Australians with winter cabin fever might consider a more economical way to warm up than flying north for the winter – visiting a hot spring or onsen.
Here’s our roundup of the best places – from zen pools to tropical waterholes – to take the plunge into warm waters.
Sparadise Japanese Bath House (Blue Mountains)
Symbolically shedding the cares of the world, you enter the Japanese-inspired and decorated onsen barefoot through water. Choose between a steaming indoor pool and four outdoor hot pools. where you can loll in bliss taking in the brisk mountain air above Lake Lyall. The bath house has recently been revamped and now also has hotspots where you can warm yourself in a man-made cave.
Steve Lambert, author of the guidebook Australia’s Great Thermal Way, says Moree is “the artesian capital of Australia”. The bustling northern NSW town has three accommodation outlets (including the Gwydir Carapark) that offer thermal pools, as does the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre.
Japanese Mountain Retreat Mineral Springs and Spa (Montrose)
Founder Deborah Quitt imported Arabic doors, exotic marble, mosaics and stone to bring to life her vision of a bathhouse. You’ll feel cosseted bathing within the domed, blue-lit space. Alternatively, slip into the warmth of the retreat’s private outdoor onsen, which is surrounded by rocks and plants and open to the sky.
Peninsula Hot Springs (Mornington Peninsula)
These attractive, sprawling and award-winning hot springs are often buzzing with visitors. Join the throngs in the natural bush setting, which has more than 30 steaming pools with different themes and locations, from cave and hilltop experiences to massaging jet pools.
A new bathing “amphitheatre” due to open next month will add seven more hot spring pools, two new saunas, an “ice cave” and cold plunge pools.
Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa (Daylesford)
The restored 1890 bath house in the historic and pretty town of Hepburn Springs has a long history, striking design, and a focus on the health benefits of balneology (the art and science of mineral spring bathing). Take the waters in a private bath, relax in the communal bath house, or bliss out in the peaceful realm of the Sanctuary.
Coming soon …
Developments are in the pipeline for new geothermal bath houses and pools at Phillip Island and the 12 Apostles, which will add to Victoria’s reputation as an international hot springs destination. Stay tuned.
Lorella Springs (Borroloola)
One of multiple attractions and several hot pools at Lorella Springs Station and Wilderness Park, the springs bubble at the foot of the Tawallah Range in an emerald rock pool lined with pandanus. The remote station, which is twice the size of the ACT, has spectacular scenery and is usually visited as part of an outback adventure.
Bitter Springs (Elsey National Park)
Swimmers drift with the stream, using snorkels to try to spot turtles and fish in the pandanus-fringed water. In secluded tropical woodlands about 100 kilometres south of Katherine, the Bitter Springs feed into the Roper River. Entry is free.
The emerald-coloured 34-degree waters, on the border of Elsey National Park, are considered a key regional attraction. Being popular can mean they are packed with people. They’re in a swimming pool among lush palms at the Mataranka Homestead tourist resort.
Zebedee Hot Springs
Accessed from El Questro Station, the Zebedee hot springs cascade down ancient sandstone cliffs into green oases lined with boulders, soaring Livistonia palms and lush pandanus. The springs are usually enjoyed as part of a tour that involves the region’s eye candy – red gorges, scenic rivers and pools.
Innot Hot Springs
A small town was built around the thermal waters of Innot, which is on a large fault line. There are six pleasure pools, varying from 27 to 42 degrees, at the Innot Hot Springs Health and Leisure Park on the Kennedy Highway, 102 kilometres from Innisfail.
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Witjira-Dalhousie Springs (Witjira National Park)
An oasis in the Simpson Desert, the main Dalhousie spring, a steaming 37 degrees, is one of a scattered realm of about 70 mound springs of different sizes and warmths. The only permanent water bodies for 150 kilometres, they are cultural significant for the land’s traditional custodians. Expect a trek: the springs are 250 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs and are Australia’s largest complex of artesian hot springs.
Hastings Thermal Springs and Caves (Hastings)
The natural 28-degree spring water can be enjoyed in a pool in the Huon Valley’s peaceful bush, 90 minutes drive south of Hobart. Along with glimpses of the thermal waters bubbling up along the Hot Springs Circuit trails, the area also has one of the largest dolomite caves in the southern hemisphere.