The Bath House Story
The Bath House Story
The Bath House, which today houses Rotorua Museum, was once an famous spa which offered therapeutic treatments to visitors from all over the world.
Water from nearby thermal springs was piped to private bathrooms and larger Aix-douche massage rooms. There were also a number of deep pools where chronic disorders were treated. The north wing accommodated male patients, while women were treated in the south wing.
At its height the spa gave 60,000 to 80,000 baths annually and about 30,000 special treatments.
Taking the Cure, an exhibition explaining the story of the building and its days as a spa, is located in the north-east corner of the Bath House where so of the baths remain. There is little left of the once state-of-the-art treatment equipment; most was destroyed when the baths closed in 1966.
A Generous Gift
The people of Rotorua are indebted to Ngāti Whakaue for the gift of land on which the Bath House now stands.
On 22 November 1880, Judge FD Fenton met with 47 Māori leaders to discuss a proposal supporting the creation of a township. Contained within the agreement was a clause setting aside thermal springs “Hei oranga mō ngā iwi katoa o te Ao” – for the benefit of the people of the world.
This far-sighted and generous gift of 50 acres along the southern shores of Lake Rotorua demonstrated the goodwill of the original landowners, Ngati Whakaue. The area, formerly known as the Sanatorium Reserve, is today named Government Gardens.
The opening of the Bath House coincided with a visit to Rotorua by Rear-Admiral Sperry of the American Atlantic Fleet and 200 of his officers.
A Significant Icon
The magnificent Elizabethan-style Bath House building is a monument to the New Zealand Government’s first major investment in the tourism industry.
With its half-timbered construction, gables, towers, grand staircase, and luxurious treatment facilities the Government hoped to tempt wealthy northern hemisphere patrons to travel far from home to the ‘Great South Seas Spa’.
“The stream of travellers has certainly set towards New Zealand, and the establishment of up-to-date Government baths will no doubt make Rotorua world-famous and be the means of attracting many thousands more visitors yearly.” TE Donne, Superintendent, Department of Tourism and Health Resorts, Rotorua, 1908.