No 7 Bath House

Whitaker Street, Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain, Te Aroha

  • No. 7 Bath House. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: ngairenaran. Taken By: ngairenaran. Date: 13/05/2010.
  • No.7 Bath House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 763 Date Entered 11th December 2003 Date of Effect 11th December 2003


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the structure, its footings and the ground beneath its footprint. It includes all fixtures and finishes.

City/District Council

Matamata-Piako District


Waikato Region

Legal description

Sec 16 Blk IX Aroha SD (Recreation Reserve NZ Gazette 1882 p.1860)


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Hot Springs Domain at Te Aroha was the most popular geothermal resort in New Zealand. The Domain was initially established as a reserve in 1881, incorporating an area of 9.1 hectares (20 acres) on the lower slopes of Mount Te Aroha. The many hot springs in this area lay within the traditional territory of Ngati Rahiri, a hapu of Ngati Maru of Hauraki, and had long been frequented by Maori for their perceived healing qualities. By the late 1870s the site had become a popular destination for Pakeha visitors, with tourist numbers increasing after the discovery of gold on Mount Te Aroha in 1880 and the development of Te Aroha township as a mining settlement. The Domain was acquired by the government soon after the passing of the 1881 Thermal Springs District Act, with local Maori - who had played an instrumental role in initially promoting the resort - retaining the right of free access to the waters. The 1881 Act had been introduced to promote Crown ownership of New Zealand's thermal resources, partly in response to their increasing purchase and commercial exploitation by private entrepreneurs.

The earliest permanent buildings in the Domain were erected soon after the reserve was brought under the Public Domains Act in 1882, and were overseen by the Te Aroha Hot Springs Board. By 1887, there were seven bath houses and a drinking fountain, with extensive grounds laid out to plans drawn up by Henry Crump, a local engineer and architect. Government money largely financed the development of the facilities, as well as the establishment of a railway from Auckland in 1886. As the centrepiece of the now-burgeoning town of Te Aroha, the spa became the first geothermal resort in the country to receive thousands of visitors on an annual basis. People came to bathe or ingest its waters for health reasons, but also to promenade, listen to music or play genteel forms of sport such as tennis, croquet and bowls. Spas had important associations in nineteenth-century European society as places where the well-to-do could relax and congregate in refined and beautiful surroundings.

Although the health and leisure aspects of the reserve were heavily promoted when it was taken over by the Department of Tourism and Health Resorts in 1903, the facilities went into a slow decline after government funding and visitor attention were steadily drawn to Rotorua. The Domain nevertheless remained an extremely popular destination until after the First World War (1914-1918), and continued in a reduced capacity as a spa thereafter. Following closure of many of its facilities in the 1950s and 1960s, the Domain was transferred to the control of the local council (now Matamata-Piako District Council) in 1979, while formally remaining in Crown ownership.

The No.7 Bath House appears to have been built in 1886, and is just slightly younger than the earliest remaining bath house in the Domain - the No.2 Bath House. When the Ngati Rahiri leader, Mokena Hou (or Hau) transferred the Domain area to the government in the early 1880s, he specified that local iwi reserve the right to use the Domain waters. It is most likely that the No.7 Bath House was constructed to fulfill this requirement, and it stands as a significant marker of the relationship between Maori and Pakeha during this period. The Bath House is the only remaining building of a large group of structures in this part of the Domain that once included the No. 3 Bath House, a laundry, a fernery and a cold swimming pool.

The development of a bath for Maori was first mentioned in May 1885, in the same month that King Tawhiao (?-1894) and his entourage bathed in the Domain. By the middle of the following year the Domain Board had allocated £55 for the construction of a bath house 'for the use of the Maori', although no subsidy was available for a medical officer to attend to them, reportedly due to the small number of indigenous bathers. The present structure was evidently erected after June 1886 and was located close to the No.3 Bath House, whose function changed at this time from a women-only facility to a general sanatorium for invalids. These arrangements can be seen to reflect prevailing attitudes about race in relation to both gender and infirmity. The proximity of Maori bathing to medical treatment was reinforced when the No.7 Bath House was modified or extended in the early 1890s to accommodate a Sulphur Bath in its southern half. The bath was located in a separate room with its own access, and was fed from the No.16 spring. Sulphurous water was initially considered beneficial for people suffering from skin complaints, although the Government Balneologist from 1902, Dr Arthur Wohlmann, stated that it might be reserved for venereal diseases only. A porcelain tub was subsequently installed in the Sulphur Bath, although facilities for Maori consisted of a timber bath until at least 1921.

Later modifications included the addition of a lean-to on the eastern side of the structure prior to the 1940s, and in 1960 £300 was granted to restore the building, which was run-down and had been vandalised, presumably partly because of under-use. The building ceased to be utilised altogether for an extended period from 1988, when its water supply from the Mokena geyser was disrupted. The structure has recently been restored for bathing purposes after consultation with iwi, involving significant replacement of damaged timber and the removal of other historic fabric. The baths currently contain facilities for showering and immersion, while the lean-to is used for storage.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building has high historical significance as it reflects previous Maori control of the land, ongoing use of the spa waters by Maori, and perspectives on race and infirmity in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. It is also closely associated with the history of medical treatment in New Zealand.

The No.7 Bath House has aesthetic significance for its visual aspect and contribution to the Picturesque appearance of the Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain. It has architectural value as an early surviving bath house in New Zealand, and one of only two linked to the 1880s development of the Te Aroha spa.

The No.7 Bath House reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand history, notably Pakeha attitudes to race and infirmity, and the relationship between Maori and the development of nineteenth-century spas.

Centrally located in a public park and tourist destination, it has the potential for public education on these and other issues.

The building has rarity value as probably the only remaining Victorian or Edwardian bath house in the country which is specifically linked for use by Maori.

It is part of an important cultural and historical landscape at the Hot Springs Domain, which is considered to be the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian spa in New Zealand.

This landscape has been recognised in the Domain's registration by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust /Pouhere Taonga as a Historic Area (#7012).


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The No.7 Bath House is located in the western part of the Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain, between the Cadman Bath House to the north and the former Tea House to the south. It sits at the foot of a steep slope, where several springs exit the ground. Several other buildings were once located in the immediate vicinity, including the No.3 Bath House and a laundry. The only survivor of these is a concrete structure - possibly used as a water reservoir and then as a glasshouse - which lies immediately to the east of the current bath house.

The No.7 Bath House is a small rectangular structure built mostly of timber, with a lean-to against its eastern wall. Its main northern and southern walls are both gabled, bearing a steep-pitched roof with minimal eaves. The roof is clad with corrugated iron although early photographs show that it was originally covered with timber shingles. Decorative fretwork bargeboards at each gable end are to a standard design, illustrated in the Kauri Timber Company Catalogue as No.114, and are accompanied by finials and timber vents. It has a more ornamental appearance than the other surviving 1880s bath house in the Domain, the No.2 Baths.

The timber frame of the structure is externally clad with bevel-backed weatherboards, some of which have been circular-sawn. The corners are finished with the boards butting against a solid vertical block, which is a typical detail of early timber construction in New Zealand, although many of the weatherboards have been recently replaced. The building sits on a concrete base, which supplanted an earlier timber floor during extensive conservation work carried out in 1998. The lean-to - also largely rebuilt at this time - is clad with horizontal weatherboards.

Internally the Bath House contains two rooms of roughly equal size, each of which having an external door. These spaces were entirely separate until a connecting door was added through the timber partition in 1998. The southern room - which previously housed the Sulphur Bath - is lit by a single window in its western elevation and contains a modern timber tub. The northern room - historically reserved for use by Maori - houses a shower and is similarly lit. Both spaces contain simple vents in their ceilings, which allow vapour and fumes to escape. A third room in the attached lean-to is accessed separately through a door in its eastern wall and has a pivot-window in its northern elevation. This replaced an original window of different proportions in 1998.

The building lies close to the potential remains of the demolished No.3 Bath House and other nineteenth-century structures. Other archaeological elements may also survive below ground level in the immediate vicinity, including the remains of sumps and other evidence of water supply.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1886 -
Original construction

1891 -
Modification or rebuilding to incorporate Sulphur Bath

Lean-to added

1998 -
Connecting door added through the timber partition in the Bath House

Construction Details

Timber frame with weatherboards, concrete floor and footings, and a corrugated iron roof

Completion Date

15th July 2004

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Mackay, 1993

Jamie Mackay, 'The Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain Conservation Area, Te Aroha, New Zealand', NZHPT report, Wellington, 1993.

Rockel, 1986

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

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Antony Matthews, 'Te Aroha Domain Conservation Plan', Auckland, 1997.

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northern 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.