Hell’s Gate Thermal Reserve is an awesome place to get up close and personal with a large variety of geothermal activity. You can walk past steaming fumeroles and pools of boiling mud so violent you’ll wonder if there’s actually a monster lurking inside. Well, whatever kind of monster would lurk in a pool of boiling mud anyway.
There’s signs up everywhere warning you to stay on the path, but I can’t say I would’ve been that keen to get swallowed up in a boiling mud pool anyway.
As well as the boiling mud, there’s also amazing formations and colours, cascading hot water and unearthly vistas, even examples of land coral to check out.
The name for Hell’s Gate actually came about when playwright, George Bernard Shaw looked in amazement at the “hell like” landscape and gave the reserve its famous name.
The Hell’s Gate experience includes a walking tour which you can do yourself by following the map, or join a guided tour.
There’s a 2.5km natural geothermal walk past boiling mud, hot water pools in excess of 100 degrees centigrade, Kakahi Falls, the largest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere, a mud volcano, sulphur fumaroles and a sulphur lake where you can touch the silky hot water and geothermal mud.
You can also dress up in traditional Maori costume. After all, this place used to be the spot where warriors would bathe in the sulphurous water to heal their wounds after battle and remove the “tapu” of war. You can also see the pool where the Maori Princess Hurutini lost her life.
You can also take part in an interactive Maori carving, weaving, marako (weapons) or performing arts experience.
For 800 years Hell’s Gate has treasured by Maori as a place of healing and revitalising.
At Hell’s Gate you can also enjoy the soothing muds and sulphurous waters, which have been guarded for centuries by the Kaitiaki, ‘Wai Ora’ (guardian warrior), after whom the spa is named.
I decided to opt for sitting in one of the mud baths which was a totally relaxing experience. Each mud bath contains in excess of 70kgs of the geothermal muds in both suspended and solid form. I was told to liberally smooth the mud over my skin so I started smearing it up my arms and over my face. It was quite sloppy stuff, but it seemed to stick pretty well as it dried.
You’re only allowed to stay in the mud bath for 20 minutes, and next I was rinsing off under a cold shower which was a bit of a shock after the warm mud. The cold shower helps to restore blood circulation to normal, before relaxing in the pools filled with sulphur water.
The mud bath and sulphur pools are kept at 40 degrees centigrade. This allows the skin’s pores to open so that all the active ingredients gently exfoliate and treat the skin, leaving it very clean and soft to touch.
Both spa facilities include changing rooms, showers, and no worries if you forget your swimmers as there are togs and towels available for hire.
The Wai Ora Spa offers a range of treatments including massage, featuring the signature Wai Ora total body massage, as well as special mud therapy packages, private mud baths, sulphur spas, body mud scrubs, along with facial and mud masks if you fancy a pampering treat.
Hell’s Gate and Wai Ora Spa can be found 15 minutes east of Rotorua, in the geothermal field of Tikitere.
Entry into Hell’s Gate Theothermal Reserve is $30, and the mud bath and spa starts at $75. There are various combo packages available.
There is a complimentary shuttle bus, although bookings are essential. Pick-ups from Rotorua leave at 9am, 1pm and 5pm daily. For bookings call 07 345 3151.
Hell’s Gate and Wairoa Spa is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 8.30am until 8.30pm.