Off to Hanmer Springs
New Brighton, New Zealand
We packed some food and stuffed our bikes in the van and off we were on Saturday morning. It took us about 2h to reach Hanmer Springs. It is only 140km long journey, north of Christchurch, but we drove slower and enjoyed the ride through the surrounding nature beauty. We reached Hanmer Spring Village at around 10am and first visited the i-SITE (tourist information office). We bought the 3$ mountain bike guide that contains few easy, intermediate and advanced bike trails with maps and descriptions. We decided for the longest one Jacks and Jollies Backcountry Gravel Road Loop with its 25km that takes 2-5 hours (depends on your fitness condition).
We parked our van at the big free parking area at the information office and biked up Amuri Avenue and took first turn left on Jacks Pass Road. After few hundred meters we turned right following the sign to Hanmer Ski Area and that is where the suffering began J and me beginning to curse myself for choosing this trail.
The ride circles Mt Isobel, passing through 800-metre high Jacks Pass. We spent 1/3rd of the track pushing our bikes. But this is us, with minimum fitness condition J Once we were through the Jacks Pass we were good... the rest of the trail is just super nice and worth the suffer. We followed the Clarence River, on flat gravel road, enjoying the presence of the mountains that were surrounding us. Then we entered Jollies Pass that took us some little effort to get through and after just down down down and back to the concrete Jollies Pass Road. We decided to get lost on the easy 4km bike labyrinth-ish trails through Hanmer Heritage Forest that eventually led us back to Hanmer Springs Village and back to our van. We managed to finish that extended ride in 3h30. Then we jumped on our pasta salad and satisfied our hungry stomachs.
We had a stroll through the buildings that used to serve as a hospital. Queen Mary Hospital Historic Reserve is free to visit. There are guided tours from November to March, on Sundays at noon and cost 2$. The buildings are closed to the public but we wandered round the grounds admiring ghostly buildings such as Solders Block, Nurses' Hostel... ('Urban explorers' probably wouldn't have difficulty finding their way inside.) The hospital served helping recuperate shell-shocked soldiers during WWI, later as a mental institution and then as a residential alcohol and drugs rehab centre which closed in 2003.
Wild camping in the village is not allowed. The cheapest camp site is Alpine Holiday Apartments & Campgrounds costing 11$/person per night. We decided to save 22$, used clean public toilets for quick wash and headed with the van back on the gravel road that leads to Hanmer Ski Area and after few hundred meters we took first little gravel road sharp left that opens wider and found it perfect sleeping spot. It is off the ‘main’ gravel road, nobody can see you and doesn't say ‘Camping not allowed’.
NEXT DAY: After a quiet night, with light rain we woke up in a fresh morning with mountain tops covered in snow and morning mist. We headed back to the free parking area, cooked coffee on our little stove, had breakfast on the benches and waited for the sun to come from the clouds.
Off the Jollies Pass Road just after the cheapest campground in town, the McIntyres rd on the left leads to the parking area of Waterfall Track. Andres decided to have a relaxing morning, parked the van on the sunny side and took his book, while I couldn't resist the fresh morning walk up through the forest to the Waterfall. It takes about 2h30 return… I managed to take my(heavy)self up in 1h and with light jogging back down in 30min. It was nice, quiet, fresh morning walk, with birds singing and river whispering now and then. You need to jump over one or three streams and go up a few sets of wooden stairs. If you prefer it tranquil do it as early as possible if you want to avoid crowd of people.
After that we did another 45min walk to the popular Conical Hill with the nice view at the top. Take a bottle of beer to enjoy it on the top. :)
The rest of the day then we decided to relax in the hot pools. It is one of the cheap things in New Zealand and really worth its 20$ entry to the springs. Rainwater seeping through fractures in the rocks of the Hanmer Mountains absorbs various minerals and is warmed by the earth's natural heat, before rising to the surface as the springs that made the town famous. Super relaxing and enjoyable in any weather condition. Take a book with you to read in the pools! We met super nice, interesting German-Maori couple (Francesca and Simon) and we spent 3h talking with them. We had heaps of things in common. He is a tattoo artist and carves from wood and gave some advices to Andres on finding good carving stones. She is on working holiday visa and travels around New Zealas and gave us info on what to do and see. She did 10day Vipasana meditation course in Auckland which is on my bucket list as well… we talked about that and just the whole mindfulness and awareness principles how great it works toward happiness. We will meet again! :) in Akaroa!
The hot pools close at 9pm but we left around 7pm and headed back to Christchurch. Be aware, pools can make you pretty tired so do not have a long way planed ahead right after. We were super happy to hit the hay after a LOVELY WEEKEND!
Other things you can do in Hanmer Springs:
-other hiking and biking tracks
-horse ridding (from 100$/h per person)
-mini golf, Golf Club
-Adventure Centre (rafting, jetboating, quad biking, guided mountain bike tours, clay bird shooting, archery...)
-massage at Hanmer Springs Spa
-visit Farm Park & Cafe