Head to the famous hot pools at Hanmer Springs in the Hurunui District. 

Explore the Hurunui District in North Canterbury


Wellness is all about balance. It’s sweating out toxins in a sauna and then sipping pinot noir in a hot tub under the stars; it’s breathing fresh mountain air, strolling in nature and indulging in a decadent feast. All these things are good for your soul. 

My wellness weekend begins at Mount Lyford in north Canterbury – home to a small ski field, serious mountain biking trails… and Swiss chalets. Arriving at the remote village, at the end of a juddering gravel road is like finding myself in another country where all the houses are built in the same inter-locking log cabin style.

The last of the spring snow at Mt Lyford.

The last of the spring snow at Mt Lyford. Photo by Jo Percival

As the sun creeps towards the periphery of the mountain valley I make myself at home in my glamping accommodation. Harakeke Huts are two tiny wooden cabins, just big enough to fit a queen-sized bed, with a separate building housing a kitchen, bathroom and dining space in between. The huts are so small it’s a bit like sleeping in a charming child’s playhouse – warm and snug.

Even warmer is the onsite sauna and cedar hot tub. Beads of perspiration trickle down my temples as I admire the view through the sauna’s perfectly placed window. Outside, the ribs of Mount Lyford are picked out against the last of the spring snow. Then, sauna-seared and inured against the chilly air, I sink into the hot tub, suspended foetus-like in warm water as a crisp breeze rustles through spiky kānuka branches. I sip my wine and watch the full moon rise.

The cute and cosy Harakeke Hut at Mt Lyford.

The cute and cosy Harakeke Hut at Mt Lyford. Photo by Jo Percival.

In the morning, everything is crunchy and sparkling with frost. Chimes of korimako ring across the the valley. The nearby duckpond steams in the sunshine. It’s a glorious day, and on the drive to Hanmer Springs the river gleams like bright mercury. Cotton wool tufts of clouds float at the feet of the soaring ranges.

I continue my immersion therapy by spending the day at the famous Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools – a smorgasbord of bathing experiences. Avoiding the colourful cacophony of the hydro slides I sink into in the tranquil rainbow pool, wallow in the hot, silky water of the sulphur pools and get pummelled by jets in the aqua-therapy pool. The scurry between oases is brisk with goosebumps, followed by the ‘ahhhh’ of easing back into warm water. My fingers have morphed into prunes by the time I reluctantly towel myself off. 

Wooden sculptures make delightful surprises in the Hanmer Heritage Forest.

Wooden sculptures make delightful surprises in the Hanmer Heritage Forest. Photo by Jo Percival.

After a day of water bathing, I begin the next with a wander along Hanmer Heritage Forest’s sculpture trail, finding delightful wooden artworks by Andrew Lyons hewn from redwood. Carved squirrels and eagles sit on log perches, a giant face peers from behind a tree trunk, a sculpted orangutan dangles casually by one arm. 

The afternoon sees the weather change to drizzle and I happily head indoors to while away a few hours sampling the wares at Black Estate. The absence of the Waipara view is compensated by a seat next to a crackling fire and a giant black cat, Simon, lolling on a hearthside rug. Outside, huge frost-battling fans are dotted amongst the vines ready to protect the new vintage growth. 

Simon the cat lounges by the fire at Black Estate, Waipara.

Simon the cat lounges by the fire at Black Estate, Waipara. Photo by Jo Percival.

As per its name, everything in the dining room at Black Estate is painted in shades of noir, with blonde wood and a spray of spring blossoms breaking up the monochrome.

I am well fed at my corner table; courses appear in a steady stream of deliciousness. As I eat, a break in the cloud reveals the full extent of the beautiful Waipara valley, with its patchwork of vineyards and dark rows of pine windbreaks lined up perpendicularly to the marching army of denuded vines.

Lunch at Black Estate, Waipara.

Lunch at Black Estate, Waipara. Photo by Jo Percival.

At Georges Road Winery the Wine Pod is another small but perfectly formed cabin, self-contained and set literally amongst the winery’s Riesling and syrah vines. Views stretch to the snowcapped peak of Mount Grey in the distance. After a brief rain shower, the vines glisten with jewel-like water drops. A sliver of sunset is visible between low cloud and the distant rolling ridge line. As the temperature drops, an eerie layer of mist creeps through the neighbouring paddock just above ground level, gradually concealing a mob of oblivious sheep.

The Wine Pod in Georges Road Vineyard.

The Wine Pod in Georges Road Vineyard. Photo by Jo Percival.

Another evening, another hot tub. Outside the Wine Pod I climb into the bath-sized cedar tub topped to the brim with hot water. The evening is completely still – no wind, no lights, no traffic – just the white noise of the nearby Waipara River and the amber, then silver-gold glow of a big moon intermittently appearing through the cloud. Amongst the vines, steam from the hot tub mingles with the creeping mist.

The windblown tree at Iron Ridge Sculpture Park.

The windblown tree at Iron Ridge Sculpture Park. Photo by Jo Percival.

In the morning I head a little further up the Waipara River valley to find Iron Ridge Sculpture Park. Here, artist Raymond Herber has turned turned a disused lime quarry into a wonderland of gardens and sculptures. The original quarry buildings made of time-bleached timber loom over the steep driveway, but opposite the large, corrugated workshop the once barren site has been transformed. Poplars, kōwhai and cabbage trees sit alongside lawns and a large fish pond. The whole site is studded with artworks made from pale limestone and metal with varying degrees of whimsy. There are interactive self-pedal sculptures that activate fans or garden shears for a 'DIY haircut'. Raymond’s elegantly curved metalwork contrasts with the rugged landscape and a full-size silver Clydesdale paws at the earth. I climb the steep path to the ridge next to a beautiful sculpture of a windblown tree. I stop to breathe, to admire and soak some more – this time immersing myself in the stunning views of the green valley. 


Story by Jo Percival for the Spring 2023 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Jo Percival is the Digital Editor for AA Directions Magazine.

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