The Octagon and Bath No. 1, photographed before 1900. Photo / Mairie de Matamata-Piako
Living in Waikato puts most of us right in the middle of nature, or at least a short distance from parks and gardens, riverside walks, bike paths, native forests and waterfalls.
And not far from the rugged west coast that stretches from the seaside community of Mokau in the south, through Kawhia and Raglan to the edges of Manukau Harbor in the north.
How lucky we are as powerful inhabitants to live – and play – in such a rich natural environment.
Research reveals – and we also know this anecdotally – that being in nature increases pleasurable feelings, makes us feel better emotionally and contributes to physical well-being; it reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.
Although there are now wellness spots all over Waikato, as well as yoga and wellness retreats, meditation, forest bathing and breathing workshops, the town and surrounding areas of Te Aroha are the place where people seeking well-being and well-being were. first attracted.
As early as the late 1800s, people flocked from Auckland and beyond to Te Aroha to “take the waters” – a naturally sparkling, silky mineral water renowned as a panacea and loved by locals and visitors alike.
At their peak, some 30,000 bathers a year arrived by train and boat to soak and sip, returning home feeling revitalised, so the hot springs did more for the local economy than discovering the gold, which turned out to be a short-lived boom. .
The springs and surrounding land that now constitute the Te Aroha Estate were gifted to the then government by the Maori chief Mokena Hou (Ngāti Rāhiri) so that it could be developed as a spa resort for the benefit of all.
Varying in temperature, the springs of Te Aroha include natural springs of hot soda water, the water being infused with sodium bicarbonate as it rises from underground.
In the 1930s, to improve access, a bore was dug, resulting in the world’s only hot carbonated water geyser. Named Mokena Geyser after the chief don, it erupts approximately every 40 minutes and is one of the great free attractions in the Waikato area. Te Aroha Mineral Spas offer a range of luxurious experiences, from whirlpool baths in wooden tubs to massages and beauty treatments.
Next door are the Te Aroha Leisure Pools where mineral waters are also a feature in Bath No. 2. The range of pools includes family options suitable for young children and toddlers.
For more restorative experiences, there are walking and biking trails, ranging from easy to challenging.
Within the estate itself, short walks through native forest include a 25-minute round trip to the Honeymoon Spring where newly married couples are encouraged to dip their wedding rings in the water to ensure a long and happy marriage.
Another easy 45 minute walk is the Howarth Memorial Wetland Loop, part of which follows a section of the Waihou River.
For a natural peak, there is the summit of Mount Te Aroha, which rises above the township. The spectacular views of the surrounding countryside are a great reward for the steep climb.
There are also walking trails in the Waiorongomai Valley where in the late 1880s gold was discovered. Remnants of the Piako County Tram, New Zealand’s oldest bush tram, and other machinery and miners’ quarters can still be seen along the trail.
Waterfalls are well known for bringing pleasure and soothing. Wairere Falls, plunging 153 meters – the highest on the North Island – is just a 20-minute drive from Te Aroha township.
Among the ways to enjoy nature on two wheels is the Hauraki Rail Trail. The 197 km cycle path can be ridden in one-day sections or in its entirety over a period of four to five days.
For mountain bikers, there are the purpose-built trails that cut through the forest-clad foothills of Mount Te Aroha. Trail options range from easier and suitable for family groups to plenty of challenges for more daring runners.
With the Waihou River running through the Te Aroha area, other ways to connect with nature include kayaking and trout fishing.
At Te Aroha Golf Club, in addition to the regular game of golf involving birdies and bogies, there is also foot golf – that fun hybrid game where players kick a football with the aim of bringing the ball into the hole with the fewest kicks.