Rotorua, at the bubbling heart of New Zealand’s biggest geothermal region, is home to Polynesian Spa – one of the top 10 spas in the world. Its sumptuous treatments, relaxing hot spring baths and private onsen all look out over the dramatic waters of Lake Rotorua.
In the cool afternoon of late autumn in New Zealand, Lake Rotorua has a mysterious, romantic energy. Curling wisps of steam dance like fairies over the lake’s calm surface and the distant shore is grey in the light of the falling sun.
Hot, mineral rich springs feed into the many pools of the Polynesian Spa – the same waters that fill the magnificent lake. People have been coming here since the 1800s to bathe in the rejuvenating therapeutic waters by the lake.
The first baths opened in 1972, though the luxurious pools, grottos and treatments you can find at Polynesian Spa today only came about after 1996.
The experience you have now at the spa makes the most of this incredible natural resource that has its own importance in the community – and in fact always has.
The local Te Arawa Maori, who are the guardians of this sacred lake and its many geothermal pools and spouts, have stories of the area’s creation. Every spring has a name and the waters of the region are called Waiariki – ‘waters of the gods’.
Polynesian Spa, Rotorua
We’ve booked three separate parts to our visit to the Polynesian Spa. First we’ll relax in the five thermally heated pools that look out over the lake. Then we’re having a mud treatment, and finally we have access to our own lake view private pool.
It’s worth getting to the Polynesian Spa as early as you can so you can enjoy the thermal pools for longer before the treatment.
Part 1: The pools and grottos of the Delux Lake Spa
Once we’ve checked in at the Polynesian Spa’s front desk, we go through to the secondary check in where we fill in health check charts and get the low-down on what happens next.
Our consultant shows us around, gives us gowns and those funny paper undies and explains what we need to do, where we need to go and when it all happens.
I really appreciate this. Christina is more at ease in spas, but I like to know what’s expected of me in these places. There’s nothing worse than guessing your way through a place fraught with potential embarrassments!
Once we’ve changed into our swimwear, we tiptoe through the invigoratingly chilly air to the first of the five hot-spring fed pools that range between 36-41°C.
We work our way up to the hottest pool, soaking in the water and feeling the stresses of life fall away. There’s also a slightly acidic pool fed by the so-called Priest Spring that relieves tired muscles and aching joints.
The Priest Spring gets its name comes from Father Mahoney, who apparently cured his debilitating arthritis in 1878 from its therapeutic benefits.
We also dip a toe in the cold plunge pool, but in spite of its famed health benefits, we chicken out. Instead, the special pool-side loungers, which are heated by the same geothermal springs in the pools, have our names on.
Part 2: the treatment
After we’ve soaked in the pools for about 45 minutes, we go back to the changing rooms, have a quick shower, change into the paper undies and put our gowns on. You also need to bring flipflops or slippers with you so you can walk from the changing rooms back to the treatment reception.
We’re met by our treatment therapists Mandeep and Kamal for a Signature Geothermal Mud Wrap.
They lead us through to one of the spa’s dual therapy rooms where we relax on the massage beds for one of the most remarkable treatments we’ve experienced.
It begins with a full body polish and exfoliation with the scented sugar scrubs we chose before we soaked in the pools. Christina’s gone for the coconut one and I’ve selected the mango. The matching milk baths our treatment ladies apply after that are soothing and moisturising.
Then they put the mud wrap on us.
The thermal mud from Rotorua is full of minerals and antioxidants. Our therapists apply it hot and it heats our skin us and relaxes us still further. While the mud is doing its thing, we’re given neck and scalp massages that send me into a trance and Christina into a deep sleep!
We hop into the wet-room shower to rinse the mud off before climbing back onto our massage tables for one last indulgence: a hydrating body lotion massage – coconut for Christina, mango for me.
It’s an opulent, luxuriant treatment, perfect for travel-weary bodies and those who love the sensation of complete relaxation and nourishment.
Part 3: Lake View Private Pool
As if things couldn’t get any better, having our own 38.5°C private pool overlooking the beautiful Lake Rotorua really takes things to the next level.
Open to the air yet shielded from view of anyone else but the birds on the lake these Japanese onsen style baths really set the Polynesian Spa apart. We relax in the warm, geothermal waters of our pool for the full 30 minutes we’re allowed.
The discreet light in the ceiling comes on to tell us the end of our time there has come. It’s a simple yet elegant signal, better than a noise or someone knocking on the door to our pool. We rinse in the outdoor shower and change, feeling so very relaxed and calm.
Part 4: shopping and refreshments
We glide out of the spa area into the shop and café at the front of the building. You can purchase any of the treatment products they use here at the Polynesian Spa, so we’ve bought a little tube of the Rotorua mud mask to use at home. It’s things like this that make your travel experiences last that bit longer.
We also order a smoothie each from the café, which turns out to be an excellent idea. The blends they have here are delicious and perk us up just enough to get back into a ‘real-world’ mindset. Probably a safe thing to do before you drive!
The best thing about shopping here after your treatment is you get 20% off anything in the retail section.
Other options at the Polynesian Spa
With almost 40 pools and three different types of therapy areas, there are so many other options to consider at the Polynesian Spa. There are even family pools if your kids want to be a bit more active, and the private pools are big enough to have 4-5 people in too.
Packages that combine different aspects of the spa give a range of experiences or you can just use individual sections of the facilities.
Whatever you choose to do here, it’s clear to see why the Polynesian Spa has won so many accolades.
Have you been to the Polynesian Spa? Are you a ‘spa rat’ too? Tell us where you go in the comments below!