Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa rising from the whenua

After five years of planning, geotechnical preparation, COVID challenges and building, Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa in Rotorua is edging closer to completion, with the roof now in place on the significant development.

Set to open in mid-2023, the 4,453m2 development sits proudly on the shores of Lake Rotorua and will be a truly unique cultural wellness offering, unlike any other spa in the world.

Pukeroa Oruawhata Group deputy chairman, David Tapsell says the development of Wai Ariki has surpassed multiple obstacles, including COVID lockdowns, supply issues and the changing economy.

“However, the building is really taking shape and we are now able to see and feel the spaces that make this place so unique,” says Mr Tapsell.

Wai Ariki combines the region’s healing geothermal waters with the centuries-old legacy of Ngāti Whakaue culture, healing practices and manaakitanga (caring hospitality) to offer an authentic wellness and spa experience for manuhiri (visitors).

Mr Tapsell says Wai Ariki takes manuhiri on a unique healing and relaxation journey, with every perfectly designed element contributing to a transformative experience to support total wellbeing.

The site has two main spa areas: Te Puna Kaukau Koruhuhū and Te Ahuru Mōwai l The Sanctuary – a premium space for bathing and spa treatments. There is also a café and gift shop.

Within Te Puna Kaukau Koruhuhū, manuhiri will experience Haumanu Haerenga, a restorative journey made up of a series of hot and cold experiences designed to maximise therapeutic benefit.

The journey includes unique features such as a herb pool, which combines mineral water with the aromatherapy properties of native plants to support calmness and relaxation; a mud experience, and a frigidarium, historically the cold room in an ancient Roman bathhouse.

“Every part of this journey provides a connection to the Ngāti Whakaue people and places that have come to define us through time.

“In particular, the hot and cold experiences – while delivering proven therapeutic benefits – draw on the story of our ancestor, Ngātoroirangi, who called on life-saving geothermal heat when he was close to perishing in the cold and ice on Mt Tongariro.
“This is a defining history for Ngāti Whakaue and this legacy is present throughout Wai Ariki and the wellness experiences that are available. This is part of what makes it truly unique – not just in Aotearoa New Zealand, but in the world.”

Mr Tapsell says Ngāti Whakaue not only own Wai Ariki, but have driven the concept and development, with a deep focus on authenticity.

“Every element of the building design, spa experience, and manuhiri journey are founded on Ngāti Whakaue principles, practices, and stories, reflecting our relationship with the natural environment from the heavens to the water and the earth.

“Wai Ariki is grounded in te ao Māori, visible through the physical design of the building, its unique spa and wellness experiences, and authentic manaakitanga.”

Wai Ariki is Aotearoa New Zealand’s only spa and bathing facility developed and owned by mana whenua. It has been developed by Pukeroa Oruawhata Group (Ngāti Whakaue), with additional support from the Provincial Growth Fund.

Wai Ariki will be managed by Belgravia Leisure, an Australasian spa and wellness provider with more than 30 years experience in the industry.

Mr Tapsell says Wai Ariki is the living embodiment of the reason the geothermal city of Rotorua was first established.

“Since the 1800s, people have been visiting Rotorua to experience the region’s healing geothermal waters. Wai Ariki reclaims our city’s title and re-positions Rotorua as an international spa and wellness destination.”

He says the development is not only transformative within the spa and wellness sector, but it is also a pivotal development for the wider tourism industry as well as Ngāti Whakaue, Te Arawa, Rotorua, and New Zealand as a whole.

“Wai Ariki will contribute to the ongoing growth of the local and international visitor economy, enhancing Rotorua’s existing spa, health, wellness and visitor experiences.

“The development will significantly support the economic recovery from COVID-19 by prompting manuhiri to stay longer and experience more, in our rohe.”

Once open, Wai Ariki will employ 40 staff in the first instance, increasing to over 60 staff in time. It is expected to open in mid-2023