Nordic public bathing is all about moving between extreme temperatures and in many cases it’s at least a weekly ritual. In Finland, there are more saunas in backyards than cars on the road – with more than three million saunas servicing its 5.5 million inhabitants, it has the world’s highest density of saunas per capita.
While saunas are often present in gyms and hotels in Australia, our sweat culture is lacklustre by comparison, and hardly the social experience of our birch-thrashing friends north of the equator. But a little slice of hot-cold Fingal’s Peninsula Hot Springs has just arrived in regional Victoria.
Strung-out city dwellers have long made the commute to Fingal’s Peninsula Hot Springs for a deep soak in the geothermal waters. Now, it has a whole new wing of hot mineral pools, saunas and a “deep freeze” to explore.
The recommended route is warm up (in the sauna), shiver (in the ice cave), replenish heat (with the massage showers), cool off again (in the cold plunge pool), then repeat three times. This hot-cold therapy is inspired by Nordic bathing traditions and forms the fire and ice area of the springs’ new $13-million expansion.
There are two saunas: a traditional one where the hot moist air will challenge your lungs and leave you a sweaty mess; and a dry sauna, which is a little easier to manage if you’re a bathhouse newcomer – it’s less drippy and relatively comfortable. About 10 to 15 minutes in these wooden steam lodges is said to relax the body, increase circulation and soothe aches and pains.
Then onto the ice cave, where you're able to shift between a room chilled to fridge temp (four degrees Celsius) and a "deep freeze" (minus 25 degrees Celsius). This cold stint reportedly increases your metabolism and immunity and reduces inflammation. How cold does a deep freeze feel? We overheard one tourist exclaim, “I’m from Europe; this isn’t cold”. Meanwhile a small boy’s teeth were chattering upon exit.
Then there are the massage showers. Choose from a balanced multi-spray or a single pounding flow to pummel tight shoulders. While you can control the temperature of the water, you can’t adjust the sulfurous odour that often accompanies a hot-springs visit – the result of hot water melding with the Earth’s minerals and rapidly travelling 637 metres up to the showerheads. Expect the egg-like aromatics to subtly linger as you progress through your bathing sequence.
In the outdoor amphitheatre, there are seven new hot mineral pools that curve around grassy terraces. If your digits start to wrinkle you can transfer to dry land, relaxing in a sun lounge while watching ducklings frolic in their nearby designer wetland. The area is lush with sheoak and melaleuca trees and various reptilian and winged critters taking up residency among the central lake, so there’s a sense of bringing the outdoors in.
The pools also overlook a stage that hosts live music, cultural talks, yoga and wellbeing classes. Despite a fairly hectic vibe caused by a large number of patrons and splash-happy children, we floated around for a leisurely two hours.
The walls of the new changerooms are made from rammed earth formed by melding local limestone and clay with cement, while local sustainably managed timbers such as white cypress and silvertop ash are used for structure and detailing. This soothing abode is by Steven Swain and Rosalyn Fraser of Swain & Fraser Architects.
“The changerooms were designed to embrace natural materials and bring a sense of ceremony to changing and cleansing before bathing in the geothermal pools,” says Fraser. “Fresh air, natural dappled light and warmth underfoot from the geothermal water are harnessed to help with the continuity of remaining in nature throughout the bathing experience.”
The pair collaborated with local ceramicist Kaz Morton to craft bespoke ceramic and steel light fittings. “[The lights] celebrate the joy in the imperfect, adding a sense of ease within the spaces,” Swain says.
The duo is also responsible for the ice cave, saunas, and the Amphitheatre Cafe. The latter serves up rice-paper rolls, smoothies, buddha bowls, poké bowls, fruit platters, vegan pad thai and house-made dumplings.
The springs’ expansion will continue to unfurl, with plans for onsite accommodation (glamping and 125 rooms) and a food bowl featuring three acres of terraced garden beds and an underground mushroom cave. The organic produce will seasonally find its way to the three cafes’ menus, and patrons will be able to visit the garden site to buy teas and medicinal plants.
Peninsula Hot Springs
140 Springs Lane, Fingal
(03) 5950 8777
Mon to Sun 7am–10pm
This article was updated on February 1, 2019.