Hanmer Springs, New Zealand (14th Mar 2008)
Mt Somers to Hanmer Springs
Driver: KaraDistance Travelled: 272.9 Km / 169.6 Miles
Accumulative Distance: 2751.7 Km / 1710.2 Miles
The little alpine village of Hanmer is surrounded by mountains (which look lovely in the distance), and it is home to NZ most well known natural thermal springs on the south island. The population jumps up from around 800 permanent residents into the thousands every weekend and holiday season as over the years it has earned a reputation as a great spot for a weekend getaway and it is estimated that half a million swimmers come through the small town to soak in the naturally heated water of the sulphur pools each year. This is the reason that we decided to make the detour too, to sooth our bodies in the healing geothermal waters of Hanmer's Hot Springs, the brochures looked heavenly and we couldn't wait.
On the way into town we spotted a place called A-Maze-N-Golf, which is just what it says, a maze and a mini golf course and since Mark considers himself blessed with a Tiger Woods style putting prowess we had to stop and have a quick game. Things didn't go as well as Mark was expecting and subsequently he lost, officially by 4 shots, unofficially by about 20, having to restart hole 11 8 times and knocking his ball into the pond; ever the natural Kara went round just over par and even scored a hole in one on hole 2. As Mark soon explained to Kara, "we hadn't come to Hanmer for the golf anyway" so we jumped back into the van and headed into the actual township to find the springs.
Upon arriving at "The Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa" there must have been at least a 100 people; kids and adults, mostly families relaxed in the misty hot springs. The whole complex has something of a Garden of Eden feel, though perhaps a more commercialised version of one, the pools are manmade and give a resort like / amusement park feel and wasn't what we had imagined it to be like but it didn't matter to us and anyway, it was the only place in town where you can enjoy the hot springs. We quickly got changed and stuffed our gear into a locker and made a mad dash over towards the water.
Temperatures vary from 33C to 42C in the many small, thermal pools, and none were too crowded to spoil the serenity of the visit; but on more than one occasion we did ponder the etiquette of joining a group of bathers in a small rock pool. The hot spring water here is mixed with fresh water, allowing the pools to be regulated at varying temperatures. Dotted around the pools' entrances are wooden signs indicating the various heats. With rock pools, sulphur pools, mineral pools and a freshwater 25-metre lap pool to choose from, we felt spoilt for choice and knowing where to start was one of the hardest decisions we made all day, finally settling for one of the open water 36C pools just to get out of the cold. Wading waist deep into the warm water felt amazing with the heat feeling instantly therapeutic against our aching muscles. Steam rises off the water's surface and pretty soon our heads were in a thick shroud of mist as we found a nice quiet spot to immerse chin deep and just lay there; the cold air above the pool made for a really nice contrast in temperature which felt nothing short of delightful.
We found, after a bit of trial and error, that the trick is to wallow in one pool until your face turns a deep shade of beetroot, then psyche yourself up to brave the walk over to another one. It is, admittedly, a mighty chilly pilgrimage but that moment of discomfort is always offset by the sheer pleasure of sinking into another steaming oasis. The brochure advertisements say that the thermal waters are full of minerals that help the body rejuvenate and repair and that being in the water increases the flow of oxygen rich blood throughout the body nourishing vital organs and tissue, sounds great doesn't it, but there is a catch. We had noticed as we jumped from pool to pool that some of them had signs saying to keep your head above the water and we later found out why, as we overheard a life guard explaining that it is possible to get some kind of meningitis through openings in your scalp, which made things seem not so good!
All together we stayed about 3 hours at which point we couldn't help but notice that our skin had started to resemble that of a genetically modified prune and it was high time to get from within the soothing waters but that is not as easy as it sounds. We could have quite happily stayed in all day but the night was approaching and we hadn't eaten all day. Marks favourite pool was the 42C natural, stinking sulphur pool while Kara preferred 38C filtered open air pool. All in all for NZ$12 it was a bargain and we were so glad to have made the detour and come this way on our way up north.
Finding anywhere to camp around here discreetly was proving a problem, so we opted to stay in one of the camper parks that was on the edge of town and luckily there was one of the big budget chains, Top 10, which didn't cost very much at all and had everything and more that we would need for the night. The evening was spent watching TV (something we haven't done for ages) and using the kitchen rather than our camp stove to make ourselves a humble meal before getting into bed, in which we slept solidly right through to the next morning probably due to our session in the in lovely relaxing pools of Hanmer.