Visiting a thermal pool was high on our must-do list when visiting New Zealand. We were somewhat dazzled by the range of options, and to be honest, it was hard to choose. Hells Gate stood out among the many brochures we perused for two reasons, the first, it combines mud baths with thermal pools and secondly, it’s New Zealand’s only Maori owned thermal pool. And the pools and mud baths were accessible enough for us to make it fun for the whole family.
BJ constantly surprises us with his reactions to new experiences. It’s hard to know what will be a hit or miss, but the mud baths were a resounding success. He loved being covered in the mud and enjoyed the warm pool experience.
Each mud bath holds approximately 40 – 60 kg of geothermal mud, which is both in suspension and solid form, in the stainless steel containers and on the bottom of the mud baths.
As well as being a lovey relaxing way to spend time, the mud has unique qualities and although I didn’t take much notice at the time, the proof was in the smooth blemish-free skin we noticed about a week later. The geothermal mud, combined with the sulphur waters, provides a unique gentle exfoliation of the skin, leaving it smooth and soft to touch. A result that can last up to 6 weeks after the experience. The geothermal mud and sulphur water at Hells Gate have also been known for their curative properties in respect to a number of skin disorders.
Time in the mud pools is limited to 20 minutes for safety. When first designed, Hells Gate had an advisory team, two doctors , an osteopath, scientist and Kaumātua (Maori elders with healing knowledge) that looked at how the mud baths could be safely operated, taking into consideration that even though the water temperature was the same as the spa pools, the heat energy stored in the mud baths is higher. In view of this and the fact that each person is different the mud bath experience was set at a maximum of 20 minutes per person with only one entry into the mud bath per day. This length of time was plenty for us.
Once we finished in the mud baths we showered under the outdoor showers and headed into the sulphur spas. Set at a range of temperatures there should be a pool to suit everyone. Not too hot, not too cold but just right! While in the pools we were encouraged to hydrate with staff bringing us cool drinks of water.
The diversity of experiences and scenery at Hell’s Gate was one of the most enjoyable elements of our visit. After walking past bubbling mud pools we came to a native bush walk which is lush and shaded by towering silver ferns and other plant species unique to New Zealand.
The Silver Fern is worn as a symbol on all of New Zealand’s National Teams uniforms such as the All Blacks and the Silver Ferns netball team.
Kakahi Falls is the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere with a temperature of approximately 40 degrees. The falls were used by warriors to bathe and cleanse themselves after battle with the sulphur in the water known to heal wounds and scratches.
In stark contrast to the lush, cool of the bush, when we emerged it was to more bubbling hot mud pools and a mud volcano. This is the only example of a mud volcano in a thermal park in New Zealand so we pushed over the uneven terrain to get there to show the kids. We were told it had recently erupted and does so every six weeks or so. When the top of the volcano goes hard the pressure builds up over a two or three day period causing the top mud layer to erupt over a 5 metre wide diameter. We’re told almost all of the eruptions take part at night. Phew!
It’s fascinating to listen to the rumble and see the steam rise making it well worth the effort to navigate our way around the entire park.
Hell’s Gate Rotorua has limited accessibility. A power chair user should be able to access the majority of the area with ease.
With an extra bit of push we managed the entire attraction with BJ’s manual chair with the off-road tyres.
It should be noted some areas are steep and much of the area is gravel once you leave the mud baths and sulphur spas.
A ramp which is on the steep side leads up to the mud baths which are surrounded by an easy to wheel on boardwalk.
A stand-alone accessible bathroom with shower is available beside the pools.
Stairs link the mud baths to the pools but there is a slightly longer way via ramp to gain access from one to the other.
A ramp leads visitors to the mud volcano viewing platform.
Staff are extremely friendly and happy to advise regarding access around the park.
Please remember, for women in the early stages of pregnancy and children under the age of 2 years are not allowed into the sulphur spas due to the temperature being unsuitable.
It’s important to ensure the sulphur water doesn’t go near your eyes as it does sting. BJ accidentally splashed me and it took quite a while for the stinging to stop.
If you arrive at Hells Gate without swimmers, you are able to hire swimming costumes. These are commercially laundered after use.
We were concerned our swimmers would have a lingering sulphur smell so asked for the staff’s tips on avoiding it. We purchased a small packet of laundry powder from Hells Gate to wash our swimmers. If washed in cloudy ammonia there shouldn’t be a residual odour.
On a hot summer’s day we were happy to drop into the cafe which sells a range of snacks, coffee, ice creams and cold drinks.
The gift shop is excellent, selling a lovely range of New Zealand products which make ideal gifts. I speak from experience!
Our visit to Hells Gate was a highlight of our time on the North Island in New Zealand and I’m glad we could overcome any access challenges to tour the entire park. It certainly offered a variety of experiences for us making our visit a few hours long.
We received discounted entry to Hells Gate for the purposes of this review but you can be assured our opinions are our own and BJ’s smile just doesn’t lie!