Blue Baths

Queens Drive, Government Gardens, Rotorua

  • Blue Baths, Government Gardens, Rotorua. CC BY-SA 4.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Krzysztof Golik - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Krzysztof Golik. Date: 28/11/2017.
  • Blue Baths, Government Gardens, Rotorua. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Taken By: Vanish Kumar.
  • Blue Baths, Government Gardens, Rotorua. Image courtesy of -
    Copyright: geoff-inOz. Taken By: geoff-inOz. Date: 1/11/2009.
  • Blue Baths, Government Gardens, Rotorua. Aerial photograph taken by Whites Aviation May 1947 includes Government Gardens, The Bath House (Rotorua Museum) and thermal area. Ref: WA-07524-G .
    Copyright: No Known Copyright Restrictions.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 5394 Date Entered 25th June 1992 Date of Effect 25th June 1992


City/District Council

Rotorua District


Bay of Plenty Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 3 DPS 15998 (RT SA34C/324) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p.2272), South Auckland Land District

Location description

Enter through Queens Drive; the Blue Baths are located beyond the bowling greens on the right past the Bath House.


The following text was prepared as part of an upgrade project and was completed 16 Dec 2001:

The Blue Baths building at Rotorua is a rare example of a Spanish Mission-style bath house, which manifests important changes in attitudes towards health and recreation in the early twentieth century. Fully opened in 1933, the baths were constructed by the Department of Tourism and Health Resorts, as part of a renewed government attempt to promote Rotorua as a geothermal spa of national and international renown. The government had founded Rotorua in the 1880s to encourage the development of tourism in the region. Initially attracting wealthy visitors for medical treatment, the town modified its appeal in the 1920s due to changing approaches towards health care and greater access to transport and leisure by broader sections of the population, particularly in New Zealand. With a greater emphasis placed on more vigorous activity and 'democratic' forms of recreation such as swimming, the Blue Baths building was commissioned. The structure replaced a nearby earlier - and smaller - Blue Baths building, originally erected in 1885. In the political context, it was constructed after the election of Joseph Ward (1856-1930) as Prime Minister in 1928. Ward had been largely responsible for creating the Department of Tourism and Health Resorts in 1901, and had opened the adjacent Bath House in Government Gardens during his first term as premier.

The baths consisted of two large geothermal pools in enclosed courtyards - one each for juveniles and adults - with a two-storey entrance foyer and tearooms at the front. In contrast to the segregated bathing that had occurred previously, they allowed mixed swimming for men and women and included other activities such as diving. Designed by the government architect J.T. Mair, the visual appearance of the building alluded to exotic pleasures as well as democratic modernity through the use of a Spanish Mission style and elements of Moderne architecture. Its break with tradition was underlined through its contrast with the nearby timber-framed Bath House, and by incorporating radical new elements such as arc lamps and underwater lighting. With family activity encouraged, the baths saw a number of social and sporting events, including Christmas carnivals and swimming championships. Local schools frequently used the facilities, with many people learning how to swim there. Initially extremely popular, the baths were in decline by 1955, when positive attitudes towards geothermal bathing had reversed and the pools filled with standard water in response to fears about health. The baths were eventually closed in 1982, and lay empty until being refurbished with modifications in 1999-2000.

The Blue Baths building is nationally and internationally significant for its associations with the history of tourism, and for its rarity as a building type. The building is unique as a Spanish Mission-style geothermal baths in New Zealand, and highly unusual in an international context. The structure has considerable value for its associations with government involvement in leisure and health, and demonstrates important changes in the development of the spa concept. The building is extremely valuable for its well-preserved nature, embodying changing social attitudes to class, gender relations and family life, as well as 'active leisure' and sport. The building is associated with prominent personalities, including Joseph Ward and J.T. Mair. Its design is significant for reflecting a move in public buildings from British architectural models to those incorporating American and international influences, itself part of a broader cultural shift. It also incorporates Maori influences, such as in a carved face above its main door, which was one of the first times the Crown made reference to Maori in the design of a public building. The building enjoys considerable public esteem as a prominent and aesthetic landmark, located in a public park. It is important as part of a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century landscape and registered historic area - the Government Gardens - which includes associated structures, buried archaeological remains, historic plantings and geothermal features. It is of particular value for its proximity to the Bath House - constructed earlier in the twentieth century - demonstrating changing attitudes to tourism and health, and their relationship to architecture over a comparatively short space of time.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

The Blue Baths represent an era of luxury, emulating the European fashion of bathing in mineral waters for health and relaxation.

Socially the baths represent the changed attitudes of the late 1920s towards public behaviour and acceptability. The baths allowed for mixed bathing, and presented bathing as a sophisticated social activity.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


The Blue Baths are a fine example of 1930s architecture, drawing on Mediterranean influences fashionable when teh building was designed.

The impressive main facade, of symmetrical design, presents an imposing appearance and the building is an important feature of the Rotorua Government Gardens.

The interior courts with pools present an elegant environment for bathing.


The Blue Baths form a major focal point of the Government Gardens Conservation area, and provides an elegant stately backdrop to the gardens.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mair, John Thomas

John Thomas Mair (1876-1959) was born in Invercargill and began his career with the New Zealand Railways on the staff of the Office Engineer, George Troup. In 1906 he travelled to the United States of America where he studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He then worked in the office of George B. Post in New York before travelling to England where he was admitted as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He became a Fellow in 1940.

On his return to New Zealand he entered private practice, one of his first buildings being the Presbyterian First Church, Invercargill (1915), a prominent building of Romanesque character. He then practised in Wellington, carrying out largely domestic commissions.

In 1918 he was appointed Inspector of Military Hospitals by the Defence Department, and in 1920 he became architect to the Department of Education. Following the retirement of John Campbell in 1922, Mair was appointed Government Architect, a position which he held until his retirement in 1942. During this period he was responsible for a variety of buildings, including the Courthouse, Hamilton, the Post Office in High Street, Christchurch, Government Life Office and the Departmental Building, both in Wellington, and the Jean Batten Building, Auckland. Such buildings show a departure from tradition, with the emphasis on function, structure and volume as opposed to a stylistic treatment of the building fabric.

A Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, Mair was made a Life Member in 1942. His son John Lindsay Mair also practised as an architect.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


The present Blue Baths building replaced a wooden structure demolished in 1930. The 'Juvenile' part of the baths was opened in late 1932, the main was completed by 1934.

The baths represent the last phase of facilities developed at the Government Gardens by the Tourism Department. Rotorua was New Zealand's main tourist town last century, and the town's popularity continued into the early part of this century. This popularity was based on Rotorua's attraction as a spa and health resort, emulating fashionable European resorts of the time.

The Government Gardens were built to enable visitors to enjoy the novel geothermal activity, and to be able to partake in bathing in the mineral waters. The first Government Bath House was opened in the gardens in 1882. Over time many structures, and the gardens themselves were laid out and constructed on top of the sulphur wasteland.

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


The Blue Baths were built in the "Italian Renaissance" style. The coat of arms and entry gives a Georgian feeling to the structure. The Blue Baths were constructed in three phases: The Juvenile Bath, the Main Bath, and No.3 Block (the entrance, lounge, and tea-house). The building is T-shaped in plan.

The Blue Baths are constructed of reinforced concrete with a float type foundation. The foundation was designed to ensure even distribution of weight across the site, provide ample ventilation, allow access to surface drains, and maintenance of large electric lights that illuminate the Main Pool from below the water level. The Juvenile Pool includes an overflow at the bottom instead of the top to ensure an even temperature through removal of the cooler water from the bottom. The pools are both open. The other pool facilities (dressing rooms, tea-rooms etc) have roofs clad with marseille tiles. The spouting and down pipes are cast iron. The exterior facades of the building are buff in colour with terracotta coloured dentil pattern frieze. Individual evaluations are as follows:

South Facade - Entry:

The main entry is central, projects slightly, has a broken pediment scrolls and coat of arms set on pilasters. The entry is round arched with a keystone. The keystone is a Maori figurative face. The doors are paired and have five lights each. Access to the entry is by a set of semi-circular steps leading to an open verandah with ornamental concrete posts and lamp posts at the top of the stairs. On either side of the main entry are two sets of five light doors. The first floor facade of the entry features two five light doors with two light transom above the entry. A small balcony with two sets of five light doors with fan lights are set above the ground floor door sets.

The wings of the front facade are recessed and include a small two floor wing and a single floor wing on either side of the main entry-block. The two floor wing has a round arched head and is fitted with a rectangular window with four lights. Above is a window opening with ventilation louvres. The single story wing has six floor to ceiling round arched recessed panels with fan lights. (These openings were probably never fitted with windows since they would open onto dressing rooms.) The west wing has an entry in the central opening.

The east and west facades of Main Pool/Building No.3 are single story. Twelve recessed floor to ceiling rounded circular panels with fan lights are located in the centre of the wall. Three window openings are located on either end of the facade.

East and West Facades of Juvenile Pool:

The east and west elevations have rectangular window openings in the upper portion of the wall. These are covered over. The west facade has two door opening which are covered over and pumping equipment outside.

Rear Facade (North Elevation):

The rear elevation features a semi-projecting wall. The wall features plain pilasters in pairs bearing beams which are supported by internal columns. These form a pergola. Multi-paned lattice is set in the upper portion of the wall. Translucent coloured panels of rippled clearlite plastic. (Note: There is no frieze, since the wall is open on top.)


One of the special features of the interior is the use of columns between the two pools and at the rear of the baths. At the south end of the Juvenile Pool was a semi-circular pergola fitted with columns and benches. Four paired Tuscan columns (total eight) with fluted bases support a verandah with a colonnade that faced the Main Bath inscribed with "Warariki Wai-ora" - Health Giving Water.

The interior finish is known as "Textured Plaster" (designed to give the appearance of old concrete). The interior walls of the rooms originally had a white cement finish except the walls of conveniences, which are tiled to 3ft 6ins. All the floors, except for those of the conveniences, which are corrugated vitreous tiles, are grained plaster finish corrugated to prevent slipping. The pools are finished in "Stourbridge" glazed fireclay bricks and tiles.

The east side of the dressing accommodation is set aside for men, the west side for women. Half the available space has been partitioned into cubicles, while the other half is open dressing room. There are forty-eight cubicles on each side. Showers, hat and coat hooks, seats and floor grating form the interior furnishings. The wings also include toilet rooms and attendants rooms.

Tea-Rooms/No.3 Block - The floor space of this block is 85ft x 33ft. The block contains a terrace, lounge and office, kitchen, servery, and store, with concrete stairway at one end leading from kitchen to servery upstairs and terrazzo marble staircase at the other end for public access to tea-rooms. The floor covers an area of 73ft by 30ft and contains a large tea-room, servery, and store. The tea-room is 15ft 6ins high from ceiling to floor, having ten pairs of large plate-glass easement doors, with circular fanlights above, ceiling being panelled with masonite with totara trim and beams, walls stippled cream plaster throughout, and floors of cork tiles.

A 12ft wide terrace with 3ft high parapet is located above the dressing cubicles/conveniences. It is accessed by concrete stairways on either end of the Main Pool. The tea-rooms can be accessed from the terrace. A special diving platform and boards were provided on the east balcony to meet the requirements of the NZ Swimming Council (since dismantled).

(Note: The Blue Baths as proposed in 1929 were to contain two swimming pools, two small pools, and thirty-three private baths. [Rotorua Chronicle 20/11/1929])


Date unknown - removal of diving platform and diving boards from east verandah of Main Pool.

c.1960 Translucent "clearlite" panels added to lattice at rear of Juvenile Pool

Notable Features

Registration covers the structure, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. The structure is associated with buried archaeological deposits linked to the development of the Government Gardens.

Construction Dates

1880 -
Site of Sanatorium Grounds

Site of plant propagation nursery

Original Construction
1931 - 1933
Construction of Blue Baths in three stages

1934 - 1935
Modifications, including insertion of heating

1999 - 2000
Alterations during conservation work, including conversion of adult pool to an open courtyard

Construction Details

Reinforced concrete with a float type foundation

Marseille tiles on roof

Pools finished in 'Stourbridge' glazed fireclay bricks and tiles

Marble staircase

Completion Date

16th December 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Rockel, 1986

Ian Rockel, Taking the Waters: Early Spas in New Zealand, Wellington, 1986

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Laura Kellaway, Steven Green and Philip Andrews, 'Conservation Plan for Blue Baths, Rotorua', (ed.) Warwick Kellaway, Five Plus One Architects Ltd, Hamilton, 1996 (copy held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.