Our history

Pre-European History

Te Aroha is famous for having the world’s only hot soda water geyser, Mokena, and associated springs. Prior to the European colonisation of the area, it was a place highly valued by the local Maori, not only for the waters but for its spiritual significance, as they do today. They would soak in the hot waters to obtain relief from aches and pains as well as allowing the soothing waters to bring freedom of movement from battle-weary or injured limbs and muscles.

It was always considered a sacred place by Maori and is said to have been named "Mamoe Kahumata Te Aroha, The Great Love of Kahumata Mamoe", by the son of a Bay of Islands chief, who being lost, climbed the heights and on reaching the top was able to look across to his homeland, that he saw way off in the distance.

Today it is known as the ‘Mountain of Love’. Most appropriately so, as it was where young Maori lovers would come to have their unions blessed in one of the springs rising from the base of the sacred mountain called the Mirror of Kahu-mata-te-mamoe.

Maori also soaked in the waters for sheer enjoyment, of course, and generously introduced the European settlers to the benefits of the enjoyable and healing hot water springs of Te Aroha.

The Cadman Bath House

The daughter of local chief Te Mokena Hou, Ema (shown above) married settler George Lipsey. In the late 1870's Te Mokena Hou and the Lipseys generously gifted land to the government which was to become the
Te Aroha Domain.

In the late 1800's locals could see the potential of developing the 22 springs to take advantage of the growing interest in Europe of the curative qualities of spas.

It was not long before a series of bath houses began to appear in a more formal structure than the makeshift baths that had been sunk into the existing mineral pools.

Thus a burgeoning spa industry was established. The Edwardian bath houses tended to be used for specific needs, such as No 1 principally for women, No 4 for children and No 7 which was set aside as a Maori bath house.

In 1898 the government made its first major commitment to creating a genuine spa industry in New Zealand when the centre piece Cadman Bath House was opened by the Honorable Alfred Cadman MP, Minister for Railways and Mines.

The Museum is fortunate to call the Cadman Bath House its home.

Modern Day Revival

In 1903 the organisation running the Domain passed its management to the Department of Tourism and Health Resorts. With the appointment by government of New Zealand’s first balneologist, Dr Arthur Wohlmann, and the growing hydropathic industry, Te Aroha became the place to be.

Treatments included: electro-therapeutic galvanism; faradism; ionisation; diathermy; Violet Ray treatment; mechanised massage; and Rheostat treatment machines.

Staff included doctors, masseurs, masseuses, attendants and laundry maids, there was also a ticket office which was staffed.

The Domain offered tennis, croquet, gentle walks and the Oertel treatment included a walk up Mt Te Aroha to "Bald Spur".

The spa industry hey day eventually passed but Te Aroha still offers a wonderful spa facility on the site of the No 2 bath house, its unique geyser, several original bath house buildings, its mountain walks and, of course, the Cadman Bath House itself.

The beautiful heritage nature of Te Aroha and its splendid Domain still offer a glimpse into the past fashion of "taking the waters". The Museum has a full and interesting history of the spa days of Te Aroha.