It was my mother’s 70th birthday the week before Christmas, and Hanmer Springs was on the top of her list of places she’d always wanted to visit, so we decided to enjoy a bit of time out together to celebrate. About 90 minutes’ drive from Christchurch, is famous for its soothing hot springs, but there is plenty more to do and see in this little resort-style village. And 48 hours is the perfect amount of time to do it in.
We arrived at the Hanmer Springs TOP 10 at 1pm. The holiday park is beautiful with lots of mature trees, plenty of green space and loads of fun stuff to keep the kids busy (thankfully, not something I had to worry about!). Choose from powered hard or grass sites, with a communal kitchen, bathrooms and laundry conveniently close by.
The township is an easy five-minute walk, so once you’re set up, you can enjoy a stroll to the shops or the hot pools. There are even a couple of pet-friendly sites available (contact the park staff first to arrange).
As a surprise for Mum’s birthday, I booked us in for a refreshing facial treatment at the The Spa at Hanmer Springs. Mum was a bit nervous, having never had a spa treatment before, but the therapists are very good at what they do, and she really enjoyed it, as did I. We both came out feeling incredibly relaxed – like we’d left behind all that pre-holiday stress and tension. Even better, we felt and looked refreshed for days afterward.
The Spa is open from 10am to 6pm daily, you can book online a few hours in advance. If you’re heading to Hanmer, definitely plan to indulge in a little pampering, I can highly recommend it.
After your spa treatment, you can walk straight out the door to the hot pools – this is a separate cost, but discounted when visiting the spa – which is exactly what we did. There are 22 outdoor thermal pools to choose from, varying in temperature from 28 to 42 degrees. Despite being summer, the weather was mild, and the water felt just perfect. Apparently, the mineral-rich water started its journey as snow and rain falling on the Hanmer Springs mountains 180 years ago.
After seeping into the greywacke basement rock and pooling in a reservoir about 2km below ground, it’s warmed by heat radiating from the earth’s core. It then rises to the surface and is drawn back up for use in the pools. Well, that’s the simplistic explanation. What I do know is that the water feels very therapeutic, and for me, the hotter the better.
If you’re staying at the TOP 10 and don’t make it to the pools, or you feel like a quiet soak away from everyone else, you can book a private wood-fired hot tub. These are set among native plantings with brushwood screening, and look very inviting.
Feeling quite relaxed, we headed into the village for dinner at Fire & Ice on the main road (Amuri Ave). This popular spot is welcoming and friendly, and the menu has something for everyone. If you have a big appetite, challenge yourself to the Farm on a Plate, which includes a pork chop, beef steak, chicken thigh, lamb chop, sausage, fried egg and chips. It must be a pretty big plate, I’m guessing.
After all that rest and relaxation on Saturday, I thought we might need a bit of (mild) adventure to kick off our Sunday. If adrenalin-filled adventure is your thing, there’s loads to choose from around Hanmer. Jet boating, bungy jumping, mountain biking … take your pick. We decided on something requiring a little less exertion – a high-country tour.
Hanmer High Country Jeep Tours is locally owned and operated by Phil Wayman, who knows the area like the back of his hand. Having recently retired, Phil decided to share his love of the region with visitors like us. You can choose from several tour packages, ranging from a 90-minute scenic loop, to a six-hour tour to Rainbow Station that takes in the very best scenery the south has to offer.
We opted for the Jack & Jollies Loop tour, which starts right on our doorstep. The loop is about 25km and takes around 90 minutes. Phil picked us up from the TOP 10 in his Jeep and we headed off to Jacks Pass – about three minutes’ drive from the township. From there, we drove over the pass and down to the Clarence River, where the scenery is breathtaking. We had time to enjoy the view, with a stop for a cup of coffee and a biscuit, and a bit of a chat with Phil. “Most people come to Hanmer for the springs, but they don’t often go past the township and discover the beautiful landscape just a bit further on,” he says. And it really is beautiful – like sitting in the middle of a postcard, and a nice reminder that we don’t really need to travel far to see the best parts of the world. Be aware though, that much of the Jack & Jollies Loop is on pot-holed gravel roads, so definitely leave your motorhome or car parked up and get Phil to do the driving.
After all that fresh air and fabulous scenery, it was time to get a bite to eat and look through the shops. There are some very nice eateries, and we opted for coffee and lunch at The Roasted Bean – great coffee and very nice fried chicken. We spent a few hours perusing some of the boutique stores and discovered The Lollypot sweet shop in the courtyard area of Alpine Pacific Centre, be warned though, it’s hard to leave empty-handed!
Fancy a game of mini golf? I haven’t played since I was in school, and had forgotten how much fun it is. I’m also pretty sure that I won, although that’s still up for debate. Alpine Crazy Putt & Village Cruisers is on the main road just after the Alpine Pacific Centre shops. The ‘cruisers’ are pedal bikes that take two to six people, and are a fun way to check out the village. We were starting to feel a bit fatigued at this point, so it was back to the pools for a good long soak. If you’re in town for a few days, a good option for the pools is a two-day return pass, which gives you initial entry and one return entry the following day.
For dinner on our second night, we headed along to Saints restaurant on Jacks Pass Road. The service was brilliant, matched by delicious food. We each opted for a stone grill, mine being a succulent piece of venison, while Mum had the prime fillet. The pizzas looked to be very popular with the groups of diners enjoying the last of the sunshine outside. The restaurant has some very enticing specials, such as half-price mussel pots on Mondays, and 2-for-1 pizzas on Tuesdays (check their website for current specials).
On our last day we decided to get a bit of leisurely exercise with a walk through the forest. On our Jeep drive the day before, we’d noticed a wooden sculpture of a dog as we drove past the forest entrance on Jollies Pass Road. Phil explained that the dog was one of many sculptures along the Forest Amble Walk – part of the Hanmer Heritage Forest. The walk is nice and flat and takes about 30 minutes. Along the way you’ll find all manner of whimsical characters – from a shy giant to a majestic hawk, each beautifully created by Christchurch sculptor Andrew Lyons.
There are lots of other great walking and cycling tracks in Hanmer Springs, including half-day, full-day and multiday tramps, plus mountain biking trails for all abilities.
Our 48 hours in Hanmer Springs was a lovely way to take some time out after such a busy year, and to celebrate a milestone birthday. The town is well set up to cater for motorhomers, and I’m sure the businesses will appreciate patronage from Kiwis looking for somewhere special to visit this year.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa
A two-day return pass is $59 per adult, $34 for children, and $38 for seniors. Family passes are also available.
Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park
5 Hanmer Springs Road
Hanmer High Country Jeep Tours Ltd
For more information on walking and cycling trails: