My velvet escape travel tip” is a guest series about what the name ‘Velvet Escape’ evokes and what that would be in the hometown of the guest writer. With this series, I hope to uncover travel tips from places around the world to help visitors have a truly local experience.

Lake Rotoru a and Mokoia Island are the settings for New Zealand’s most famous romance and the descendants of Hinemoa and Tutanekai still live in Rotorua. Thinking about a trip there makes me think of a Velvet Escape.

Steam billows from cracks in the ground and the air smells like very old eggs: it seems a dinosaur could emerge from the billowing mists it feels so Jurassic Park. Despite appearances, this is not the age of giant beasts in an ancient world but the pungent heart of the worlds youngest country, and Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have been using these geothermal fields for over seven hundred years as a place of healing.

Here, on the Pacific Ring of Fire the earth’s crust seems very thin. Mud pools simmer, boil, gurgle and explode in ever-changing circular patterns and a veil of steam hangs over the lake of boiling water. No wonder playwright George Bernard Shaw named parts of Hells Gate Park; Devils Throat, The Inferno, and the Devils Cauldron!

After walking for an hour around the source of the health-giving mud and water for the Wai Ora Spa it was time for me to experience nature’s gift – a hot mud bath then massage: my Velvet Escape.

Fine mud is suspended in the water and I sink slowly into the warmth. Bliss! The water feels soft as I smooth the mud over my face and body; it’s simply superb and silky. Twenty minutes later I’m relaxing in a hot sulphurous geothermal pool before having the uniquely New Zealand, Maori massage.

A young woman, from the local tribe, says a karakia (prayer) before beginning. Miri Miri is a traditional full-body massage regime that has been practiced for hundreds of years. The spiritual side of Miri Miri means the massage ends with prayer too. It’s one of the best massages I’ve experienced (and I consider myself a massage queen).

My velvet escape travel tip for you is this: if you can’t get a massage, or touch is ‘not your thing’; or you just want some extra pampering, the public park in “Sulphur City” as Rotorua is sometimes called, has boiling pools which feed the free footbaths for all to soak their feet in.

Most hotels use geothermal activity for their sauna and steam rooms and I also recommend you indulge in an Aix massage (a smooth massage with coconut oil while under a stream of warm water) at the Polynesian Spa. Before the massage I suggest you soak in the warm, soft, alkaline mineral pools, listen to birds singing, relax, watch steam rise from the hills and gaze over Sulphur Bay in Lake Rotorua, the largest lake in the region.

I’m not surprised that Rotorua, this thermal caldron of colour, has been voted New Zealand’s ‘Most Beautiful City’ many times, and if like me you love massage, it’s a velvet escape par excellence!

Search for hotels in Rotorua.

About this week’s guest writer
Heather Hapeta was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. She’s had a colourful life and has reinvented herself a few times. Now following a childhood dream she’s written ‘Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad’ which tells of her adventures. Hundreds of her travel related pieces have been published world-wide in magazines, newspapers, and in-flight magazines. She also blogs and tutors in travel writing. Visit Heather’s blog, Kiwi Travel Writer and follow her on Twitter.

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6 Responses

  • Hi Velvet,
    Glad you loved your time here in Rotorua.
    There is certainly lots to do for everyone – of all ages.
    People think about Rotorua and the thermal activity (and the smell) but I prefer our best kept secret: our many stunningly beautiful lakes and soul-restoring walks in our lush native bush – well away from the rotten egg gas!

    Sorry I missed you – I run a boutique, lakeside day spa here at Lake Okareka in Rotorua. You would have loved it – especially with the glass-like reflections seen from my office window today. Just 10 mins from town, this is where people come to avoid the tourist crush and spend a healing, relaxing few hours.

    Actually, the guys go off and do scary “guy things” while the “girls” come here knowing that they will be treated like a goddess for a day…Its all on my website (

    Look forward to reading more of your posts…

  • Thank you Adriana, Simon & Ricki for your lovely comments. I’ve personally tried the Polynesian Spa and I can highly recommend it. It’s awesome siting in the outside pools and enjoying the view of the ‘steaming’ lake. Truly enchanting. 🙂

  • I’m planning (dreaming?) to eventually visit New Zealand this winter. It’s one of the destinations I’ve been dreaming of for a very long time, and this amazing velvet escape makes me more eager to do this trip. Heather, I’ll ask you for advice. I’m pretty sure you’ve lots more velvet escapes in your secret box 🙂

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