I’ve been to Hanmer Springs a fair few times now. It’s actually is one of my favourite places in the South Island. Given it’s only about 1 hour 40 minutes from Christchurch it’s an easy destination to go for a weekend, or even a day depending on how much you like driving and who’s in your car with you.
There’s a plethora of different things to do there, depending on your mood or energy levels; soaking in the hot pools, eating, running up Mount Isobel, walking in the woods or mountain biking in the forest.
In the winter months it’s a snowy alpine lodge wonderland surrounded by white-tipped mountains, in the summertime it’s a sunshine holiday haven, when Autumn comes around the trees burst with all shades of copper and rust and Spring sees the mountains towering over the first blooms of the season. I’ve been on my own, as part of a couple and with friends at all different times of the year, and always found something to suit everyone.
I like Hanmer because it gives me a nice balance between doing loads of stuff and chilling out, while being cute as a button (if it were a child I’d grab it’s cheeks and give them a big squeeze while making nonsense noises) and reminding me of Norfolk in the UK, although I don’t know why because it’s actually nothing like it. Go figure. I guess it feels like going on holiday, and Norfolk is where I used to go on holiday a lot.
Some of my favourite things to do:
Climb Mount Isobel. There’s three main walking tracks to get up to the top of Mount Isobel 1324m, depending on how energetic or lazy you feel, or how much time you have. They all get to the summit where you feel like you’re on top of the world.
Conical Hill. At 550m, this is smaller and takes less time, but gives a great view of the mountains and over the town. There’s a small shelter at the top with a seat and some shade, and a sundial type thing. But annoyingly no water fountain, which is what you actually need having hauled your carcass up there in the first place.
Hot pools. I didn’t do these the first time I went, but now I’m a convert. Especially if you’ve just done Mount Isobel, these are a great way to soak your tired legs. You may get a photographer wading around with you wanting to take extremely awkward/cheesy photos which you have to walk past in the shop to get out, like the exit route of a theme park, only with less adrenaline coursing through your veins making you spend a million pounds. Try to resist the urge to slam dunk the photographers in the pools, the cameras aren’t in waterproof casings, and you’re not allowed to put your head under the water anyway.
Drink tea and eat cake. There are a few cafes in Hanmer, and I’ve not tried them all, mainly because I love Powerhouse and don’t go anywhere else now. It serves the most amazing food, loads of it healthy superfood-type (but not all). If you’re the kind of person that thinks those places are pretentious and pricey; this one isn’t, so don’t let it put you off. Plus, they do some pretty awesome cakes. I’ve also just found out it’s situated in an historic hydro-electric power-station. Never knew that. Just go for the cake, trust me.
The waterfall walk. This short (ish) walk winds through (and up) the mountain beech forest (lovely and shaded when the weather is hot), across a couple of streams and ends at the 41 metre high Dog Stream Waterfall. Better when there’s been a bit of rain (i.e. not in summer), it’s a pleasant walk, and there’s some fun to be had with posing on a rock with the waterfall, depending on which friends you are with. If I’m with Marsha, interpretive dance photos in nature are par for the course.
Walk around the town. It’s not very big, but it’s perfectly formed. There’s loads of shops and art galleries, if browsing’s your thing. You can hire these pedal bike things to get about if you want. They look like those contraptions you get at Butlins and other British holiday resorts, only in Hanmer people are let loose on the roads with them and is why driving in Hanmer should only be carried out at 20 kph tops just in case you come across one weaving all over the road and have to do an emergency stop.
Eat food and drink beer. There’s a couple of pubs and bars along the main street. I don’t have a favourite, although I’ve eaten at the one on the corner of Cheltenham Street more than any others. Not because it’s the best, or because it’s on a road with the name of where I used to live in the UK, but because it was the nearest or first one we came to.
There’s a crazy golf place. Never been, as I have a slightly irrational aversion to crazy golf. Not sure why. Always seems like a very cheesy first or second date thing to do in bad TV programmes overlaid with plinkety-plonk music.
There’s an old hospital (the Queen Mary Hospital Historic Reserve) to walk round (outside only). I last visited it 5 years ago, so no idea what it’s like now, or what the purpose of it is, as back then it was just old empty buildings that you couldn’t actually go in. Still, nice grounds to stroll around in I suppose, and if you look in the windows it’s quite interesting, in an abandoned-and-stuck-in-the-60s-or-70s-or-who-knows-when type way. There’s also quite a lot of history there (in NZ terms, it’s old), especially around all of the different uses throughout the years.
The river is also a fun place to hang out. You can paddle, swim, go boating, rafting, bungee jump over it or just sit by it. It’s pretty. Google tells me it’s called the Hanmer River. Don’t forget your togs!
I normally camp at Hanmer Springs Forest Camp, a quaint old-holiday-camp (think Hi-de-hi) type place a couple of km out of town in the woods. There’s walking tracks right from the campsite but the main attraction is the price (it’s cheap – just $16 per person to camp) and the fact the shower block has a heated floor. This is epic in winter. There’s also a kitchen fully-stocked with cooking stuff and crockery, which is great if you’re like me and can’t be arsed to take anything with you. They also have a lounge to well, lounge about in, which is mega warm in winter and where you will meet all kinds of other travellers, so you can either make friends or leave with WTF stories, both of which are quite delightful.
There’s a Top10 campsite in town if you need to be walking or staggering distance from the pub or pools, and an abundance of motels, hotels and bachs for rent.
Of course there’s a Foursquare with the usual slightly inflated prices but friendly staff. It even has it’s own web page.
There are loads of sporty events that take place in Hanmer. Generally people running or cycling up the hills and back down again, sometimes multiple times. Always a good reason to visit a place; check out the NZ Running Calendar website to see what’s on.
How to get there? Type Hanmer Springs into Google maps and you’re away.