spa culture in Rotorua received a big boost from the government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which built a series of structures for those hoping to benefit from “taking the cure” in one of the town’s many mineral baths. one of the prominent pools, known to the Maori as Te Pupunitanga, helped relieve the arthritis pain of a Catholic priest in 1878. while previously the site was known as a location of fierce battles and ambushes, it quickly became popular with spa visitors and was renamed Priest’s Pool in honor of Father Mahoney, with the government-constructed Pavillion Bath serving visitors. in 1901, the Duchess Bath was erected nearby to honor a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York – later George V and Queen Consort. the facilities were upgraded in the 1930s and maintained and operated by the government until the 1970s, when they were purchased by a private consortium and developed into the Polynesian Spa that stands on the site today.
nearby, the Malfroy Geyser, Rachel Pool and Blue Baths illustrate other ways enterprising Europeans capitalized on the geothermal activity of the area. in the late 1880s, a French-born engineer developed a system of artificial geysers using heat from a deep thermal pit, Oruawhata (said to be the final resting place of fierce Maori warriors to ensure they never fell into enemy hands), and a series of wooden valves that an operator could adjust to produce geysers reaching up to 12 meters high.
along with the Priest’s Pool, the Rachel Pool – known as Whangapipiro to the Maori – supplies the baths at what is now the Polynesian Spa. the pool is high in silica, a compound known for softening skin. it was (re)named after Sarah Rachel Russell – known as Madame Rachel – a cosmetician who promised everlasting youth through the use of her beauty line and who conned or blackmailed numerous members of the English elite during the mid-19th century.
the Blue Baths, also built by the government, date from the 1930s and provided a different type of bathing altogether. whereas the other baths focused on therapeutic aims, the Blue Baths aimed for a more festive, family-oriented swimming atmosphere. generations of local children learned to swim at the Blue Baths, something the other government pools could not provide. disuse led the Blue Baths to close in 1982 and they remained so until reopening in 1999 after extensive restoration.
as champions of Rotorua’s early spas hoped, the town has become an internationally recognized destination for “taking the cure” and enjoying the mineral waters that still bubble up from the geothermal waters – including the Rachel and Priest’s Pools.