Tepid Baths and Fitness Club

By The Auckland Psychogeographer

Auckland’s Tepid Baths is a model of resilience, not only as architecture but as a meeting place and an amenity for the social good. Following an ancient and noble form, the public bath remains a vibrant sign of an energised, cosmopolitan city.

Forming a key chunk of Auckland’s waterfront built heritage for over a century – see the extensive entry on the Heritage NZ website – the Teps is one of the earliest steel reinforced buildings in the city (architect Arthur Sinclair O’Connor was rumoured to have been one of the designers) and was for a time heated by the water used to cool the power station that ran the central tram network. The Hobson Street power station was estimated to waste up to 2000 gallons of heated water per minute up until it was re-purposed for those lucky swimmers.
The pools featured both salt and fresh water, two main pools and a series of slipper baths – a kindly public amenity for those without washing facilities at home. Vintage style discreet private changing rooms still ring the pools.
Regularly upgraded, refurbished and restored, the Teps has seen many interventions to keep things flowing along nicely over the years.  A small but attractive council-run gym busily ticks over upstairs (with a glass floor down to the swimmers in the learner’s pool). The main pool is beneath a dramatic skylight –so  swimmers can enjoy the sun in civilised circumstances. The water temperature of course is also an abiding selling point. Just a tad shy of warm in winter, and never as bracing as the sea, the Tepid Baths swimming experience is of course tailored to the sensitivities of the city dweller.
That’s not to say the place isn’t a hive of activity – numerous long-distance swimmers train there (clubs and solo) and there are frequent training sessions from various sports teams and the likes of the Police and the Fire Service.
But the main characteristic of the Tepid Baths is its jovial and faintly retro clientele. They all carry a journey they have made to this city, to this time, and the baths are a communal place where stories, local tips and memories of other places – and tattoo explanations – are shared. You’re as likely to overhear tales of pre-war Japanese trading as modern French wine-growing techniques or the cycling misadventures of German backpackers or drinking games of Russian merchant seamen.  

Image credit:  Auckland Libraries Heritage collection 'The Women's Pool at the Tepid baths from 1910'.