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THERMAL pools make Taupo a wet & wild place
Life revolves around the water in Taupo. The compact town in the middle of New Zealand's North Island sits on the edge of Lake Taupo - about the same size as the island of Singapore - and many of its residents enjoy a view of the deep blue lake and the distant snow-capped peak of Mount Ruapehu through their windows.
By Sarah Nicholson
Published: Adelaide Advertiser
The locals swim and fish in this extensive reservoir, picnic on its banks, walk on the footpaths that surround it and sail and ski on it. But it's not the only water in this quiet part of the country.
Flying into the town on a cold morning the landscape is dotted with plumes of steam rising from a long chain of subterranean vents. It's not unusual to see boiling lakes, burping geysers or puddles of bubbling mud when exploring the region, and Maori believe the sacred water that comes from deep in the earth has strong healing powers.
Here are a few suggestions on ways to get into that mineral-rich liquid and soak up some of that therapeutic goodness.
Maori settled on this land more than 1000 years ago, drawn by a plentiful food supply and quickly adapted to life near the noisy geysers, believing the hot pools had healing powers that aided the treatment of skin diseases as well as arthritic and rheumatic ailments.
Word got out early last century and travellers arrived from around the world to bathe in the superheated water that collected in a string of ponds known as the Wairakei terraces. The complex has been renovated so visitors can unwind in the thermal pools, explore the Geothermal Walkway, or indulge in a spa treatment.
There's a self-guided tour around the site incorporating the geothermal story and aspects of Maori history, and guests can stand in the shadows of a roaring geyser than draws the mineral water up from 1.5km underground. The basins step down from that belching column, with the water cooling as it trickles from one pond to the next starting at 42C near the top and dropping to 38C towards the bottom. The most blissful way to "take the water" is to treat yourself to a massage after a long soak.
These mineral pools are set in the gardens of Taupo De Bretts Resort, just above the northern end of Lake Taupo. The restorative water comes from a geothermal spring called Onekeneke that relaxes and soothes tired and aching muscles.
De Bretts sits beside a natural "hot spot" and the volcanic water must be cooled to a manageable temperature between 38C and 42C before it can be used. The two main pools both have waterfalls and bubbling hydrotherapy positions and there are 12 small private reservoirs where small groups can soak together, as well as the blissful Living Waters Spa and a water play area for the kids.
Hot water flows out of the ground right around Taupo, and New Zealand Riverjet - one of the companies offering tours in jetboats - has a three-hour excursion that includes a quick ride along a 40km stretch of the Waikato River to a hidden stream that's home to some steaming water.
The Squeeze begins with a dash along the river, with the driver stopping regularly to explain the history of the region. When the driver finds the right spot passengers climb out into warm, knee-deep water - during the cooler months wetsuits are supplied - then push past the moss-covered boulders that protect this spring, climb on to the bank and walk deep into the bush to a waterfall and pond. The temperature of the water also varies depending on the season, and can be as cool as 26C or as hot as 40C. After a dip it's time to wade back to the boat and retrace the course to home base