It took us two days to reach Parakai, which is situated only forty minutes from Auckland. When we headed off, I was so intent on reaching our destination (which I had randomly picked from a map) that I forgot to enjoy the journey.

After a detour to avoid the commuting traffic, we discovered ourselves wandering through the western suburbs of Auckland. David asked if we should stop for something to eat, but I was frustrated by the journey and the delays and reacted to his request as if he was trying to force something horrible upon me! When we stopped to analyse our conversation, we realised that I was so invested in reaching a particular destination that I was spoiling the experience for the whole family! So we slowed down, found some dinner in a corner of Point Chevalier and ended up staying for a couple of days.

Parakai is a small village built on a natural geothermal spring. Local motels and recreational pools advertise “private mineral spa baths”, and there seems to be several new housing complexes targeting the elderly. I later spoke to a local who said that their bathtub was plumbed straight from the hot spring.

After enjoying the hot thermal pools at Waiwera and Ngawha, we didn’t really know what to expect. We were unsure which establishment would provide the best experience for our family, so we stopped at the local dairy to ask for a recommendation from a local. After speaking to the owner, we decided to visit Parakai Springs.

Parakai Springs didn’t disappoint. The facilities are clean, well-run and monitored by relaxed staff. We enjoyed the three main pools. Private spas are available for hire, but after the fun we’d had at Mandy’s outdoor spa in Warkworth, we didn’t feel the need for another spa experience. The girls enjoyed playing in the outdoor pool — Delaney especially liked the sensation of being able to control her direction in the shallow end. However, the chill wintry air soon drove me to lead us inside to the warmer relaxation pool.

Parakai Springs, July 2011
The main outside pool features a sloping "beach entry" great for small children and is kept at about 32°C year-round.

Parakai Springs, July 2011
The relaxation pool is partially roofed and is kept around 40°C. The most common discussion in this pool is between children who want to drag reluctant parents out of the warmth of this water and back to the outdoor pools.

Parakai Springs, July 2011
The main attraction at Parakai Springs is the two slides that are *really long*. One slide is steeper so it ejects the riders faster. Aisha and Brioni managed to go down the slower slide many, many times before the lifeguards recognised that they were under-sized.

When David was ready, he took Aisha and Brioni down the water slides. The two older girls soon overcame their initial reluctance and started going down the slides by themselves. David and I sat in the pool at the bottom of the tube to watch them emerge safely each time. It’s a beautiful moment when you observe your children’s bravery is growing each day, and experiences that were previously too scary are now embraced.

When we felt cold again, David and I coaxed the girls back into the indoor pool. We loved to sit in the warm water and chat with whomever came around us. We met some likeminded spiritual unschoolers, a local who had visited the pools for forty years and one chatty young girl whose mother worked at the pools and shared what it’s like to grow up in the area.

At the end of a long day of swimming, we were wrinkly and warm. We dried as best as we could in the changing rooms before walking around the corner to the local pub. Although a lacklustre menu was on offer, it was painlessly bolstered by a word with the chef. The kind cook fashioned toasted sandwiches for our girls and vegetarian hamburgers for us. With each meal prepared with care, we felt really well looked after and enjoyed the experience, including the live musical entertainment emanating from the next room.

It was a lovely day and we spend the night in the carpark. Soon after we had retired to the truck, a local security firm checked on us and asked if we were planning to stay parked where we were. When we replied in the affirmative, they said they’d add us to their list of rounds so that we’d sleep well. It was a lovely, affirmative voice to receive at the end of a long day, and we’re thankful for the strangers who continually enter our lives and bless us so richly.

Aisha's picture of the slide at Parakai, August 2011
Later, Aisha drew this picture of her going down the green slide at Parakai. (Each person sits on a black rubber mat to minimise the friction as they go down the tube.)