Monday, August 21, 2006

Ngawha's Eccentric Style

Ngawha is probably better known as the controversial site of a recently built prison, I mean, Correctional Facility. The area is also a thermal hot spot, with a little power station and even better, two complexes of hot springs. Last winter I made several visits to the complex featured in the film Kaikohe Demolition, which was all very nice until I discovered Jimmy’s pool complex, and since then there’s no going back. Hot springs are good no matter what, but hot springs with character are the best.

These pools are lovingly handmade out of mostly salvaged and recycled materials with no regard for fashion or convention. The landscaping is as extravagently eccentric as the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. This place is to resort design what outsider art is to David Hockney.

Note the ‘Nga Puhi greenstone’ created by banks of knobbly bottomed soft drink bottles. Old banisters and beams, rope railings, black plastic pallets with blue spots are combined with pragmatism and creativity. Arrangements of concrete, stone, rubber, plastic and wood are thoughtful, balanced, and quirky. And the point of it all is the fifteen hot pools each with its own shade of brown or grey or black water, its own temperature and combination of minerals all contributing to the strong smell of sulpher in the air.

The entrance fee makes it probably the most affordable attraction in the country, but fortunately it's too far off the beaten track for many tourists to find. The soakers are mostly locals: old kuia and kaumatua soaking away their aches and pains, young families escaping their own prisons of childen inside on endlessly rainy days and all sorts of folks, ordinary and extraordinary, chatting quietly or not at all, enjoying the soothing heat and unique ambiance.

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