NZ Travel: Water Themed Vacations in Waikato

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Waikato’s Blue Springs – where gallons of crystalline blue-green water flow over clumps of iridescent underwater grass. Photo / 123RF

The theme was water – cold at Pūkorokoro, thermal at Te Aroha and Okoroire and crystal at Te Waihou.

The other theme was personal. One of us thought about ending a long-term relationship, the other thought about starting one. Anyway, we were too old for this.

The two of us were observers of each other’s lives from eternity. We had chatted endlessly, and for the most part, futilely, through every life-changing drama. Our long and, ever so light, repetitive commentary rarely changed the inevitable, but it made us feel better.

I picked up my friend from the airport and drove us to the hazy Hauraki Coast, where the air is thin and low, shell-covered mudflats are lapped by the waveless sea. We have stayed at Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center before and despite never arriving at high tide in time for a decent shorebird observation, we still love it. Staying there makes you feel like you are on a small ship at the end of the world, piloted by the funniest captains.

Pied oystercatchers fly over some royal spoonbills in Miranda, New Zealand.  Photo/Getty Images
Pied oystercatchers fly over some royal spoonbills in Miranda, New Zealand. Photo/Getty Images

“Welcome,” said manager Keith Woodley. “I saved the Whimbrel Suite for you both.”

“Perfect,” I said.

“Oh, I think we could find some flaws if we really looked.”

Not the weather. You couldn’t blame it again. The sun was shining, the reliable gale-force winds were in, and the liminal landscape looked polished and beautiful in an otherworldly understated way.

WHe waved goodbye to Keith with nowhere to go but somewhere special to be. Te Aroha-a-uta or Te Aroha. Beautiful name, beautiful city. Love flowing inland is the full translation. Love flows to the country’s most intact Edwardian spa against the bushy backdrop of Mt Te Aroha. Love also the thermal and mineral waters and the world’s only hot soda water geyser – whatever that is.

There’s something forgotten and timeless about Te Aroha, also eerily mystical watching the steam from the Mokena Hou geyser envelop the preserve as the sun burned the heavy dew of mowed lawns that doubled as croquet fields and ice rinks.

Before Rotorua, there was Te Aroha. Rotorua is flashier, but Te Aroha’s mineral spas, built on the site of the original number one bathhouse, are more elegant. The spas were doing a roaring trade when we arrived to spend an hour in a private wooden barrel. My friend was wearing a swimming costume. Therein lay her problem. Well, one of them.

The drive on the back roads of this part of the Waikato was surprisingly sweet. In the past I would dash through the area on major highways, all I ever saw were cows, dairies and speeding tankers. This time we meandered down narrow, scruffy roads lined with skeletal trees and the occasional explosion of a huge crimson magnolia until we reached the fabulous Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel.

Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel, Waikato.  Photo / Included
Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel, Waikato. Photo / Included

The hotel has seen bigger days, when it was a favorite venue for newlyweds like Rob and Thea Muldoon, as well as golfers and trout anglers. Now it received us and a bunch of other boomers scurrying around the country in their spare time. By the time we were immersed in the hotel’s three outdoor thermal pools bordering the rushing Waihou River and had dinner and breakfast together at the hotel restaurant, we knew almost everyone there and some of their stories and they knew the core of ours. Such adventurers, such great lives – it’s so easy to fire people who look your age, forgetting that no one gets through life unscathed and most have at least one brilliant story, usually more.

In all that time, we had never been far from the Waihou River. Earlier that day, we’d walked past its most wondrous iteration—the Blue Springs—where gallons of crystal-clear blue-green water flowed over clumps of iridescent underwater grass. Apparently the color is proof of purity as it does not contain any light absorbing components and particles. Either way, the effect was completely dreamy and unreal.

Hiking past the Blue Springs in Waikato, where gallons of crystal clear blue-green water flow over clumps of iridescent underwater grass.  Photo / Included
Hiking past the Blue Springs in Waikato, where gallons of crystal clear blue-green water flow over clumps of iridescent underwater grass. Photo / Included

But reality was never far away and beckoned us back to our uneasy complicated lives. We delayed the return slightly by stopping to buy and devour Mercer cheese along the Waikato River before taking my friend back to the airport.

This break had always been just a blessed interlude. Nothing was resolved. Nothing much even decided. But it was ok. We felt better as we moved on. More importantly, we knew there would be another time.

CHECKLIST: WAIKATOO

DETAILS
For more things to see and do in the region, visit waikatonz.com

Check traffic light settings, vaccination requirements and the advice of the Ministry of Health before travelling. covid19.govt.nz

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