Hanmer Springs - calling in for a picnic spot and healing waters

There's an alpine spa town to explore in the South Island's Canterbury region, with picnics and other food spots to find....

Sitting at picnic tables, under tall trees in the main street of Hanmer Springs, a small alpine town in the Canterbury region of the South Island…the springs in the name gives a clue. Here you’re in a beautiful spa town, inland and north of Christchurch.

It’s a year round destination for some adventure, a bit of relaxation, and food treats. Those dramatic mountains and towering forests give the game away. And that spa tells a story of this therapeutic town.

The healing waters

Hanmer was named after one Thomas Hanmer, an owner of Hawkeswood Station near the Conway River during the 1850s. It’s built around popular hot springs, produced as a result of fractured rock bed along the Hanmer fault.

Yes, the little town sits on an earthquake fault line. We do call these the shaky isles, and there has been a bit of shaking around here over recent years. And up between the cracks bubble the town's famed healing waters.

The spa’s come a long way from what’s been described as a little mud pond, that first opened back in the 1880s.

Known, then discovered

We’ve read that Māori were the first to discover the waters. They would stop and bathe regularly while travelling in the area. Some say the locality was discovered for its hot springs by a farm manager, one Mr Jones.

But we love the way the sign outside the springs puts it - The hot springs in the Hanmer basin, known to Māori, were discovered by local runholder William Jones in 1859. Jones found the waters, after noticing a strange fog near the track he was walking, then saw some holes filled with water varying in temperature from lukewarm to almost boiling. 

And we’re told that the thermal waters in the spa are more than 170 years old… rain seeps through fractured rock to about two kilometres below the Hanmer plains, then heat raises its temperature in an underground reservoir, before it rises through a series of fractures in the rock. All that infuses the water with natural minerals, think sodium and calcium.

Those minerals give therapeutic benefits, probably why they’re as popular today as they were when they were first discovered all those years ago. Try a spa soak when the snow is down all around, how beautiful is that.

More healing later

There’s more history of healing around here. First there were bathing facilities, then a sanatorium was built. During WW1 it was replaced by a convalescent hospital that later became the Queen Mary Hospital - treating people with joint disorders, and later those suffering from psychiatric illness and alcoholism.

The hospital’s gone, after all that good work it did. Today the healing comes from the waters, the outdoors and of course some classic kiwi food experiences on offer. Seek out gelato, coffee and bakery treats for your road trip and picnics. Breathe in that tremendous alpine air, soak in the waters and enjoy the Hanmer healing….

And for more…

For more on The FoodPath NZ’s handpicked eateries and artisans, for our collection of spot on New Zealand food moments, including in Hanmer Springs and more through Canterbury, download our "New Zealand Food Trail Guides" app for iPhone or Android.

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