Motueka Saltwater Baths

North Street And Everett Street, Motueka

  • Motueka Saltwater Baths. January 2004.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robert McClean.
  • Motueka Saltwater Baths in winter. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 17/09/2014.
  • Motueka Saltwater Baths in winter. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 17/09/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7617 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the Motueka Saltwater Baths structure as outlined on map in the Registration Report.

City/District Council

Tasman District


Tasman Region

Legal description

Lot 4 DP 4706 (Recreation Reserve NZ Gazette 1965, p.385), Nelson Land District


In late 19th and early 20th century New Zealand public baths were seen as important for their health benefits as well as their recreational value. Health in general was the focus of the Sunlight League movement of the 1930s, headed by Cora Wilding. Many of the public baths built at this time were saltwater baths, conveniently constructed so as to be filled and cleansed by the tides. These baths were popular as a source of hygiene as many people could not afford private baths; as well, saltwater was seen to have therapeutic benefits. Whilst these saltwater baths were once fairly common in New Zealand, there are now only four remaining saltwater baths in operation in New Zealand; these include the Baths at St Clair Beach in Dunedin, and the Baths on Rangitoto Island in Auckland.

It is thought that the 30.5m x 10.8m concrete Motueka Saltwater Baths on the corner of North and Everett Streets in Motueka were built in 1938, though a netting swimming enclosure existed before this. The Baths were built by the community in order to provide a safe place to swim at any time, even when the tide was out. Originally the Baths had only 3 walls, a seaward wall and two wings extending up the beach. The Baths were a popular recreational spot with regular picnics and galas held at the Beach Domain, with the annual Boxing Day gala bringing people in from all over the district; it was also a favourite area for families to camp at in the summer holidays.

In the 1940s the army stationed in Motueka blew up the land end of the wings in the hope that this would allow the sea to flush out excess sand accumulations. However, this was not successful. In 1952-53 a fourth wall was built on the shoreward side of the Baths by a large volunteer working bee. This resulted in fully enclosed baths. Over the years the Baths deteriorated and after reports by an engineer in 1990, which stated that the cost of repairing the Baths would be about that of building an entirely new pool, the Tasman District Council was ready to demolish them. A group of community members joined together to form the Motueka Beach Baths Committee with the goal of protecting and rejuvenating the Baths to restore them to their former glory. A dedicated group of around 30 volunteers worked to rejuvenate the Baths in 1992-93 by replacing the original concrete capping, concreting the floor, and constructing a shallow paddling pool at one end of the Baths. New drainage systems were added, as well as wooden decking and a boardwalk down to the Baths.

In 2003 the Baths were closed and again faced demolition, as they failed to meet strict health and safety regulations for swimming pools. The decision was followed by public outcry and a petition against the Baths demolition gained 1036 signatures. The Council eventually agreed to keep the Baths open in the face of growing public opposition to their closure and demolition. A new valve was installed to allow for a more regular flow of water in and out of the Baths.

The Baths have both social and historical significance. Saltwater baths were once common in New Zealand, providing an important recreational facility for an increasingly health conscious public, however, few such baths remain in operation today. Thus, the Motueka Saltwater Baths have historical value, as they are an example of a now rare type of historic place, reflecting an important part of New Zealand history, in which the beach was increasingly becoming a focus for recreational activities, and the importance of health meant regular bathing was seen as a must. The Motueka Saltwater Baths have social significance as the community involvement over the years, in the form of volunteer work and donations from local businesses. This has engendered a sense of community spirit and pride, as well as allowing for successive generations to enjoy swimming at the beach even when the tide is out.

The Baths are in good condition, though ongoing commitment to their maintenance will be required. Whilst there have been alterations and additions made to the Baths over the years the Baths are still structurally similar, and still perform the same function as they did in 1938. The alterations made to the Baths have allowed for its continued use for swimming, therefore the baths can be considered to have high integrity. Based on the depth of the community feeling and attachment to the Baths it may be that the exact physical structure is less important that the community spirit and identity associated with the Baths.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Baths have historical value: they are the only remaining tidally refreshed saltwater baths in New Zealand. Saltwater baths were important in the late 1800s and early 1900s as many people did not have access to private baths, and public saltwater baths provided a convenient and cost effective community bathing facility safe from sharks. Bathing in saltwater was valued not only as a recreation, but also importantly as a measure for health and cleanliness, with saltwater championed for its therapeutic properties. Whilst public saltwater baths were once common in the later 1800s and early 1900s in New Zealand, many fell into disrepair as indoor freshwater pools gained popularity, thus few operational saltwater baths now remain in New Zealand. Of those that do remain, only the Motueka Saltwater Baths are still tidally refreshed; the St Clair Baths in Dunedin, established in 1884, have been substantially modified to include water filtration, treatment and heating systems.

The concrete Saltwater Baths, originally constructed circa 1938, are socially significant to the Motueka domain for the numerous community attempts to protect and upgrade the Baths using volunteer labour. The original concrete bath structure was paid for through funds raised by the community group Motueka Safe Bathing Society, and was constructed by volunteer labourers. In 1952 a working bee was held to add a fourth wall to the Saltwater Baths. Again in 1992 and 1993 it was a group of volunteers who orchestrated the upgrade of the rundown baths, and it was volunteers who carried out the work to rejuvenate the Baths and bring them back to their former glory. When the Baths were threatened with demolition in 2003, community volunteers again came to the rescue, with a petition, and publicity campaign to save the baths. The volunteer work and donations of money and resources from local businesses over the years, has not only meant that successive generations have been able to enjoy safe swimming even when the tide is out, but the community involvement over the years in the Baths has engendered a sense of community sprit and pride.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

Private baths were not readily available to the general public in the 19th century; therefore public baths performed an important function, providing a facility for people. From the mid 19th to the mid 20th century, saltwater baths were fairly common in New Zealand, providing an affordable method of bathing, with the added benefits of the perceived therapeutic properties of saltwater. They also provided an opportunity for community recreation, with the beach increasingly becoming a focus for weekend and holiday activities from the late 19th century onwards.

e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The Motueka Saltwater Baths have long been a focal point for summer as well as winter family recreation and community involvement, with swimming, picnics, camping and galas. The community esteem for the Baths is evident in the time and effort that volunteer community groups have put into maintaining and protecting the Baths. It was the enthusiasm of the community and volunteer groups that resulted in the upgrade of the Baths in 1992-93, and stopped the Baths closure in 2003. The restoration efforts of 1992-93 relied on donations from a number of local businesses, thus the project involved numerous groups within the Motueka community.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Whilst common once, saltwater baths are now a rarity in New Zealand, and the Saltwater Baths in Motueka are the only remaining baths that are tidally refreshed. The only saltwater bath currently registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust is the saltwater pool on Rangitoto Island, which is registered as part of a wider historic area.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Staig, F. A. C.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Saltwater Baths in New Zealand

During the Depression in the 1930s a movement focusing on the importance of health gained increasing popularity in New Zealand and overseas. In 1937 Ethel Browning MD commented, 'it is extraordinary, with the always increasing provision of bathrooms and of economical hot-water systems in even the poorer homes, that the daily bath is far from universal'. Browning went on to mention that the skin is an excretory organ, and that it is important to cleanse it daily in order to improve and renew skin condition. The Sunlight League, set up by Cora Wilding in the early 1930s, propelled the health movement in New Zealand.

The Sunlight League ran camps, which aimed to return delicate children to health through exposure to the outdoors and sunlight. Sunbathing was compulsory, all meals were taken outdoors and open-ended shelters were built for sleeping. Sunlight was regarded as having cure-all properties, and fresh air and sunshine were endorsed by organisations including the Sunlight League and Plunket, as well as successive governments who supported various health camp schemes, with the first Labour Government passed legislation to standardise the camps in 1936. Dr C.W. Saleeby, espoused the health benefits of proper sunbathing, and in particular the added benefits of sunbathing in baths or at the seaside, “the water has the immense merit of keeping us cool enough when the sun is very hot.

Many of the early public baths in New Zealand were saltwater baths, conveniently built so as to enclose an area of seawater for bathing purposes. Patrons believed there were therapeutic benefits to be enjoyed from bathing in saltwater as opposed to fresh water. The Auckland City Council built its first saltwater bath in the 1860s, and demand was such that a second saltwater bath was built for women in 1885. Dunedin also built a saltwater bath near the mouth of the Leith River in 1867, however, this bath increasingly became clogged by thick black mud making it unusable, yet there was nowhere else for swimmers to go as large sharks frequented the St Clair beach. To rectify the situation new saltwater baths were constructed at Logan's Point and St Clair in 1884. The St Clair baths are still in use today as one of the only remaining saltwater baths, though it has been substantially modified to include a water filtration, treatment, and heating plant.

Whilst hygiene was an important motivating factor behind the construction of public saltwater baths, the recreational benefits of the baths were also enjoyed. From around the 1870s New Zealand's beaches became increasingly popular weekend and holiday destinations. However, at this time visits to the beach mainly involved picnics and promenades, not swimming. Interest in swimming increased in the 1880s, and almost all swimming took place in strictly gender separated public baths. Swimming in saltwater baths as well as sea swimming, gained in popularity, and by the 1920s going to the beach was established in New Zealand as a popular recreation activity. The presence of sharks inshore posed a considerable threat to swimmers with numerous documented accounts of shark attacks throughout the country, thus saltwater baths provided a safe venue for enjoying the benefits of both hygiene and moderate exercise.

Early History of the Motueka Saltwater Baths

The Motueka 'Safe Bathing Society' was formed around 1930 with Mrs Amie Talbot as the President. The Society's aim was to achieve a safer place to swim in the sea away from the presence of sharks. The Society raised funds to build the first swimming enclosure at Motueka Beach. The swimming enclosure was built within part of the foreshore that was vested in the Motueka Harbour Board under the Motueka Harbour Board Endowment Act 1905. Later, in 1948 the land containing the Saltwater Baths was vested in the Crown for Public Domain under the jurisdiction of the Waimea County Council, and in March 1965 the reserve was vested in the Motueka Borough Council under the Reserves and Domains Act 1953.

The original swimming enclosure was made from telegraph poles and shark netting, this proved to be an effective measure of providing an area free of sharks for swimming. There was also a diving platform and two slides for the pool, as well as a playground, picnic area and band rotunda further up the bank. The playground for children and teenagers included two swing-boats, a slide, ordinary swings, a merry-go-round, and swing ropes on poles. In order to provide and maintain these facilities, galas and stalls were organised, and there was an annual boxing-day gala which people attended from all over the district. During the Christmas holiday many families would come to the Motueka Beach Domain to camp for the whole six weeks of the holiday.

In 1937 the Safe Bathing Society appointed a subcommittee to investigate the cost and means of providing permanent bathing facilities at Motueka Beach. The baths would provide bathing facilities free to all at any hour, as opposed to beach swimming being restricted by low tides. Plans for Baths with three sides, a seawall and two wings running up the beach, with a 100ft (30.5m) frontage to the beach and a width of 80ft (10.8m), were approved at a meeting of the Safe Bathing Society on Wednesday 29th June 1938. A meeting of the Society in August 1938 reported that financial arrangements had been completed to raise the balance of the money required for the construction of permanent bathing facilities, with the Ministry of Employment granting £4 per week, per man, on labour for the construction of the baths. This suggests that the concrete baths, which were built inside the original wire netting enclosure, were constructed in 1938. The old netting baths were then dismantled. The shoreline at this time was a lot closer to the pool than it is now and the pool effectively trapped water on the sloping shore for a permanent swimming area. Younger children could paddle in the water on the sloping side of the Baths whilst others could swim in the deeper areas of the Baths.

However, the baths soon filled with sand. During the Second World War a large army training camp was located at the Motueka Beach, and for explosive practice the army blew up the land end of the Baths wings. It was hoped that this would allow the sea to flush out some of the sand that was accumulating in the Baths; unfortunately this was not a success. On 27th March 1948 there was a massive storm, which caused a lot of damage to the Baths area. The pine plantation, which families had often camped in, was mostly destroyed with only a few trees remaining, and the beach was littered with flood rubbish. Soon after the band rotunda was demolished, Lyla Drummond of Motueka, born in 1917, grew up with the Baths and recalls that “when I saw the rotunda had gone I felt half my life had gone with it.

1950s upgrade of the Baths

In 1952 a large working bee built a fourth wall on the shore side of the Baths, thus creating a fully enclosed swimming area. A galvanised handrail was added to the walls of the Baths, and concrete walls were added to the walkways at the north and south ends, a concrete diving slab and diving board were also added. Changing sheds donated from the Richmond Bowling Club were installed at the Motueka Beach Domain.

1992-1993 rejuvenation projects

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Motueka Borough Council and Waimea County Council were considering the practicalities of upgrading the baths, which were described by Motueka Borough Council Town Clerk in 1981 as being 'somewhat unsightly and perhaps unsound, but well used'. However, nothing progressed and by 1990 the Tasman District Council was ready to demolish the deteriorated Saltwater Baths.

The Motueka Beach Baths Committee was formed by a group of volunteers who wanted to protect and upgrade the Baths, so that they would once again be used as a popular swimming and recreational spot. The groups steering committee was comprised of Nigel Duff, a carpenter with experience in swimming pool construction, Bruce Dickinson, a retired civil servant, and Bob Cooke, a local businessman and engineer. In 1992 the steering committee led a group of around 30 volunteers, mainly retired or unemployed, in the initial phase of the rejuvenation of the Baths.

The first phase of the rejuvenation project included the removal and replacement of the walls original capping, and local woodcarver Clive Buckingham carved a marine motif on the boxing used to form the new capping, providing an interesting and attractive pool feature. A shallow paddling pool was built, with 30 cubic metres of fill used to form the base of the shallow end, and a concrete floor was poured for the whole Baths. The old drainage system was removed, a new hole cut and concrete structures built with a system of three gates to allow pool water refreshment at less than high tide, as well as drainage. The Motueka Beach Baths Committee noted that a striking feature of the rejuvenation project was the generous donations by businesses of machinery and workers, and the many hours put in by the team of volunteers who worked on the project. The volunteer work and business donations not only substantially reduced the costs to the community of upgrading the Baths, but also engendered a sense of community spirit and pride.

Before Christmas 1992, the marine treated wooden decking surrounding the pools was constructed to allow an area to sit and sunbath, also a fence separating the paddling pool from the main pool was completed to protect toddlers. Part of the stainless steel pipe handrail was installed, and a temporary safety sign was erected. In 1993 the decking and boardwalk leading to the Baths were completed, allowing wheelchair access, the rest of the handrails were also added. It was decided that the beachside decking should not have one side carried by, and fastened to, the Baths wall; instead a row of marine treated poles was set into the sand for this purpose. Self-closing, self-latching gates were added at both ends of the Baths to control access, and a coldwater shower rinse was also set up. The enthusiastic response from the public was such that it inspired the steering committee to consider further work on the project and in July 1993 the Tasman District Council Community Services Committee approved a second set of proposals that added to the original the demolition of the existing changing sheds, and the addition of a new changing shed and toilet block, an enlarged and sealed car park, and landscaping of the domain area.

The Keep Motueka Beautiful Committee, who were responsible for the Motueka Walkway, which includes the Beach Domain area, arranged for a cleanup to tidy and beautify the domain. The Motueka Beach Domain had been one of the favourite picnic and swimming spots in Motueka, and even though the Baths were only partly refurbished by the 1992-1993 summer the area had begun to regain its popularity. The final works, including the building of a new changing sheds block, and a tidy up of the beach were completed in late 1993 in time for an official opening on 11th of December. The Baths had a final price tag of around $53,000, paid for by the Tasman District Council and Motueka community.

2003 Upgrade

In November 2003 the Baths were closed and again faced demolition after the Tasman District Council decided new health and safety regulations made them too difficult to maintain, of particular note were the high bacteria levels in the water of the Baths, and the fact that the Baths were not patrolled by life guards. This decision was followed by a public outcry, and a petition was organised by Jacqui Marris-Rood to save the Baths. The petition gained 1036 signatures in just one week. As well as the petition, a letter was sent to the Holmes show, a current affairs television programme on channel One, and on Monday 10th November 2003 the Holmes show came to Motueka to do a story on the Saltwater Baths. Volunteers also organised a working bee to clean the Baths in order to show their support.

In the face of growing public opposition, the Tasman District Council decided at a full council meeting on 27th November 2003 to keep the Saltwater Baths open, and to look at ways of improving the water quality in the Baths. The Council debated the degree to which the pools were a possible health risk, and it was noted that the water in the Baths had exceeded safe bacteria counts only once in the 11 tests the last summer, and that the beaches at Kaiteriteri, Pohara, Marahau, and Mapua had all failed the bacteria counts on the same day. On the 24th of December 2003, a hand-operated trapdoor-like valve, designed by Baths volunteer Bob Cooke, was installed to allow a more regular tidal flow in and out of the pool. In addition, the Baths floor has been kept clean by using chloride and lime, and by spraying the walls with Hypostat 135, and according to the Tasman District Council, this has had good results. The Council is considering assessing whether the Baths should be treated differently to chlorinated swimming pools, as are the Saltwater Baths on Rangitoto Island in Auckland. The saltwater pool located on Rangitoto Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf is managed by the Department of Conservation, and it is viewed as part of the foreshore. The Rangitoto pool is recognised as historically significant, and it is part of an Historic Area registered under the Historic Places Act, it is also scheduled for protection in the Auckland Regional Plan: Coastal.

Physical Description

Coming off the road there is a car park with a toilet and changing sheds block to the right. A wooden boardwalk leads from the beach to the 30.5m x 10.8m concrete Baths. The longer length of the Baths runs along the shoreward and seaward sides of the Baths. A shallower paddling pool is located at the left end of the Baths. A wooden deck with a wooden fence runs along all but the seaward wall of the Baths. The Baths are currently in good condition after maintenance work was completed in 2003.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1938 -

1940 - 1950
Part of the wings running up the beach were demolished in the hope that it would stop erosion and help to flush sand build up out of the baths.

1952 -
A working bee constructed a fourth wall on the shoreward side of the Baths, thus creating a fully enclosed swimming area.

1992 -
Floor of the Baths concreted; toddler's paddling pool constructed to side; decking and handrails installed.

1993 -
General repairs; construction of new changing facilities

2003 -
Restoration; hand operated valve system installed to regulate tidal flow

Construction Details

The 30.5m x 10.8m Baths are made from concrete form caste, with stainless steel bolts. The basic structure is capped with formed concrete, which is reinforced with stirrups and tied to horizontal rods, the floor of the Baths is also concrete. The decking area is constructed out of H5 treated wood, with a galvanised steel handrail running around the Baths. The decking is attached to the concrete walls, except on the shoreward wall where the decking is instead attached to marine treated poles, which are driven into the sand. A hand-operated trapdoor-like valve allows for the regular refreshment of the water in the Baths.

Completion Date

11th February 2005

Report Written By

R. McClean / P. Laurenson

Information Sources

Barnett , 1993

S Barnett and R Wolfe, 'At the Beach: The Great New Zealand Holiday', Auckland, 1993.

Browning, 1937

E Browning, 'Health and Fitness', London, 1937.

Coney, 1993

Sandra Coney, 'Standing in the Sunshine: A History of New Zealand Women Since they Won the Vote', Auckland, 1993

Pointon, 1984

D Pointon, 'A dip in the clear, blue water: A history of Auckland swimming baths and pools', Auckland, 1984.

Sunlight League, 1934

Sunlight League of New Zealand Inc, 'Sunlight League of New Zealand', Christchurch, 1934.

Other Information

Recreation Reserve: NZ Gazette 1965, p.385 (Nelson Land District)

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.