About the Te Aroha Domain project
Te Aroha Domain is part of a larger vision to attract more visitors to Te Aroha, create economic development opportunities for the town and broader district, and improve the experience, use and access of community spaces within the Domain for visitors and local people.
Te Aroha Domain is unique in that it is understood to be home to the only hot soda water geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. It contains a number of hot springs and is at the foot of Mount Te Aroha - acting as a starting point for many popular walkways. Historically the Domain was a popular spa destination for tourists until the early 1900’s when it was overtaken by Rotorua. With its unique Edwardian character and many natural features there is potential for the Domain to once again become a popular destination.
In 2017 we received government funding to investigate Te Aroha’s tourism potential. The study showed Te Aroha is well located and has a range of natural, historical and cultural assets with significant tourism potential. Developing the Te Aroha Domain, and surrounding areas, as a visitor precinct will help to stimulate business growth / economic development that could improve a number of social, economic and cultural outcomes for the Te Aroha community.
The development of a new spa is the primary catalyst within the redevelopment plans, and will be complemented by the revamp of the 1908 Edwardian landmark, Domain House, and other needed improvements in the Domain. Find more information about each of these below.
Domain improvements - skatepark consultation
Day spa - phase one starts
Domain House refurbishment starts
Domain House refurbishment complete
end November 2021
Day spa - phase one ends
About the new spa
The development of a new spa is the primary catalyst within the Te Aroha Domain redevelopment plans. The existing Te Aroha Mineral Spas can’t always meet demand and potential customers are being turned away. A larger, more modern facility offering a range of experiences has the ability to draw in more customers than it has historically.
Te Aroha has long been associated with spa tourism / visitation well before Pakeha 'discovered' the healing nature of the waters in the 1800s. The hot springs, located at the base of Mount Te Aroha, are extremely important to local Iwi. It is a tapu site and local Iwi link its mana to the springs. Local Iwi have a long history of using the springs for healing the sick and wounded, and consider the springs to be central to their identity.
In many respects the aim is to learn from Te Aroha's past and focus on the health and wellness end of the market, as well as leisure. Our research indicates there is growing demand for high quality spa and wellness experiences, from both domestic and international tourists. Even with COVID-19 impacting on international travel, we still think there is a good business case for this development.
A lot of background work has already been done, suggesting that this project would have major benefits for the whole district, creating jobs and acting as a catalyst for other developments and business growth.
The spa project has been divided into three phases, and will require Council approval before progressing to the next phase or past critical decision-making points. The work phases and approximate timeframes are -
- Investigation phase – early 2021 to late 2022
- Planning phase – late 2022 to mid 2024
- Construction phase – late 2024 to late 2026
- $18.9 million has been allocated in the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan for capital works
- $1 million has been allocated for professional services from within existing operational budgets
We already know we can operate a spa at a profit (based on the Te Aroha Mineral Spas) and the business case supports this. We plan to continue operating our existing spas until the new facility opens.
Benefits to the local economy
If you don’t work in the industry you might be wondering why so much importance is placed on tourism in New Zealand. It’s something that can benefit small towns as well as big cities, and supports small endeavours through to world class experiences because travellers want different things.
The real kicker though is the way the tourist dollar circulates in a local economy. Visitor spending is new money that’s injected into an economy, and while you may not work in tourism and benefit directly from it, there’s a good chance you’ll benefit when that dollar gets spent again and again. This is called the multiplier effect.
Project governance and management
The Project Governance Group oversees the project and gives direction to the Project Manager, who is tasked with delivering the project. As a commercial venture, it is important we have people with the governance skills and backgrounds needed to shape a development like this. The Governance Group is made up of six members.
Mana whenua and the hot springs
Ngāti Rāhiri Tumutumu have occupied Te Aroha since ancient times and held the mana over mountain, hot springs and surrounding whenua. The mountain and hot springs are sacred to the tribe, a taonga.
Māori tradition ascribes the hot springs to the taniwha, Ureia, who left the O-kiroire hot springs to gouge out the channel of the Waihou River. He is said to have taken several gourds of hot water from O-koroire to leave at various points, including O-kauia springs and Te Aroha which lie along the Hauraki fault line.
Te Aroha's spa history
Mana whenua have been aware of the Te Aroha hot springs and were making use of the waters for hundreds of years before European arrival.
European visitor use of the hot springs began to build after the opening of the Thames Goldfield in 1867, with many residents of the ensuing ‘boomtown’ of Thames travelling up the Waihou River for recreational activities, including regular excursions visiting the hot springs at Te Aroha. The possibility of a 'sanatorium' being developed at Te Aroha was raised as early as the 1870s.
About the Domain improvements
Turning Te Aroha into a health and wellness hub will take more than just a shiny new day spa – we also need to invest in the surrounding area to make sure it’s in tip-top shape and can support more visitors (i.e. tourists and locals). A Working Party has been established to review, prioritise and progress improvement projects that can be implemented without compromising future developments, such as the new spa project.
The Working Party consists of Councillors and representatives from Ngāti Rāhiri Tumutumu.
The improvements that have been identified by the Working Party are being treated as seven smaller projects and range from carrying out important maintenance work to installing new toilets, replacing the footpaths and introducing storyboards to tell the history of the area. Much of this work requires Heritage New Zealand input, approval and oversight and will happen over the next few years.
The Piako Post article from September 2020 provides an overview of the improvements, and below are the projects the Working Group wants to progress.
Project 2 – Skatepark and building demolition
The skatepark building will be demolished as it is no longer used and contains asbestos. After the building is removed the area will be restored to grass, and a new double public toilet block will be built on some of the land (refer Project 5).
Maintenance work will be carried out on the court area, with the hard surfaces water blasted and cleaned. The rail fencing around the court area will be removed and the existing hoops replaced with new ones.
Project 3 – Geyser and surrounds
The area leading up to and around the No.1 Spring, or Mokena Geyser, will be tidied up once a landscape plan has been developed. In addition to tidying up the vegetation at the back of the geyser, the existing shelter behind the geyser will be removed and replaced with seating.
The track entrances and path will be upgraded and the Rotunda moved to the track entrance, where a waharoa (or Māori gateway) will welcome visitors. The Rotunda will also feature a water fountain (using town water supply).
Project 4 – No.7 (or Māori) Bathhouse
The No.7 or Māori Bathhouse was built to provide a separate facility for Ngāti Rāhiri-Tumutumu, and fulfil the requirement that local iwi retain the right to use the Domain waters when the land was acquired by the Crown in the early 1880s.
The baths are currently closed due to concerns about ongoing water damage to the building, and health and safety issues. We are investigating refurbishing the bathhouse.
Project 5 – New Toilet
We plan to demolish the existing public toilet block adjacent to the Tea House building. The small public toilet does not meet current access standards for people with disabilities and once the building is removed we will restore the area to grass.
A new double public toilet block will be installed that meets current disability access requirements, and has design features and a colour scheme consistent with the existing heritage buildings within the Domain. The new toilet block will be located where the skate park building currently is and connect to existing services.
Project 6 - Storyboards
The Domain has a rich history and we want to tell the story of this area better by replacing the existing signage and installing storyboards. Placement of the storyboards will be identified as part of the landscape plan.
We are in the process of appointing contractors to develop the landscape plan and the stories.
Project 7 – Other works
Fairy Spring pond will be restored with vegetation in and around the pond tidied up and the broken pipe removed. This will get underway once a landscape plan has been developed for the area.
We intend to get the hand pump for No.15 spring back in working order again to provide another interesting feature for visitors. The spring is located near the No.2 Bathhouse and pool.
A tree maintenance plan will also be developed following an arborist's recommendations.