HU­RUNUI

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I knew ex­actly what I wanted from my New Zealand hol­i­day – to get away from it all.

I wanted moun­tains. I wanted to live and breathe the coun­try’s 100 per cent pure im­age but I wanted it without get­ting muddy and in close prox­im­ity to some ex­cel­lent

eater­ies.

Iwanted to be able to send the hus­band off to hunt, gather and beat his chest in the wilder­ness while I shopped (or napped) nearby. It was our first break without kids in sev­eral years – it had to be mag­i­cal. Thank­fully, we found Han­mer Springs.

Fly into the South Is­land’s largest city of Christchurch and you’re just a 90-minute drive away from the alpine vil­lage of Han­mer Springs. It’s easy to get there. We pick up a Ford Fo­cus (my choice…he groaned) from the air­port and hit the road.

It’s a stun­ning trip through the in­cred­i­ble wine re­gion of Waipara Val­ley. Take the turnoff onto State High­way 7 and you’ll find large alien­like lime­stone for­ma­tions (look out for the fa­mous Frog Rock). From there you’ll travel over rolling hills with glimpses of the pic­turesque South­ern Alps be­fore find­ing your­self in for­est with crisp alpine air and the vil­lage just min­utes away.

Enor­mous trees greet us on Han­mer Springs’ Amuri Av­enue and as I look at the flaw­less blue sky, I know this will be an in­cred­i­ble week­end. On the left, the world fa­mous ther­mal pools and spa beckon and fur­ther along I spot the vil­lage green and the town’s main street.

Out of the car, we go for a stroll. This place has a cool, laid back so­phis­ti­ca­tion. You are sur­rounded by moun­tains and forests in a vil­lage that just oozes charm. Han­mer Springs is so dif­fer­ent from other New Zealand towns. It re­minds us more of small alpine vil­lages in Europe and North Amer­ica. It feels good just be­ing here.

We check into our home for the week­end – the 5-star Vil­lage Lake apart­ments (spa­cious and stun­ning), dis­card the trav­el­ling clothes and head out again.

First stop, the i-Site in­for­ma­tion cen­tre next to the pools. The of­fer­ings are amaz­ing…bungy jump­ing, quad and moun­tain bik­ing, raft­ing, fish­ing and treks galore. We wish (for about 30 sec­onds) we’d brought the kids – they’d love the farm park, the mazes, the mini golf and the vil­lage cruis­ers bikes. In­stead I con­sider shoot­ing the hus­band – in paint­ball, of course. But it is the jet boat­ing that fi­nally ap­peals and book­ings are made.

For a vil­lage, Han­mer Springs has a sur­pris­ing num­ber of eater­ies - from high-end restau­rants to ca­sual din­ing and take­away joints. We re­lax over pizza at Saints Café and wash it down with Black Es­tate Sauvignon Blanc, made just down the road in Waipara.

Af­ter din­ner, with dusk set­ting in, we head to the ther­mal pools for a pre-bed­time bathe. Steam rises from the sur­face of the wa­ter and there’s an elec­tri­fy­ing am­bi­ence. There are dozens of peo­ple ev­ery­where but plenty of quiet cor­ners for us.

“Wow,” says hus­band. “Ah ha,” I re­ply.

There are no other words nec­es­sary. I mar­vel at how this in­cred­i­ble, min­eral-rich wa­ter has made its way from the belly of the earth as we lose our­selves in our own thoughts.

We sleep like logs and wake early. I

plan on re­lax­ing in my white fluffy robe but, no, hus­band throws me my sneak­ers and we’re out the door. Half an hour later we’re stand­ing at the top of Con­i­cal Hill. Our breath steams in the crisp air as we look out at the vil­lage and fields spread out be­low. It feels great.

Af­ter brunch, we’re off jet boat­ing. The half-hour trip is awe­some – aqua­ma­rine wa­ters and sheer cliffs whizz past us, adrenalin pumps and we laugh like the teenagers we were when we met. Bet­ter still…the rush lasts for hours – in­cred­i­ble value for money.

Back in the vil­lage, we en­joy a cof­fee be­fore hus­band dis­ap­pears for a round of golf at the pic­turesque Han­mer Springs Golf Club. Amaz­ing views but watch out for the bank on the 14th, he says…stole his ball.

I hit the shops. With names like Up the Gar­den Path and Wink this re­ally is an en­joy­able jour­ney of sur­prises. Bou­tique fash­ion and home­ware stores, divine gift shops and the most gor­geous chil­dren’s cloth­ing store, Rat Bagz -where I pick up a cou­ple of treats for our rat­bags back home.

Late af­ter­noon and it’s time for some in­dul­gence. The Spa at Han­mer Springs (next to the pools) is award-win­ning. I’m booked in for a fa­cial, the hus­band for a deep tis­sue sports mas­sage. I have high ex­pec­ta­tions af­ter be­ing tipped off that this is one of the best spas in New Zealand. I am not dis­ap­pointed. Af­ter be­ing greeted with smiles, we’re given sump­tu­ous robes and slip­pers and await our therapists. The next 60 min­utes are heav­enly…a deep tis­sue sports mas­sage for him, a full body aroma mas­sage for me, side by side in the cou­ples treat­ment room. What’s best, we’re not rushed out the door af­ter­ward. In­stead there is a se­lec­tion of wa­ters, herbal teas and mag­a­zines to en­joy in the re­lax­ation room while we slowly re­turn to re­al­ity.

Din­ner that night is a lux­u­ri­ous af­fair at No.31 – a fine din­ing restau­rant. Ev­ery­thing is sub­lime. Af­ter­wards, we head to one of the lo­cal bars for a quiet drink.

Day two and af­ter a sleep in, we’re back at the pools and amazed at how big the com­plex is by day. Not only is there the net­work of ther­mal pools, we dis­cover an en­tire fam­i­lyfriendly ac­tiv­ity area, com­plete with hy­droslides and the Su­per­bowl (an aquatic thrill ride). Now we do wish we’d brought the kids. The aquather­apy pools are al­most a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence – mas­sag­ing away our aches and pains.

The af­ter­noon is spent strolling through Han­mer Springs For­est Park…lov­ing the fresh air in our lungs. We both lament mak­ing this a short break but time ticks on and we have to hit the road.

There re­ally is noth­ing worse than leav­ing a mag­i­cal place and know­ing you’ve only just scratched its sur­face. I wish I’d had more time to just soak up the in­cred­i­ble am­bi­ence of this vil­lage – the hus­band wishes he’d or­gan­ised a fish­ing trip. We both wish we’d been able to ex­plore the in­cred­i­ble St James Con­ser­va­tion Area nearby. But what is won­der­ful is that we’ve found Han­mer Springs now and we know we’ll be back. This is New Zealand just as we wanted it – 100 per cent pure, na­ture on a plate.

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