Soaking in Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa
or, How to smell like a burnt match for $20
The outgoing Korean greeter asked us where we’re from and promptly reminded us how to say hello in French. Then he fired off detailed trivia about the four Canadian prime ministers who were born in Quebec.
Apparently, he has memorized tidbits for just about any visitor nationality.
This, it turned out, was the highlight of our visit to the Polynesian Spa in Rorotua, which, baffling enough, boasts being one of the world’s top 10 spas according to Condé Nast Traveler.
I think the word “spa” is misleading. I’d sooner call it “a collection of sulphur-heated pools overlooking lake Rotorua”. Yes, it looks nice. Yes, some of the pools are pleasant to soak in. But these hardly add up to a truly relaxing experience.
For one, renting a towel costs an unbelievable NZ$4. A locker rental is the same. With the NZ$20 entry fee, these necessary extras add nearly 50% to your total.
The pools are filled with sulfuric water that Rorotua is famous for, and so the smell of fireworks is always present. After a while, it even makes you a bit light-headed. Besides being distracting, the smell also gets on your skin. You can never fully escape it until you walk out of the facility altogether.
For a far better experience, I recommend the Waikite Valley spa, only 20 minutes outside Rotorua, where the water is also steaming fresh from a spring and smells like nothing. The mountainous rural setting is supremely calming.
And it’s a bargain: NZ$12 per person. Towels extra, but this time you’ll remember to bring your own.