If you have seen the documentary, Kaikohe Demolition, you'll remember scenes of the men relaxing in steaming mud baths after their frenetic driving exploits. Those mud baths and hot springs are not far from my home, at Ngawha (right next to the brand new prison, but that's another story). Winding narrow back roads took us north from our farm to connect with SH1, and to enjoy a quick visit to the wonderful Hundervasser toilets in Kawakawa. Before the toilets were built there, Kawakawa was a place for travellers to lock their doors and drive through without stopping. Now the arty and welcoming feeling of the little town seems to be spilling over into neighbouring settlements as well.
Turning off the main road to Ngawha Springs is easy but at the end of the road there are two facilities which are minimally signposted. We chose the one on the edge of the bubbling dark lake because it had fewer cars parked outside and looked like it hadn't had much of anything done to it for 50 years or so. 'Please pay at the Office' said the sign but when we found the 'Office' there was no one there, just a tiny hole in the door to poke our $5 through. As we walked into the pools area, a family of Swedish chemists were leaving (in NZ for a conference, and with two days for sightseeing they came to Ngawha?!) and we had the place practically to ourselves for a while.
After dipping toes in each of the 8 pools we chose 'Lobster' for our first soak. Medium hot water bubbled up through the black sand bottom to just the right height for me to sit on with my chin resting on the water's surface, my back against the wooden walls. It was like sitting in hot, sulpher-smelling champagne which was the only reason I could think of for the name Lobster, because there were three pools hotter than it, two of which I couldn't even climb into.
We spent a relaxing couple of hours letting the minerals and warmth melt all tension from our muscles while our skin pruned up and turned grey from the silt and sand. The day was overcast and humid, not quite raining. In such an environment it was impossible not to get chatty with our fellow bathers who were a mostly locals and later, a young English family whose antics kept us all amused.
The funniest moment of our afternoon was when the rural quiet was broken by a loud motor- was it a lawn mower? a jet ski? a motorbike? After some minutes of grumbling and speculation, the mystery was revealed when the driver of a mini amphibian vehicle poked his head over the wall and asked for help pulling his new toy out of the muddy lake where it had foundered. We all rose up from our steaming baths and the men climbed over to splash around pulling and pushing and offer advice, while the rest of us giggled at his predicament and embarrassment.
It looks like there is some work underway to develop the pools, but fortunately it appears modest and low budget. There are few natural hot springs left in New Zealand without waterslides and concrete bottoms and corresponding high entrance fees. Ngawha feels like the hot springs that time and the tourism industry forgot. It would be a shame if it were 'discovered' and developed out of its stinky, muddy, democratic appeal.