Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hanmer Spings & Lewis Pass

Having spent the last few months in Christchurch earning a wage and paying the rent, by the time Easter came around Lou and I were itching to get back on the road and tick some more places off our list. Hanmer Springs seemed a good place to spend a night with good forest walks and, of course, its thermal springs.

A few days before we headed off we kept an eye on the weather and typically the day we were due to spend in Hanmer was the one day of the Easter weekend that was due to rain all day.

Needless to say as soon as we had our bags packed in the car and set off down the road the first signs of rain made an appearance on our front windscreen. Undeterred, we made our way north and it took us almost 2 hours driving but 135km later we drove past Hanmer Springs and had to take a u-turn to go back around. However, we saw a sign for Lewis Pass and it stuck in our minds.

Knowing it would be a busy weekend, we booked ourselves into Kakapo Hostel and splashed out on a room with en-suite. It's a clean little place on the edge of town and our room came with a microwave and fridge which was an added bonus as we were able to keep our milk cold for morning coffee and heat up our apple pastries for added scrumminess.

Our first task was a walk around town to find somewhere for lunch as it was 1.30pm and we were hungry and needed something substantial to fuel us for our walk in the rain. We decided on Jollie Jack's bar more as a last resort than anything else as none of the other pubs had any

charm or more importantly a decent menu to choose from. Lou had the BLT and I had the chicken and mushroom hot pot. Her baguette turned out to be heavily covered in garlic and I'm sure my ingredients used the contents of a soup can. Both meals were washed down with beer that tasted decidely dodgy. In short, not a great dining experience. My advice is to bring a packed lunch.

With food in our bellies, we set off up the main street which is very steep and leads to the enterance of Conical Hill which is supposed to give great views over Hanmer and the signpost informed us it would take 30 minutes to reach the top. I wasn't sure if we'd see much from the top due to the clouds but we set off along the path which gave excellent shelter from the rain which thankfully wasn't much more than a light drizzle. I'm a fast walker when it comes to flat ground and thankfully Christchurch is firmly on low ground due it being on the Canterbury plains but this was hard going until about half way up when our bodies adjusted and it wasn't so much of a chore anymore.

Along the way, there isn't much to see except for huge red mushrooms that stand alone and in groves and trees ripe with berries. Where the bend in the path turns for another uphill straight you can glimpse the town below where it slowly becomes smaller and you can see the valley below and mountains in the distance half covered in clouds.

Despite the light rain and grey day, the views are still worth the half hour it takes to enjoy them and the lookout provides 360 degrees over the forest park and as far as the eye can see and the clouds allow. Making it all the way to the top also provides the opportunity to make the infinetly easier decline to the bottom back into Hanmer.

The Hanmer Springs were discovered in 1859 and fed by rainwater that seeps down through the ground and accumulates in an underground reservoir 2km beneath the surface where it absorbs minerals and is warmed by the earth's natural heat and rises again via fissures.

It was one of the main attractions of our journey but we were put off by the hordes of tourists and the rain - even though one obviously gets wet in a thermal pool. It just seemed that neither of us would enjoy ourselves. However, we remembered Lewis Pass and knew that there was another thermal spring there. As the weather was to be much better we decided to travel there the next day and check it out.

We returned to our room where we relaxed and got ready for dinner before once again throwing ourselves to the wolves that is Hanmer eateries. We decided on Nos 47 along the main street and despite all the tables having a reserved sign, we were led to a table by the window and given a table number. Result.

As with most places to dine in Hanmer, Nos 47 doubles is a bistro bar and after deciding on our food, it was up to us to place our order at a hatch window and then buy our wine at the bar. We both settled on the fillet steak and after waiting nearly half an hour we were presented with two rib-eye steaks.

Neither of us could be bothered alerting the staff to their error as we were both rather hungry by this stage and it's not like we would be back. Both of our meals were underwhelming and we were both still slightly peckish afterwards so we decided to split the cheeseboard. While we were waiting for this, the table beside us recieved their order of rib-eye steaks which were, you've guessed it, fillet steaks. Clearly no-one in the restaurant understood a bloody thing about steaks. When the waiter returned with the other tables food, they complained that it wasn't what they ordered but they would eat it regardless so everyone could eat at once.

Our cheeseboard arrived with all but 3 cheeses, an assortment of blue and two mostly tasteless cheddar types and slices of cucumber, strawberries and baby tomatoes. Clearly the concept of CHEESEboard is lost in these neck of the woods along with what meat constitutes what.

The next day the weather was what we would have liked for the previous day and after packing the car, we set off for Lewis Pass and Maruia Springs. The views along the way afforded fantastic views of mountains and the Waiau River and through tree lined roads and cliffs that dropped hundreds of feet to the valley belows.

After an hour we arrived at the thermal spa resort and paid $15 for use of the springs and Japanese bath house where there was an onsen. The water in the main pools was quite black with little flecks indicating more minerals and the water itself was wonderfully warm and inviting.

A smaller pool was milky white and much cooler. Despite our enjoyment, the sandflies buzzing around our heads were a real annoyance and are something you have to get used to in New Zealand.

The Japanese Onsens are traditional which means both are segregated and clothing is optional. Before getting into the pool, you must first give yourself a good scrubdown using one of the side showers where a row of basins are provided with soap and a stool to sit on. Besides myself there was only one other guy in there and we ended up chatting the whole time about where we were from and nuisance development blighting the landscape. We decided after fifteen minutes it would be a good time to leave before we turned into prunes. The hilarious thing was afterwards talking to Lou and that she was only with another woman in there that turned out to be his wife.

The thermal pools were very refreshing despite your body smelling like sulpher afterwards but it's a very small price to pay for such a relaxing time.

In all, I feel we made the most of Hanmer Springs and if you're making your way towards the west coast through Lewis Pass, stop off at Maruia Springs instead of the thermal pools at Hamner or make the extra journey if you're on either a day trip or staying a night.

All the photos can be found here.


Anonymous Lou said...

I would definately recommend Maruia Springs as the better option to the Hanmer pools. The rock pools are situated on the mountain side, directly overlooking the ranges of Lewis Pass. It's quiet and serene, being the only buidling and sign of life for miles around. On the other hand Hanmer Springs is based in the town centre with pools that look more like an outdoor fun pool in a Spanish resort. They were overcrowded and full of screaming kids! One to miss in my opinion.

4:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a cool break, even though the food was so crap! Does the sulphur smell come off easily or are people still calling you "Stinky Phil" behind your back??? :-D

10:31 pm  

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