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Located on a picturesque plain surrounded by mountains – the Hanmer Range to the north and Amuri and Te Koa Ranges to the south – Hanmer Springs is New Zealand’s only alpine thermal resort. Its legendary hot springs have been an all-seasons drawcard for nearly 130 years, and during that time it has evolved into a perennially popular spa town with a permanent population of around 1000. Proximity to Christchurch – just 90 minutes’ drive away – contributes to a constant stream of visitors, who come for all sorts of energetic activities such as tramping, mountain biking, kayaking and skiing. There’s nothing like a soak in the hot springs when you’ve worked for it.
Situated in the leafy town centre, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa is the hub of the town, with around half a million people enjoying it each year. Far and away New Zealand’s best hot springs resort, it is proudly council-owned and big on reinvestment. Recent upgrades have given the place the ‘wow’ factor, and there are now fifteen outdoor thermal pools, a heated freshwater pool, and a large family activity pool with three waterslides. There’s also a pleasant picnic area and licensed café.
A visit to the thermal pools is relaxing and restorative, enlivened with splashes of excitement. On our last visit we lingered for the best part of a day, and made the most of the ‘return pass’ by popping back later for an evening soak. Following in the footsteps of Goldilocks, we were compelled to try nearly every pool, which range from 33 to 42°C. This turned us into jelly, so we firmed things up with an invigorating streak to the water slides. These proved utterly addictive and it took repeated rushes down the tubes before we were sated. The new SuperBowl slide is particularly outrageous, swirling you high around the walls of a big bowl before you’re sucked down the plughole at the bottom and ejected into a pool. We laughed so hard we nearly made ourselves sick.
From there it was back for more soaking, hither and thither between pools, until it was time to take our turn in the steam room. We went in wrinkled like soggy prunes, but emerged fresh and plumped like lightly poached fruit. Serious pampering is on offer at The Spa with a full menu of treatments including massage, facials, hot stone therapy and even a thermal gel body-wrap.
All that pool-hopping and hydrosliding will work up an appetite, and fortunately Hanmer boasts a disproportionate number of cafés, restaurants and bars. There’s something for every taste and budget – from Cornish pasties at the bakery, to mid-range Indian and more upmarket, sophisticated dining. Some good browsing can be had in the shops, too, which is always aids digestion, don’t you think?
Beyond the business precinct, the streets branch out into a typical resort-town neighbourhood of holiday homes, the odd chalet and an increasing number of flash retirement retreats. The best place to get the lay of the land is Conical Hill Lookout, reached via a zigzag walkway from town (one hour return). There are other good walks in and around the town, including the more ambitious tramp to the summit of Mt Isobel (5–6 hours return).
One of the great joys of Hanmer is its trees, such as the glade of particularly fine specimens that graces the town centre. Some of the Redwoods are over 100 years old and tower majestically over the pools complex. On the edge of the town you’ll find the Hanmer Heritage Forest, first planted back in 1901. It now comprises more than 5000 hectares of ‘mixed-age, near natural forest’, with many interesting species to be seen and hugged. Crisscross tracks make for easy walking, mountain biking and horse riding, and it is – as you can imagine – incredibly beautiful at the turn of the seasons.
Being such a popular holiday destination, there’s plenty of accommodation on offer. Five minutes walk from the town centre, the Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park couldn’t be more conveniently located and this goes some way to explain its popularity. The thoughtfully laid-out grounds are particularly well tended, and there’s something about a well-pruned bush and a colourful splash of geranium that puts us in a good mood.
Many of the powered sites have hard-pads with picnic tables and lawns alongside, while the unpowered pitches are located in a picturesque field at the quiet end of the park, bordering the forest reserve. Built accommodation offers a bed for every budget, ranging from standard cabins (shared facilities) to fully self-contained units and park motels. Amongst the excellent facilities are a playground, barbeque area and games room.
Around 2.5km from the centre of town, Alpine Adventure Holiday Park is a quieter, more spacious option. It’ll take about half an hour to walk into town, or you can hire bikes cheaply from the park, or hop on their free courtesy coach.
This dear old park stands testament to the original landscapers who set out the grounds and planted them. Mature trees abound – mostly graceful exotics such as willow and silver birch – which provide plenty of shade and privacy. There’s open lawn for ball games and many other child-friendly diversions such as tyre-swings and a blind rope trail. There’s a swimming pool, too. If you want to let your kids loose, the Alpine Adventure’s for you.
Both powered and unpowered sites are on grass and well spaced throughout the park. The built accommodation is very reasonably priced, and ranges from compact weatherboard cabins (from $20 per night), through to cosy self-contained chalets. The shared facilities are in good shape (the bathrooms are gloriously retro), and include a television room with internet.
Hanmer Springs is a place that you wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – pass through. It’s a place to visit for a few days, preferably a week or more. For such a little town, there’s a surprising amount to do – and one visit to the thermal pools is not enough. We always feel excited when we get there, and our bodies always thank us when we leave.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and The Spa
Tel 0800 442 663, (03) 315 0000; www.hanmersprings.co.nz
Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park
Cnr Main Road and Bath Street, Hanmer Springs
Tel 0800 904 545, (03) 315 7113; www.mountainviewtop10.co.nz
Alpine Adventure Holiday Park
200 Jacks Pass Road, 2.5 km northwest of Hanmer Springs
Tel 0800 568 563, (03) 315 7112; www.hanmerspringsaccommodation.co.nz