16 Jan 2015

Alpine spa dream 'deserves closer look'

7:35 am on 16 January 2015

A West Coast mayor says any possibility of making the region a spa-tourism hotspot is worth investigating.

Whataroa River  and the Southern Alps.

Whataroa River and the Southern Alps. Photo: 123RF

Scientists from GNS, Victoria University and elsewhere drilling under the Southern Alps to investigate the Alpine Fault near Franz Josef Glacier found warm water a little way down - and temperatures as high as 110°C at the bottom of the hole.

The researchers came close to their goal but had to stop drilling about 100m from the fault line when equipment was damaged.

The Alpine Fault drill site near Whataroa Valley.

The Alpine Fault drill site near Whataroa Valley. Photo: GNS / Nicolas Barth

GNS Science project co-leader Rupert Sutherland said earlier that the water could be used to generate electricity.

But Geothermal Association executive officer Brian White said the underground heat in the central North Island - where the country's geothermal electricity generation is located - is much higher, at about 300°C.

However, Mr White said the finding could instead be a step towards a boom in spa style tourism.

"If you imagine Hamner Springs, Maruia Springs, bringing half a million tourists to an area - maybe something similar can happen with that sort of resource."

The find was welcome news to Greymouth's mayor, Tony Kokshoorn.

He said the West Coast had been having a rough ride since the loss of hundreds of mining jobs last year and local tourism was still recovering from after the Christchurch quakes.

While Greymouth was more than 100km from where the drilling took place, Mr Kokshoorn said spa tourism in the region deserved a closer look.

He said more tourists bringing more money would benefit the entire region.

"If you look around the rest of New Zealand, at Rotorua and Hamner Springs, there is a big drawcard through hot pools.

"I think we should get right into it and see what we can come up with."

Karen Anderson ran the Whataroa Hotel, not far from where the drilling took place and said thermal pools in her backyard could only be good for business.

"Come winter time when it's really cold and you can get into a nice hot thermal pool - it has got to be a winner.

"Mountain surroundings and native bush. It would be beautiful."

Ngai Tahu tourism and economic body Development West Coast said it was too soon to comment on whether the region could be New Zealand's next spa destination.

And Mr White warned the project would take a lot of vision to get up and running - and that location could be an issue.