Take a trip down memory lane.
Take a trip down memory lane as you wander through the former Mens changing rooms. Movies and displays tell stories of personalities, champion swimmers and divers who used the Pools before closure in 1982. Thousands of New Zealanders loved The Blue Baths in their heyday. We know you will too.
Mixed bathing in liquid light… such was the promise of pleasure used to entice visitors to Rotorua’s Blue Baths in the 1930’s. And they came in their droves, lured by the luxury of it all. Readers of a 1936 tourist brochure were tempted by a glamourous vision: “White-tiled…sparkling blue waters…submerged lighting…diving towers…sun balconies…richly furnished rest room. Picture this and you have not a Hollywood conception, but a mental image of the peerless Blue Baths”.
The Hollywood overtones were no coincidence. The lavish design was the creation of Public Works Architect John T Mair, inspired as much by the need to escape the drabness of the Depression in the fabulous moving picture palaces of the day as by the images of clean and cool Californian architecture which flickered on the screen.
For the first time, men and women could get (almost) naked, together in public – a reflection of the changing attitudes and increasingly relaxed moods in existence after the First World War. The intention was also to make Rotorua the chief centre of the Dominions sporting activities. To that end, the Blue Baths also offered instruction in “fancy and scientific swimming” as well as diving tuition.
Its swimming and diving carnivals became the stuff of legends, as did the sporting stars who hailed from the district. However, it nearly didn’t happen. They almost didn’t get built. Work started right enough and the smaller juvenile pool opened to great acclaim and large crowds on December 21st 1931.
With a recreational rather than a medicinal focus, the new baths were a by-word for the good life. Built during the Great Depression, the thoroughly modern swimming establishment was a considerable break away from Rotorua’s other Government bath houses, both architecturally and in attitude.
Where they offered treatments for a variety of ailments from gout to psoriasis, The Blue Baths offered movie-style glamour, for an afternoon at least.The Blue baths were the last gasp of New Zealand’s large scale spa development, begun in the nineteenth century by colonial dreamers who envisaged a great spa in the South Seas and had set about recreating the Dominion as the premier watering hole for the Empire.
History: Wartime & Water Woes
The mood in Rotorua was jubilant. The Rotorua Morning Post editorial the following day congratulated the government on its decision to complete the new building. “They are a unique attraction and an asset to the whole of the Dominion.
Already it is impossible to visit Rotorua without visiting the Blue Baths but as the baths become known abroad, the time will come when it will be impossible to visit New Zealand without visiting the baths” Relief gangs were engaged for maintenance work, there was a flurry of activity from plasterers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians as building proceeded apace, and by New Years Eve in 1933 the baths were finally opened in their full splendour.
People flocked there from all over to luxuriate in their warm blue waters. Visitors wrote to the paper singing the praises and professing the baths to be not only among the finest in the world, but the talk of most foreign countries. The governments gamble had paid off. Even the intervention of the Second World War did little to dim people’s enthusiasm for the baths, though the threat from enemy shipping proved an effective deterrent to visitors from abroad, severely curtailing the number of swimmers for the duration of the conflict.
But in the end, the mass appeal of the Blue Baths overcame all else, even continuing problems with the water supply. The loss of their original water source in 1942 sparked a public outcry, when instead of piping in sparkling azure water from Whakarewarewa’s famed Rachel Springs; the baths were tapped directly into the town’s geothermal bores.
The water was no longer blue, but cloudy white and sulphurous and there was some talk it was dangerous – the feeling being that if a swimmer disappeared beneath the waters, he would not be noticed. But still they came. No longer luxurious and beginning to show signs of neglect they still managed to captivate successive generations of swimmers and their fame grew. But the Blue Baths are obviously blessed by the gods. Though they did not have a charmed existence after they closed, they did continue to exist, escaping both the bulldozers and threat of being made-over into a martial arts and fitness centre. In 1999, a joint project between the Rotorua District Council and developer Mike Romanes saw the Blue Baths painstakingly and lovingly restored. The Blue Baths reopened 21st December 1999, 68 years to the day they originally charmed the world.