Regional | Ngāti Whakaue

‘Cultural and architectural masterpiece’ new Rotorua hot pools wins major award

Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa opened in June.

Rotorua’s new luxury spa has been described as a “cultural and architectural masterpiece” by judges in national design awards.

Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa won three accolades at the Designers Institute Awards.

The spa opened on the lakefront in June after more than five years of development. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins attended the official opening and said a $52 million government investment into the facility had “really paid off”.

The spa and wellness centre’s offerings range from a cold “frigidarium” to mud baths, and bathing in mineral waters from the famous Rachel Spring. All services are founded on the centuries-old legacy of Ngāti Whakaue.

Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa won a Purple Pin for best overall design in the spatial section, and two Gold Pins in the public, private and institutional, and healthcare and wellbeing categories at the awards

According to the awards’ website, the Gold Pin is awarded to the best in category, with the Purple Pin reserved for the best piece of design in each discipline, “held up as work that raises the bar of New Zealand design”.

Judge’s comments said Wai Ariki exemplified the combination of quality design and respect for and acknowledgement of Te Aō Māori.

“This project stands as a cultural and architectural masterpiece, seamlessly blending Ngāti Whakaue’s rich cultural heritage and healing practices with a stunning geothermal design, creating an immersive and sustainable spa experience that positions Rotorua as a global wellness capital.”

The Designers Institute Awards - from left Andy Florkowski (RCG), Sindu Morrison and Tina Ngatai (Pukeroa Oruawhata), John Lenihan (RCG), Monty Morrison (Pukeroa Oruawhata) and Alex Liang (RCG).
The Designers Institute Awards - from left Andy Florkowski (RCG), Sindu Morrison and Tina Ngatai (Pukeroa Oruawhata), John Lenihan (RCG), Monty Morrison (Pukeroa Oruawhata) and Alex Liang (RCG).

Pukeroa Lakefront Holdings Ltd chairman David Tapsell said in a media release the design acknowledgements were a testament to the “truly unique space” that architecture and design firm RCG helped create for the facility.

“When manuhiri [visitors] walk through the doors at Wai Ariki, they have a visual and sensory experience, with the physical space combining the area’s geothermal legacy with our authentic Ngāti Whakaue story.

“There is nowhere else in the world where one can have that same experience and RCG have done a fantastic job of bringing our vision to life.”

He described Wai Ariki as a “fitting and striking” addition to the transformed Rotorua lakefront, and said Rotorua could be proud of the award.

“We are proud to be playing a key role in lifting Rotorua’s tourism offering, which is critical for our city’s build-back after Covid.”

The physical design of the centre was inspired by Ngāti Whakaue cultural narratives, with local whakairo (Māori carvings), and reflected the volcanic colour palette of the rohe.

RCG director John Lenihan said in the release its team was delighted and humbled by the awards.

“We have worked with Pukeroa Oruawhata for 30 years and the development of Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa is a significant highlight in that longstanding relationship. It was fully guided by them and Ngāti Whakaue cultural experts as mana whenua.

“We are literally ecstatic that the development has been officially acknowledged in this way.”

Also in Bay of Plenty, the Blur the Lines won a Gold Pin in the colour award (spatial) category for the workplace environment redesign of Comvita in Paengaroa.