Hanmer Springs

January 2, 2013

For some reason I had the urge to title this post An Unexpected Journey, and for a millisecond, I couldn’t figure out why. Oh yes, there is The Hobbit paraphernalia everywhere here in New Zealand. You’d think nothing else was ever made here. Personally, I like most NZ-made items better than I liked The Hobbit. Anyhow, our journey wasn’t unexpected, just unexpectedly long, and now I’ve written a paragraph about it instead of just the title of the post…

We woke up on New Years’ Day 2013 ready for an adventure. We had already decided to visit Hanmer Springs, a place I’d had my eye on since last time we were in New Zealand. They advertise inviting hot pools and gorgeous mountain views. Sweet.

We set off, two bikes and a bag filled with hot springs essentials for our New Years Day trip. The drive was nice, except for being stuck behind a Britz Van (ie: super large and top heavy tourist van that most people shouldn’t drive) going way under the speed limit. I noted many wineries that I’d like to visit eventually, and I enjoyed watching fields of sheep pass by.

Rain seemed imminent for the first 4 hours or so, and then, the clouds just kind of… left!

We arrived in Hanmer Springs after about 2 hours, and enjoyed walking around town. After some exploration we came upon a backpacker’s hostel and thought…. why not? Neither of us has to work tomorrow, and we have our bikes… what else do we need? We booked a bunk bed (for a cheap $58 total in a place that’s akin to Lake Tahoe) and continued on with our day. We later mourned the lack of body wash and toothbrushes, but all in all it was still great.

Very pleasant, downtown Hanmer

Naturally, Scott was itching to get on the bike and after an hour or so of cruising around town, I was pretty ready to get moving too. We were stoked to have as much time as we wanted on the trails, without a 2 hour drive home looming in the near future.

Unfortunately the hype of the Hanmer mountain bike trails may have been a bit over-hyped. There were plenty of short, interconnecting trails, which probably could have been cool except that someone in charge had covered 80% of the trails with gravel. Anyone who rides mountain bikes much knows that gravel on the trails actually makes them harder (no traction) and increases the incidence of accidents, especially in those families they are seeking so desperately to entertain.

This isn’t the first place we’ve seen utter trail failure (looking at you, Middle Trail: Bidwell Park), but it is super unfortunate because it truly makes the trail less enjoyable for everyone. I mean, I love to hike too. And when in nature, I don’t want to be crunching on gravel. I want to be walking on dirt and pine needles, etc. Anyways, I digress.

Found a (section of) trail without gravel! I took the liberty of naming this Christmas
Tree Alley. It smelled heavenly.

After a shorter ride than anticipated, we cruised downtown for happy hour. In New Zealand, house wine and draft beers for $6 is seriously exciting. We enjoyed happy hour at this place called Malabar: An Asian Fusion and Indian Food Bar. The kicker? They were playing exclusively country music. Totally weird. But I liked it, and we had the place to ourselves.

After showering, we got cheap dinner and ate with a French guy and an Italian guy staying at the hostel. It’s always interesting to share stories and points of view with other travelers, although in this case the Italian guy seemed in charge of all stories, points of view, and all opinions on all topics. After dinner we went on a short hike to the top of Conical Hill, located right behind our hostel. It was quite lovely!

Last light illuminating the hills

We found out later that Conical Hill’s nickname in Hanmer is “Engagement Hill”. I could see it.

We spent the night in a shared bunk room with 3 German guys who didn’t (or chose not to) speak English. They were quiet and respectful enough, but when one was snoring in the middle of the night I almost chucked my book at his face. Staying in a shared room could have been way worse, and now I can say I’ve stayed in a hostel bunk in a foreign country with people I don’t know that don’t speak English… but I’m still going to skip it in the future.

The next day we cruised by the hot springs to see what all the fuss was about. By this point we’d deducted that the entrance fee was $18 per person, which included admittance to the main pools but not a towel if you needed one ($5), food, sauna ($30?!), or entrance to the hot spring’s water slides ($10). Yes, the hot springs, advertised as seen below, had full on water slides. Keeping in mind that Scott can only last about 5 minutes in a hot tub and neither of us finds throngs of children running around with inner tubes to be relaxing, we decided to skip the attraction for which Hanmer Springs is most famous.

Advert I kept seeing… false advertisement?

There was a small walking path around the edge of the hot springs through the grounds of an old hospital and nurses’ hostel. We checked out the creepy old (closed) hospital and nurses’ quarters, and noticed that you could easily peek in the hot springs. For $18 (or $28+) per person, this is what we were missing:

Feeling like we dodged a bullet, or at least 100 screaming kids
Creepy. Quite pleased I don’t have to reside somewhere like this…

We went out for another gravel skidding adventure mountain bike ride, and found some slightly better trails. Sort of anyways… eh, I won’t get into it. But we got a little exercise, and then decided to hit the road. I hadn’t forgotten those wineries I mentioned earlier, and figured I’dd make quick work of a few of those on the way home.

We enjoyed wine at one spot close to Hanmer, but actually found the rest to be closed! It was January 2, which is a national holiday in New Zealand! NZ is very generous with their public holidays, so much so that there’s not a reason for a holiday on this day… they don’t even call it something (like Boxing Day, Queens Birthday, Penguin Day)… it’s just, January 2, public holiday. Those stuck working are making at least time and a half. Go figure.

We happily settled for a brewery we had seen about a half an hour out of Christchurch on our way out of town. Scott recognized Brew Moon from a job advertisement he’d browsed through a few weeks ago. It was a cool place to have lunch, with decent beer, but probably not the job he’s been looking for.

Hungry and stinky: waiting patiently for food while rocking yesterday’s clothes!

All in all, our Hanmer trip was a success, although not for the hot springs or the super sweet single track. It was just an ambling, relaxing journey made enjoyable by having no schedule or expectations. I felt it was a great sort of start to a great new year.

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