Rotorua Blue Baths

A DigitalNZ Story by Zokoroa

A nostalgic look at the Rotorua Blue Baths over the years

Rotorua, Blue Baths, Spa, Pools, Swimming, Water sports, Architecture, Government Gardens

The Blue Baths was opened in 1932 in a two-storeyed Spanish Mission style building within the Rotorua Government Gardens. The Baths represented a change in social attitude - it was the first time in NZ men and women could swim together in a public facility rather than segregated bathing. Locals, out-of-towners and overseas visitors flocked to enjoy the thermal waters. Following a downturn in popularity from the mid-1950s onwards, the Baths was closed in 1982 and lay idle for many years until being reopened in 1999 after being modernised. (See Te Ara: Thermal pools and spas)

Rotorua Blue Bath.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Entrance to the Blue Baths, Rotorua

Alexander Turnbull Library

Blue Baths, Rotorua

Auckland Libraries

Blue Baths, Rotorua, 1971

Auckland Libraries

EARLY Beginnings: 

The Blue Baths was built by Department of Tourism and Health Resorts to enhance Rotorua world-wide as a geothermal spa

ROTORUA BATH-HOUSE (Evening Post, 22 January 1930)

National Library of New Zealand

The first Blue Bath House was a smaller wooden building built in 1885 and demolished in 1930

Blue Bath House, Rotorua

Auckland Libraries

The new Blue Baths T-shaped building opened in 1932 in Rotorua's Government Gardens

Blue Baths, Rotorua, includes Government Gardens, The Bath House (Rotorua Museum) and thermal area

Alexander Turnbull Library

Government Gardens, formerly known as the Sanatorium Reserve, occupies 50 acres of land gifted by Ngāti Whakaue in 1880

Government Gardens, Rotorua, with The Blue Baths and The Bath House (later known as Rotorua Museum), and Lake Rotorua

Alexander Turnbull Library

Aerial view of the Blue Baths (bottom right) located near the Bath House (top right)

Aerial view of Government Gardens and Bath House

Rotorua Museum of Art & History Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa

The new Blue Baths was a Spanish Mission style building, & had tearooms upstairs at the front, and two enclosed pools

Blue Bath Building Postcard

Kete Rotorua

Designed by the Government Architect:

The Blue Baths was designed by the Public Works Department's architect John Thomas Mair who was appointed from 1925 to 1941. His other building projects included courthouses, post offices, police stations and office buildings (see Te Ara: Dictionary of New Zealand Biography & images on DigitalNZ).  On 25 June 1992, the Blue Baths was registered as Historic Place Category 1 under the Historic Places Act 1980. For a description of the building's architectural style and materials used, see Heritage New Zealand.

The Public Works Dept's architect John Mair (appointed 1925-1941) designed the Blue Baths

The Blue Baths and Government Gardens, Rotorua

Alexander Turnbull Library

Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward announces design plans for the new Blue Baths have been agreed, 1929

NEW SANATORIUM (Evening Post, 08 June 1929)

National Library of New Zealand

Architect Mair introduced modernist architectural precepts instead of revivialist styles previously favoured by Govt

[Blue Baths - Rotorua]

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

The T-shaped building utilised concrete and structural steel instead of brick and timber (see Heritage New Zealand)

Bath House - "The Blue Baths"

University of Otago

Constructed in 3 stages:

Stage 1: Juvenile Bath (1932)

The pool is 70ft by 36ft, and from 2ft 7in to 4ft lOin deep

Childrens pool, Blue Baths. Postcard

Kete Rotorua

At the south end of the Juvenile Pool was a semi-circular pergola fitted with columns and benches

Blue Baths 1961, Children's Pool

Kete Rotorua

The water was piped in from Whakarewarewa’s Rachel Springs. In 1942, water came from the town’s geotherrnal bores.


Auckland Libraries

Stage 2: Main Bath (1934)

The swimming pool is 100ft by 40ft and from 4ft 8in to 8ft 5in deep

The Blue Baths, thermal baths in Rotorua

Alexander Turnbull Library

Four paired Tuscan columns were sited between the two pools and at the rear of the baths

Blue Bath, Rotorua

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

The veranda was inscribed with "Warariki Wai-ora" - Health Giving Water

Blue Baths 1961

Kete Rotorua

The Bath had arc lamps and underwater lighting. The pools were finished in "Stourbridge" glazed fireclay bricks & tiles.

Blue Baths at Rotorua

Alexander Turnbull Library

Stage 3: No.3 Block (1934)

The entrance, lounge & upstairs tea-house at the front

View of the Blue Bath stone building, Rotorua, Bay of Plenty

Alexander Turnbull Library

Above the main entry is a Māori figurative face and broken pediment scrolls and a coat of arms set on pilasters, ca 1938

Entrance way to the Blue Baths in Rotorua

Alexander Turnbull Library

Video includes aerial view of the Blue Baths, 1935


Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Video showcasing the Bath House also shows outside entrance to Blue Baths & the Māori figurative face

Luxury spa at Rotorua - Roadside Stories

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Social and sporting events:

The Blue Baths was used for a number of social and sporting events, including Christmas carnivals and swimming championships. Local schools frequently used the facilities and many people took swimming and diving lessons. 

Mixed bathing in a public facility allowed for first time in NZ

ROTORUA BLUE BATHS (Evening Post, 23 December 1931)

National Library of New Zealand

The west side of the dressing accommodation was set aside for women, the east side for men

The Blue Baths

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

A diving platform and diving boards were at the east verandah of the Main Pool

People swimming and diving at the Blue Baths in Rotorua

Alexander Turnbull Library


Closed in 1982, the building was restored and reopened on 21 December 1999. The original Juvenile Pool was fully restored and two soak pools added.  The Juvenile Pool is usually around 30°C whilst the two hot soak pools vary between 37°C and 42°C.  The Adult pool was ‘shallowed’ and turned into a large event  space - the Lido Lounge - covered by a 5m ceiling. The Foyer and upstairs “Tearoom” (now  Social Room) were retained for social events. A  gallery in the former adult male changing rooms, which was on the east side, has a historical display of the building's past. For an outline of current operations, see the Blue Baths website, which also includes a historical timeline.