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
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.