Being American as I am, I always thought the term ‘spa’ referred to a place where people go to receive massage treatments, facials and pedicures. Once in a while I would notice people calling their Jacuzzi a ‘spa’ but I quickly dismissed it. It wasn’t until traveling overseas that I realized not only that the word spa has a completely different connotation to most of the world but that they can be wonderful destinations in their own right.
While I’ve been in Jacuzzis hundreds of times in my life, I never enjoyed a natural hot spring until this year when I traveled around Jordan. Hammamat Ma’in, located within sight of the Dead Sea, is a slash of land through which thermal springs bubble up and cascade over the cliff face in a series of stunning thermal waterfalls. This area is great for hiking and exploring, but the spas steal the show, as they have since Roman times.
I was only there for the night and was booked into the five-star Six Senses Ma’in, a luxurious spa hotel nestled in the canyon. I didn’t waste any time with pleasantries, as soon as I check into the hotel I went in search of the legendary thermal waterfalls and pools. It was the middle of the week and late in the day, so I was only one of a few who decided to seek the curative powers of the steamy water. For the next hour I enjoyed Mother Nature at her luxurious best as I sat beneath the strange waterfalls, steam wafting as the water found its way into the pools below.
I sat back and realized that only on rare occasions had I been so relaxed. While fleeting, it was a moment of true and utter contentment that I wanted to last forever. It was my first introduction to the curative powers of naturally fed pools, but it wouldn’t be my last.
On my schedule for Rotorua, New Zealand was a stop at the Polynesian Spa. Biased as I am speaking American English, I thought a nice massage was in my future. I was more than a little surprised though when I showed up and found a fairly large bathing facility.
Rotorua has a long history of thermal spas. The original draw to the region were the Pink and White Terraces, described as the Eighth Wonder of the World and tragically destroyed in 1886 when Mt Tarawera erupted, burying them. The same geothermal process that created the terraces have made Rotorua a famous spa town.
One of the top 10 spas in the world, the Polynesian Spa has something for everyone. There are a series of bathing pools, all naturally heated, overlooking beautiful Lake Rotorua. There are even alkaline pools for those so inclined. After enjoying an hour in the hot spas, I can absolutely attest to their curative powers and I was thankful for the rejuvenation I enjoyed at the Spa.
The spa in Jordan relaxed me and the spa in Rotorua was a curative experience, but the glacier pools in Franz Josef were the best at soothing aching joints.
There isn’t a lot in the alpine hamlet of Franz Josef on New Zealand’s South Island, but I was thrilled to see the sign ‘Glacier Hot Pools’ as I entered town. It was only my fourth day in the country, but I had already done a lot and driven hundreds of miles. I was tired and my muscles and joints ached. I needed some relief and I hoped the hot pools were the answer.
Since most of the activities in and around the glacier are fairly strenuous, the Glacier Hot Pools have become a must visit establishment for weary hikers and travelers. The large complex is newish and well designed; modern design and clean lines meld seamlessly with the natural elements. That’s the most amazing part of the complex, how they incorporated the natural rainforest in with the man made pools. There are a series of hot pools, each at varying temperatures, surrounded by native bush and fed with pure local glacier water. Nestled in lush rainforest, the Glacier Hot Pools provide a secluded haven of natural tranquility and really are the perfect way to relax after a long day of adventures.
For someone who didn’t even know what a spa was before a few months ago, I feel like I’ve become a connoisseur of sorts. Even though I haven’t visited very many, natural pools and springs have quickly become one of my favorite travel experiences and I can’t wait to find more of them around the world.
Do you have a favorite spa you’ve found on your travels?