There’s only one thing better than lounging in soft mineral water heated by thermal springs and that’s lying in soft mineral water heated by thermal springs when the ground around you is covered with snow and there’s a biting southerly blowing down from the tops.
Outside Iceland, there are few places in the world where you can enjoy this experience.
The thermal springs at Hanmer were discovered by William Jones in 1859, who noticed steam drifting across his path when he was poking about on the banks of the Percival River in the Amuri District.
They were subsequently developed as a health spa, at a time when belief in the therapeutic qualities of geothermal springs was at its height. A large, Art Deco-style hotel was constructed nearby in the 1930s, and a small township grew up around it, named after Sir Thomas Hanmer, whose fame today is obscure but who was an Englishman with an undoubtedly steamy disposition.
Today, Hanmer is a thriving town, not unlike a scaled-down Queenstown. The Thermal Resort has been extensively re-developed, and the springs water diverted into a number of pools with a range of temperatures so that you can ease yourself into the really hot stuff by degrees.
There are dozens of accommodation options, ranging from a well-appointed campground to the refurbished Heritage Hanmer Springs Hotel. While the thermal pools are the focal point of the district, there’s plenty else to do. Hanmer has a good range of shops, cafés, art galleries and restaurants, and the wider district – particularly the Waiau river valley – has plenty to offer the adventurous, from rafting, jet boating and kayaking to horse riding, bungy jumping, quad biking and off-roading in eight-wheel Argo all-terrain vehicles.
There’s also plenty of skiing and boarding terrain in the area, from the small Amuri field to the heli-skiing possibilities of Mount Lyford and the surrounding ranges.
Hanmer is the inland apex of the Alpine Pacific Triangle.
It is, what’s more, only a short detour from State Highway 7, which crosses the Lewis Pass to the West Coast and features another well-developed thermal resort, Maruia Springs, en route.