wouldn’t have the Southern Alps and we certainly wouldn’t have the myriad of thermally heated natural springs dotted throughout the country. By Derek Morrison

Welcome Flat Hot Pools, Westland/Tai Poutini National Park

Nestled in the Copland Valley, Welcome Flat Hut is a welcome sight to weary travellers who have crossed the main divide via Fitzgerald or Copland passes. It’s not just the sight of the 30-bunk, lodge-like hut promising comfort and shelter, but the promise of a soak in one of New Zealand’s most impressive natural hot springs.

The springs include a series of pools, all varying in temperature, dug from a mud fan just a few minutes’ walk from the hut. Not only does the thermal water soak and rejuvenate aching bones and bodies, but it offers a grandstand view of the snow-capped Sierra Range. It is not uncommon to watch avalanches cascading down the rugged range from your warm position.

You don’t have to spend two or three days crossing the Main Divide to enjoy the pools. They can also be accessed via a sometimes challenging 7hr hike from the West Coast via the Copland Track, which starts about 26km south of Fox Glacier. The recent addition of flood bridges reduces the risk of heavy rainfall trapping trampers.

One word of warning: sandflies are prevalent so take repellent, or wait till they fall asleep after dark.

Access From Aoraki/Mt Cook over Fitzgerald or Copland passes. Or from Karangarua River Bridge north of Fox
Grade Easy or difficult depending on route
Time Two-three days on the Jubilee or Copland routes; 7-8hr on the Copland Track
Map Topo50 BX14, BX15

Smyth Hut Hot Springs, Wanganui River

The Wanganui River in Westland, on the South Island’s West Coast, is a 40,000ha catchment area that features intriguing terrain for trampers, hunters, mountaineers and kayakers. High up the valley, about 8-10hr walk, lies the six-bunk Smyth Hut and not far downstream you will find some impressive hot pools wedged among massive boulders in the riverbed.

The pools are about 200m from the hut on the true left of the river. There are several pools varying in size from a one-man bath to a six-man spa and each offers spectacular views of this alpine environment.

If you’re fit and start early enough you can walk to Smyth Hut in a day, but an easier option is to overnight at the six-bunk Hunters Hut (about halfway).

To locate the pools follow the track back downstream from Smyth Hut for approximately five minutes and look for a small, marked side trail that heads through the bush to the riverbed. The pools are upstream from where this track emerges in the riverbed. Look for a flood channel with some large boulders.

On the way back drop by Amethyst Hot Springs just 15min from the car park. They flood easily and often need to be dug out, but are a great way to finish a trip.

Access 7km east of Harihari on SH6
Grade Moderate-dificult
Time 8-10hr (Allow three days for a roundtrip)
Map Topo50 BW17, BW18

Wairua Stream, Lake Tarawera, Bay of Plenty

It wouldn’t be New Zealand if there weren’t some hot springs at the end of a nice, long, lake paddle.

Pack your overnight gear and paddle south-east around Moura Point and into Te Rata Bay. Mt Tarawera will be directly to your east as you pull up to Hot Water Beach and claim one of the 15 tent sites at this conservation campsite. The campsite is aptly named with temperatures oscillating between chilly and scalding – watch where you bury your toes.

The hot water beach in Te Rata Bay is a very popular destination for water skiers and fishermen through the summer months – go off-peak if you’re after solitude. There is a hot waterfall that cascades into the lake near the cliffs on the beach. It’s too hot to stand under, but a nice source of steaming hot water that is regularly used by campers to mix with cooler water for a shower.

The real gem is the Wairua Stream just a 1km paddle north-east from the campsite. The stream and its pools, about a minute’s walk upstream, are known to be a bit slimy and to attract some small, but entertaining fish. As you kick back and relax in the hot water peer up at Mt Tarawera and imagine the fiery events that unfolded during the 1886 eruption.

Access From Tarawera Landing, Boatshed and Stony Point. Public jetties can also be used at Tarawera Landing, Tarawera Outlet, Boatshed Bay and Rapatu Bay
Grade Easy
Time 2-4hr
Map Topo50 BE37, BE38, BF37, BF38