Winter may be a tad bracing in Canterbury’s Hurunui district, about 90 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch, but the crisp beauty of the landscape and the warm promise of the thermal pool hotspot of Hanmer Springs will more than make up for it.
Gourmands may prefer the region’s southern reaches—the justly famed cool-climate vineyards and winery-restaurants of the Waipara Valley. But in the north, there’s a picture-postcard scene waiting around every bend, including the area’s only vineyard, Waiau River Estate.
Among New Zealand’s highest altitude vineyards, just 13km from Hanmer Springs village on SH7, is Hell’s Gate—you’ll understand the name once you’re there. The cellar door is open every day, except Tuesday, to help you choose a favourite or two for later.
At Hanmer village, boot up for a quiet amble along forest paths or a hard-core hike up Mt Isobel. Some tracks traverse the Heritage Forest Area, filled with exotic trees planted more than a century ago, while others pass through pockets of native mountain beech.
If you’ve got your bike on the back of the RV, there are all-weather tracks in and around the forest as well as back-country tracks on gravel roads. Prefer a sure-footed, four-footed friend?
Take a one-hour horse trek and let someone else do the work while you admire the alpine view. Afterwards, you’ll deserve a long soak in one of the 15 outdoor thermal, sulphur, and freshwater pools. You might even find yourself sitting in hot water as it begins to snow. Later, head back to the RV to open a bottle you picked up earlier or grab a bite at one of the many cafes, bars, and pubs.
Travellers are encouraged to use Hurunui’s holiday parks and campgrounds. Freedom camping is allowed; it’s restricted to self-contained vehicles, up to four nights a month, from 5pm to 9am.