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The History of Bathing and Balneotherapy

As we are in the middle of winter here in Rotorua, we thought to shine our light a little on Balneotherapy (the medical term used for treatments using mineral water) and the history of bathing in mineral waters

Our interest of course comes strongly from living in New Zealand’s most famous Spa town – Rotorua. People have been travelling to our beautiful town for over 100 years to ‘take the waters’, often for their perceived healing purposes and often just to relax in their warm depths.

Balneotherapy has a very long history, it is said that as early as the 5th century BC scientists were looking at the beneficial properties of sulphurous springs, especially to heal skin diseases and relieve muscular and joint pains.

History also tells us that Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.) visited the Dead Sea to soak in its mineral-rich waters and it is since then that the Dead Sea is famous for its healing properties.

Around the middle 1500’s, researchers and medics started again talking about the health benefits of taking a bath and drinking water and more research and analyzing of  the mineral component of waters was done. They were looking at the quality of each mineral and what effect it had on the body.  

During the 19th century the bathing culture only grew. Further analyses of mineral waters were conducted, and the belief that natural thermal waters had a cure to many illnesses only grew. Historic research showed it was very important to people’s treatments to have comfortable surroundings with good food and wine!

Dr Kneipp became very famous by further developing the principles of Balneotherapy.  A range of treatments were developed, such as hot & cold baths, herbal baths, mud packs, massages and more. Dr Kneipp’s bath salts are still being sold in pharmacies and health shops all around the world.

Europe really took on the use of mineral waters and Grand Spa hotels were built at every spring, the Belgium town of Spa being one of the most famous ones.   The concept of a ‘Spa resort’ was born and these resorts attracted a wide range of people, especially the wealthy as these Spa hotels were definitely ‘the place’ to be seen!

Rotorua has its own famous springs such as the Rachel Spring and, our beautiful Bath house (one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand) is directly related to these European traditions of Balneotherapy and building grand buildings around springs.

We even had our own Balneologist, Dr Arthur Wohlmann, and these are his words:

“In the first place, the spas must not only be places where one can bathe in mineral water, but they must be fitted with the most expensive apparatus of modern balneological methods; and there must be not only decent comfort, but a certain amount of luxury.”

Tourists started to arrive in Rotorua in the 1870s and 1880s to see the famous Pink and White Terraces of Rotomahana and to bathe in our many thermal pools around Rotorua, that were nestled amongst sulphur deposits and manuka bushes.

 Rotorua has two types of mineral waters that were recommended for health purposes; one being the alkaline ‘Rachel’ spring and the ‘Priest’ spring with water that is slightly different, being mildly acidic. These two springs were recommended for a range of treatments, such as arthritis, rheumatism and even nervous disorders – the waters were regarded as soothing and could help relieve  pains and swellings in the joints.

Our Pure Source Thermal Bath Salts are mirrored on the water of the Rachel Springs.

Even in modern times and either as treatment or just relaxing – bathing is utter bliss!

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