Surrounded by mountains, centred on a beautiful blue lake, shrouded by snow in the winter, bathed in warm sunshine in the summer and canopied by 4,367 square kilometre of pristine, Gold Status World Heritage Dark Sky Reserve, Tekapo in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand is one of the world’s most beautiful adventure playgrounds. But adventure isn’t all that Tekapo has to offer.
When you’ve done with the day’s adventures and when you’re in need of some rest and relaxation, head to Tekapo’s marvellous hot pools.
Spread under that famous heritage sky, tucked into the side of a hill overlooking the lake, the three pools progress from nicely tepid, through deliciously warm and finally to fabulously hot. Work your way up and down the temperatures until, like baby bear, you find the one that’s just right for you, then contemplate the heavens until hunger or fatigue drives you out, or until your skin can stand no more.
For those who do want more, there’s the spa with its range of ministrations with soothing oils and lotions. Or, if it’s food you’re after, there’s a great cafe with a stunning lake view, a roaring fire in a two way stone fireplace and great, fresh Kiwi fare. If, (hard to credit but possible) you emerge from your soak energised and ready for action, put on your skates and take a turn around the ice rink just next door.
The Polynesian Spa, in Rotorua’s Government Gardens, has soothed the weary bones of tourists and locals alike for almost a century and a half.
The miraculous power of the thermal spring water that feeds the Polynesian Spa were first discovered 1878 by Catholic priest, Father Mahoney. A few months of daily dips so visibly alleviated his crippling arthritis that other suffering clergy and parishioners followed suit. Soon the word was out and visitors from all over the world began to make the pilgrimage to the healing pools.
In 1882 the Pavilion Bath House was built. It served until 1931 when it was replaced by the Ward Baths. In 1972, Polynesian Pools Ltd took over the lease of the old, and somewhat run down baths and over the last 50 years has developed them into the luxurious, state-of-the art spa that exists today.
Counted among the top 10 world spas, the Polynesian Spa offers a wide range of fabulous therapies. It also offers thermal bathing in 26 different kinds of pools, including deluxe, adult-only, private and family pools as well as a large freshwater chlorinated pool for those who simply want to splash about.
Pressed like a jewel into a ring of forested Victorian hills, Daylesford is a rare and precious place.
All year long, weekend refugees from Melbourne’s fast track flock to its lakeside B&Bs seeking healing for their jaded bodies in its magical mineral spas and healing for their flagging spirits in its ashrams.
The lake water is warm, dark and earthy, smelling and tasting of the iron rich mineral springs that feed it. On the hot days of the summer holiday season, picnickers dot its banks while families splash in the water with ducks and dogs. In the evening it is quiet, only the distant bark of a dog breaks the silence. The passing walker and the occasional watcher, lost in contemplation on a jetty, are the only signs of human habitation. The lake is still. Perfect sunsets reflect in its mirror surface and cockatoos drift home to roost on its tree-bordered banks.
The town centre, with its short strip of wide pavement and verandahed shops, recalls a past time, where life was slower and simpler. The Pastry King cake shop offers all those home-baked products that smack of slow, careful hours in the kitchen. The organic deli is stocked with the yields of a good and pure earth.
On New Year’s Eve the parade brings the whole town out. It has all those features of country parades of yester year; the animals, the horses, the pipe band, the decorated trucks and bikes and the farm vehicles which remind us that Daylesford is, and always will be, no matter how many iterations it passes through, a little country town.
I enjoyed my first two days in Hamburg, on the outskirts, at the edge of the Forest.
The Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club is only 10 kilometers from the centre of Hamburg but it seems a world away. Its roofs and gabled windows look out across a tranquil garden, over a thick curtain of trees into a flawless sky. The “outside world” stays discreetly between the covers of brochures, maps and guides. Life, as it is known to tycoons and top end escapists, goes on undisturbed at the Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club.
On one side of the building, behind the closed doors of conference rooms, the machinery of global business ticks and whirrs. On the other, the corridors echo with the muted beat of aerobics from the Fitness Centre and the soft splash of swimmers at the pool. A scent of crèmes and oils drifts under the doors of the Center Estetika and robed wraiths slip noiselessly from sauna to solarium. Outside, golfers trundle along a fairway lit vivid green by a bright summer sun and beside it a path leads away to a fairy tale forest.
The blue sky, the warm sun, the clear air and the beckoning path outside are irresistible. Feeling like Little Red Riding Hood, but without the basket of goodies for Grandma, I lift the latch on a dark green gate at the end of the hotel gardens and follow the path. It weaves along, through and around the golf course, under canopies of shady trees,past sunny fields of long grass. There’s a distant thuck of everyday clubs on ordinary golf balls, but it’s underscored with magical birdsong and the mysterious whisper of wind in leaves.
At a junction , a white arrow, on a mossy, brothers-Grimm rock, points me in two directions. Close by, there’s the sound of a barking dog, a splash, and the whirr of wings. Two big white birds rise with an outraged squawk above the trees. They hover, then turn and drop further down. Straight ahead, through the trees there’s a shaft of light. I follow a pattern of smudged footprints away from the path, across the damp earth to a clearing with a tiny lake set in steep banks. Sunshine freckles its dark surface, where a dog paddles, trailing a v of wake, towards a circle of disapproving ducks.
I pick up the path again and follow it round the lake, passing only a company of dogs on a dogs’ day out and some serious, stringy-legged hikers spiking their way, with alpen stocks, over humps and hollows, tree-roots and potholes. In distance, there are voices, the desperate whistles of lost dog owners and the faraway drone of an engine.
The path takes me back to the Treudelberg lawn where tall trees stir gently against the perfect sky and a fountain patters softly on a reed fringed pond. I sink into a deck chair and watch the play of light on the leaves. Just when I’m wondering whether life could be more perfect, a shadow falls across the lawn beside me and a waiter in a white coat and bow tie offers me champagne.
Margaret Island lies in the Danube, between Budapest’s Arpad Bridge, which links it to Obuda and Pest at one end, and Margaret Bridge which provides its access to Buda and Pest at the other. Hidden among its 225 acres of rambling gardens, are playgrounds, sports venues, spas, pools, monuments, fountains, hotels and historic ruins.
Before the 13 the century the island was a wilderness, given over to nature, and known as Rabbit Island. In the middle ages it became home to a number of monasteries and convents. The first of these was the Dominican Convent built in 1241 by Bela IV. The grateful King then sequestered his unfortunate daughter Margaret here in thanksgiving to God for deliverance from the Mongol scourge. In recognition of the hapless girl’s great sacrifice, he named the island after her. The ruins of the convent, along with Margaret’s grave can still be seen today. Nearby is the Chapel of the mediaeval Premonstratensian Monastery with oldest bell in Hungary, cast in the 15th century and which, until it was accidentally discovered last century, lay buried under a tree. Near the rose gardens in the South of the island are the ruins of a Franciscan church.
By the mid 18th century, the Hapsburg royals had taken over Margaret Island and turned it into a magnificent private garden. Many of its beautiful walks and towering trees date back to this time
In the days of the Dual Monarchy, the island became a popular leisure playground and the island’s elegant 57 metre, octagonal Art Nouveau water tower is part of that legacy.
This was also the time when Budapest’s therapeutic springs began to enjoy great popularity, attracting visitors all over Europe. Subsequently, Margaret Island became a health resort and visitors flocked to its spas. They still do. At the northern tip of Margaret Island the majestic old Grand Hotel and its younger sister, the Hotel Thermal, both famed for their luxurious spas, are neighbours to a spectacular rock garden and waterfall.
Today, the open-air theatre, just near the water tower, brings audiences to the island for ballets, opera and rock concerts. In the summer crowds pack the garden courtyard of the pavilion café, with its high trellis fences, or gather on the lawn to watch Margaret Island’s fantastic animated musical fountain, leaping and crashing to the strains of Strauss (of course!) or flock to the hugely popular (and huge) 17 acre Palatinus Baths.
Budapest’s Centenary monument, built in 1972 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the creation of Budapest, stands at the southern entrance to the island, just off the Margaret Bridge.
Peaceful, pretty and romantic, Margaret Island is a wonderful retreat from the noise and movement of the city streets. So lose yourself for a day, lie under a tree, in a spa, or even on the banks of the Danube, climb to the top of the water tower and look down into the tree tops, wander in the ruins of Margaret’s old convent, stroll through the flowers and lose yourself for a day