The pleasure of swimming in peace in wild settings could be one of the most human exercises we can undertake. For those of you in New Zealand, you are in a country offering ultimate outdoor therapy. As well as boasting glorious beaches, New Zealand is a patchwork of rivers, waterholes and lakes that are perfect to take a dip or dive in.
We’ve picked eight of the Land of the Long White Cloud’s best wild swimming spots for you to take the plunge in.
1. Lake Mackenzie, Fiordland National Park
Lake Mackenzie’s emerald body of water is surrounded by an alpine circle, where snow-kissed mountains round off a breathtaking scene.
Located in the South Island's Fiordland National Park (the same region where the famed Milford Sound is), the lake is one of the country's most naturally opulent areas. The shore hosts campgrounds and huts, for those who want to take things in for a little while longer.
Getting there: Lake Mackenzie is a little tricky to reach, but is one to make hikers happy. The lake is a highlight along the Routeburn Track – one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks. Lake Mackenzie itself is about a 4-6 hour walk from the Divide, Milford Road (reached via Te Anau).
2. Kerosene Creek, Rotorua
Free hot pools? They’re a dream for most travellers, a luxury that many countries envy and others often charge to access. Rotorua holds some of New Zealand's most renowned, including this sensational spot. Kerosene Creek is where geothermal energy heats what would otherwise be a cold creek, ideal for bathing and rejuvenating. Sit back and relax, with the view of a petite 2m waterfall and a backdrop of the North Island bush.
Getting there: Kerosene Creek is 57km north of Taupo and 28km south of Rotorua on State Highway 5. Keep your eye out for the turnoff at Old Waiotapu Road. The end reveals a grassed area where vehicles can park. A word of warning, this area is known for theft. Keep valuables well hidden or take them with you.
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3. Pori Pori, Lower Kaimai
The Bay of Plenty is aptly named. Most thoughts of the abundant region will dart from the golden beaches of Whakatane, to the majestic seaside icon that is Mt Maunganui. Few know that turning away from the coast reveals one of the best-kept secrets in the bay, just outside of charming Tauranga.
Pori Pori is a waterhole surrounded by tall rock formations and a lush forest bursting with ferns. Visitors can sit in the naturally occurring, almost perfectly human-sized bath holes. Otherwise, do what many of the locals do and ‘pop a manu’ – slang for a water bomb.
Getting there: Pori Pori is found just off State Highway 29 on Poripori Road. Know that the first glimpse of water is not the swimming spot itself. Cross the elevated section of the Wairoa River and trace other people’s footsteps through the blackberry shrubs and native grass known as toi toi. Here, the river breaks out into a deep pool you can plunge into.
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4. Spa Park Hot Pools, Taupo
This iconic locale is found near the start of the mighty Waikato River – the longest river in New Zealand. Follow the locals' footprints to where geothermal hot springs burst out of the bush and trickle into the river.
Hang closer to the springs for hotter water. If you can’t "handle the jandal" as the Kiwis would say, quench off back into the cooler river waters. The pools’ surroundings have also been built up a little recently. There is a new bridge, walkway, and even changing rooms.
Getting there: the pools are a mere 10-minute drive from Taupo's city centre, just off Spa Road.
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5. Hot Water Beach (no, not that one!), Lake Tarawera
The Coromandel Peninsula’s Hot Water Beach draws much attention, but that’s not the only hot water beach worth checking out. Nestled in a secluded bay of Lake Tarawera is the little-known Hot Water Beach campsite.
Dig your own hole in the lakeside sand to bathe in, or take a short (signposted) walk away from the lake to find a piping hot natural spa carved out of the earth. The remoteness of this location can certainly pay dividends. You may even get the place to yourself!
Getting there: for those with time up their sleeves, pack your tent and trek the 4-5 hour lakeside track to Hot Water Beach campsite.
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6. Pelorus Bridge, Marlborough
The drive from Picton to Nelson is a necessary evil as you journey between North and South islands. However, Pelorus Bridge is the perfect way to break up the journey. Under the bridge flows a quaint, calm yet stunning swimming hole; crystalline water surrounded by thriving forest.
This spot is also a little famous, holding some Middle Earth magic. Peter Jackson himself chose this bridge as a filming location for parts of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. If you’ve seen it, it’s where the dwarves are seen floating down the river in barrels.
Getting there: park at the Pelorus Bridge picnic area and walk five minutes down the well signposted gravel path to the river.
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7. Wishbone Falls, Mount Aspiring
Wishbone Falls – named for its appearance, a waterfall that cascades down a steep, grassy rock face and breaks into two streams – welcomes you at the entry of Mount Aspiring National Park, about an hour-and-a-half drive from the town of Wanaka.
At the base of the falls sits an idyllic pool; a natural gem made for days pottering around in the sun. It's also a top picnic spot, with lovely flat banks surrounding the water.
Getting there: entrance is via private land, so be mindful and respectful. Follow Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road for 49 kilometres from Wanaka, the falls are visible from the road. A sign gesturing to the falls leads the way to a track. Walk down for 10 minutes to reach the foot of the falls.
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8. Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Charming Queenstown has long been heralded as one of New Zealand’s most visited destinations, and rightly so. Its heart is the endearing deep blue that is Lake Wakatipu, whose year-round icy cold waters make for a great way to perk up in the morning, or cool off after a gruelling hike.
Dotted around the mammoth 291-sq-km lake are petite towns, graced with mesmerising views of the glistening lake bordered by grand mountains. Whether it’s at the main beach in Queenstown itself, or jumping of the Glenorchy Pier an hour down the road, the waters reward a refreshing swim.
Getting there: flying into Queenstown is an experience not to be missed, with one of the world’s most extravagant landings through a grand valley. Planes are greeted with monstrous mountains either side of them.
This article was first published in September 2019, and was last updated in March 2020.