For more than a century, people have been flocking to the natural mineral waters that now makes up Taupō DeBretts Hot Springs. These healing waters are sourced from the picturesque Onekeneke valley, a favourite bathing spot among early Maori inhabitants.
This unique thermal valley was originally formed during the Taupo eruption of AD 186, and was later destroyed in the 1931 Napier earthquake.
In his 1986 book Taking the waters – Early Spas in New Zealand, Ian Rockel indicated that ‘since the Armed Constabulary moved into the Taupō area in the mid nineteenth century, the bathing spot had been extensively upgraded to become a favourite spot for tens of thousands of visitors’.
Today a “revitalized” Taupō DeBretts Spa Resort is nestled within an acreage of stunning native bush and natural historic geothermal features.
Mirela Petrar, who manages the resort told AMG that “guests consider DeBretts ‘a real family resort’. The resort boasts a day spa, two thermal outdoor pools, 12 private pools, fresh water pools, a children’s warm water playground with a giant dragon hydro-slide and two newer enclosed racing slides.
Guests might feel somewhat giddy at the range of family-friendly options. The resort boasts a day spa, two thermal outdoor pools, 12 private pools, fresh water pools, a children’s warm water playground with a giant dragon hydro-slide and two newer enclosed racing slides.
A recent focus has been to extend the guest experience into the evening, by installing LED lights with low energy consumption throughout the property. “This magical experience gives guests an ‘after-dark wow factor’ to enjoy”, Ms Petrar explained.
Driven by their placement within “natural New Zealand”, the resort has focussed its attention, with great success, on creating an experience enshrined in the natural beauty of Great Lake Taupō, and now they are also concerned with caring for the land or ‘whenua’ itself.
Taupō DeBretts has achieved the Qualmark Enviro Award Gold and continues to implement innovative ways to work with its environment, ranging in complexity from worm farms to harnessing geothermal energy. “We work at reducing our eco footprint without compromising on the quality of user experience” Ms Petrar added. It just takes a little ingenuity.
A natural wonder
Naturally enriched hot mineral waters have been bubbling from the earth at this historically significant site for thousands of years – favoured by locals, and travellers coming from afar to ‘take the waters’ for their therapeutic benefits. Since 1958, DeBretts has utilised the natural thermal springs. Developments have continued over the years, adding extra elements and features to the mineral pools.
To access this extraordinary feature of hot artesian water, a new deep geothermal bore was installed. This development allowed DeBretts to access heat from the ground, but cooling measures needed to be undertaken to make it suitable for bathing. Traditionally, this had been achieved by ‘flashing’ into the air, but management wanted to find a more environmentally responsible solution.
Harnessing geothermal energy
The resort installed three double-sided titanium plate heat exchangers to allow heat transfer of geothermal water supply for;
- Water heating transferred through 2.5 km of underground piping to over 80 convection radiators throughout the accommodation complex
- Underfloor heating for the pools and holiday park complex, changing and bathroom facilities
- Hot water for two commercial laundry units
- Hot water for 64 percent of the accommodation, showers, main reception and office facilities
- Consistent bathing temperature in the geothermally heated fresh-water pools, outdoor spas, hot water playground, and three hydroslides
- Work projects continue to further expand heating reticulation to remaining accommodation and holiday park facilities
- The introduction of solar power, combined with geothermal energy, to be totally self-sustainable in some areas of the business is planned for 2017
Two years ago, as part of a focus on environmental sustainability, an innovative joint venture with Hilton Lake Taupo was commissioned and designed to better utilise the geothermal resource.
The enhanced system has provided heating water to the neighbouring hotel’s 100 rooms and apartments, restaurants, spa facilities, gymnasium and conference centre. After the heat has been extracted at the Hilton Lake Taupō, the cooler water is returned to DeBretts at a usable 50 degrees Celsius.
Through this system, the Hilton Lake Taupō can utilise the alternative source to provide a portion of their considerable requirement for gas and electrical heating (including water heating). The natural geothermal energy in the area has provided significant efficiency for both businesses for reticulation of electricity and gas heating.
Owners Barry and Carol Kirkland purchased the somewhat dilapidated old bathhouse 29 years ago. According to Ms Petrar, “from modest beginnings in 1987, a couple with a heart for growth in the industry pursued some big dreams”. In May 2017, DeBretts will celebrate their 30-year anniversary and Ms Petrar said the owners and managers are grateful to everyone who has contributed to its success over the years.