Morere Hot Springs and Scenic Reserve – A Hidden Kiwi Gem
I lived in Gisborne for more than 30 years and cannot recall when – or indeed if – I ever visited Morere Hot Springs Scenic Reserve. I must have – surely! My daughter informed me she hadn’t been there since intermediate school. That was almost 30 years ago – and she’s been back in Gisborne now for more than 10 years, raising a family. So, for my granddaughter’s 10th birthday, it seemed fitting to reacquaint ourselves with what must be one of New Zealand’s hidden gems.
Chatting with a couple of locals while soaking in the blissful hot waters and surrounded by native bush, I can forgive them for not really wanting too many to discover this sanctuary. In summer when the hoards do arrive, these seniors head to the ocean at nearby Mahia. Winter is their preferred time to visit each weekend in relative peace to soothe their aches in Morere’s healing waters.
For a children’s party, however, Morere is fantastic. Quite apart from the variety of pools, there’s a coin-operated covered barbecue area, lawns to romp around on and walkways to explore. The sheer beauty of it all is both entertaining and educational.
The Department of Conservation has administered the reserve since 1987, while the hot pools are leased privately – open every day at 10am, barring storm damage or Christmas Day. Closing time varies from 5pm in winter to 8.30pm through summer holidays – late access possible by arrangement. And why wouldn’t you? Sitting beneath the stars, amid a full moon’s glow, listening to the echoes of ruru (native owl) would be a moment to cherish.
Exceptional lowland rainforest
This rainforest is a haven for native bird-life – a healthy population of kereru headlining the spectacular show. At night, glow-worms instil extra magic. Morere’s reserve is one of the last remaining tracts of lowland rainforest on New Zealand’s east coast. Noted particularly for its lush stands of nikau palms, Morere Scenic Reserve is an exceptional example of the original lowland rainforest once covering this country. Rimu, totara and matai dominate a forest of tawa, kohekohe and pukatea. Ferns, vines, shrubs and orchids carpet the undergrowth, while remnant patches of native beech intensify the rich mosaic on higher ridges.
Short bush walks range from 10 minutes to half an hour; with two to three-hour hikes sparking glee for more hardy trampers. The stroll to the Nikau plunge pools is a splendid introduction. The path meanders by the Mangatawa Stream and is flanked either side by forest. It’s around five minutes if you’re in a hurry; slightly longer if you want to dawdle and soak in the wonder of it all. Once at the pools, changing rooms and a shower make life easy. As to the pools themselves, they’re communal – two hot plunge pools of slighting differing temperature and a cold plunge. Costumes required please. If you do want total freedom, there are two private pools – both gazing across the Mangatawa Stream and rainforest.
History of Morere
Morere’s hot water is recognised as fossilised seawater – having travelled for thousands of years before bubbling out of the ground beneath the forest. Morere’s own history dates back to pre-European times when the Rakai Paaka, a hapu of Ngati Kahungunu, used the springs to bathe in.
By the 1890s, the first totara slab bath house was built by the main thermal outlet and in 1897, a hotel opened for business nearby. Sitting on SH2 between Wairoa and Gisborne, Morere became a popular stop-over for travellers. This hotel was followed by a larger two-storied hotel in 1913, which developed in a resort spa. It became a tavern in the 70s, but was eventually destroyed by fire in 1992.
Today, people can still stay at Morere – accommodation available 250 metres down the road at the picturesque Morere Lodge and Cabins. Morere Tearooms are a popular stop-off for those not wishing to use the pools. There’s also a cafe and souvenir gift store in the complex – greenstone, jewellery, possum fur and local honey just some of the wares on sale.
I came away, soothed and enchanted – promising myself that it won’t be another 30 years before I visit.
For more information visit www.morerehotsprings.co.nz