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Historic 'healing waters' hotel goes on the market for sale

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

One of New Zealand’s oldest hotels dating back to the Maori land wars has been placed on the market for sale.

The historic Spa Hotel in Taupo traces its roots back to the 1869 when it was built by a former armed constabulary sergeant who had taken part in the Maori wars. The hotel has been formally identified as being at the forefront of Taupo’s tourism industry and sits on 7.5 hectares of land, which includes a range of heritage buildings on the property.

Heritage buildings within the Spa Hotel complex include a church chapel dating back to the mid-1860s, several cottages dating back to the late 1800s/early 1900s, and part of the property’s former hotel block.

All of the buildings have been subject to archeological assessments, and are included in the sale package. Geographic features include the hot water stream beds which fed the original spa baths in the 1800s.

Infrastructure at the accommodation and hospitality business encompass licensed bar and restaurant facilities for up to 480 people serviced by a commercial-grade kitchen, 15 chalet units configured to sleep up to five guests each, a further 10 studio units configured to sleep three guests each, additional accommodation buildings for staff and long-stay guests, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a thermal bore with two heat exchange units providing heating to the accommodation suites.

The hotel is privately owned and is currently trading offering ‘budget style’ motel and backpacker services and amenities. The property and business are being sold through a Bayleys, with offers for the Spa Hotel closing on March 27. The land and buildings associated with the Spa Hotel have a combined rating valuation of $5.34million.

The marketing campaign to sell the property is being headed up by Paul Dixon, Mike Peterson and David Bayley of Bayleys Auckland, with local representation in Taupo from Gary Harwood.

Paul Dixon said that as a result of deferred investment and maintenance over the past decade, the Spa Hotel had become rather run-down compared to other accommodation providers and function venues in Taupo.

"However, the infrastructure ‘bones’ of the business are essentially sound, and would provide a solid platform on which to base a modern accommodation and hospitality operation," Mr Dixon said.

"Hospitality consultants have already noted that the real opportunity lies with basing any business around the cultural and historical aspects associated with this site. The nearby Hilton Lake Taupo resort for example successfully completed a similar transformation three years ago - adding a modern dimension to its cornerstone amenities by utilising the framework of what was the historic Terraces Hotel built on the site 120 years ago."

A 2012 heritage assessment report on the hotel notes: "The Spa Hotel represents the beginnings of Taupo’s tourist industry, which is the current mainstay of the local economy. It is here that the true significance off the Spa Hotel complex lies, and its cultural association value is assessed as very high."

"The current amenity value of the Spa Hotel complex is moderately low. The potential amenity value is high," adds the report.

Mr Dixon said that the Maori ancestral connections with the hotel and the land could prove attractive to iwi enterprises looking to build or expand their tourism interests in the Central North Island.

A 126-year-old Maori meeting house on the Spa Hotel site, crafted by renowned mastercarver Wero and sold by Maori chief Tamamutu to the hotel’s former owner in 1886, was removed last year. The meeting house (wharenui) contained a large number of prized carvings.

Both the deconstructed wharenui and the associated carvings - estimated to be worth several million dollars - are being sold separately by Auckland-based fine arts house Webb’s. Mr Dixon said the wharenui could be relocated and rebuilt on an established site within the hotel’s complex, with the owners open to negotiating an ‘all inclusive’ package combining the land and buildings, business, and meeting house.

The hotel is built near to where the Waikato River flows out of Lake Taupo and represents an early merging of Maori and European cultures. Former armed constabulary sergeant Edward Lofley married the daughter of a Maori land-owner and together they set up the first stage in what was to become a successful health spa hotel under the name ‘Lake Taupo Hot Baths and Sanatorium.’

Mr Dixon said the substantial amount of undeveloped land adjoining the existing Spa Hotel buildings delivered a virtual "blank canvas" for the construction of a more upmarket style of accommodation which could be marketed in conjunction with the invigorating spa waters which still flow through the site.

"Long-term holding income could be derived from the existing accommodation and hospitality business operations while expansion plans are undertaken," Mr Dixon said.

"Ironically, the property’s history has almost gone in a full circle. It was established as an accommodation venue where guests would come to bath in the pure and natural spa waters, and now some 144 years later it will most likely revert to a spa lodge again. And just as in the 1860s and 1870s, a new owner will have to invest in upgrading the existing buildings."

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