Things to do in Hanmer Springs – our complete guide to the alpine town

Just 90 minutes from Christchurch is a lush alpine village known for its adrenalin-fuelled activities, as well as its healing thermal pools. But more than just bungy jumping and bathing, Hanmer Springs, Hurunui, is a town jam-packed full of attractions to suit everyone’s style. Want to know more? We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Hanmer Springs.

What is Hanmer Springs?

The little hamlet of Hanmer Springs was ‘discovered’ (of course it was already known to the Maori) in 1859 for its hot springs. History has it that a local runholder, William Jones, saw the smoke rising from the springs from afar and came to check them out. The town itself was named for Thomas Hanmer, the owner of the nearby Hawkeswood Station.

We prefer the Maori version though which is that it means ‘falling of the embers of the fire of Tamatea’. The tale goes that Tamatea, one of New Zealand’s great Maori explorers, was shipwrecked and, almost frozen to death, asked the chief of the North Island volcanodes to send him ‘fire’ to save him from frostbitten death. The chief answered by sending flames, which landed in Hanmer Springs, heating the pools and causing steam to arise from the ground.

How to get there

Most people will go to Hanmer Springs from Christchurch, and it’s a pretty easy drive. Depending on your vehicle it will take between 90 minutes and 2 hours to do the 133km journey. You’ll generally take State Highway 1, then 7 and finally 7A.

Top 10 things to do in Hanmer Springs

  1. Go rafting (and jet boating) on the Waiau river
  2. Relax in the thermal pools
  3. Hike up Conical Hill
  4. Bungy jump from one of the oldest bridges in New Zealand
  5. Cruise around town in a buggy
  6. Go skiing or snowboarding
  7. Get a hole in one at Alpine Golf
  8. Walk in the woodlands
  9. Go off-road on a quad bike
  10. Try the local wines at Waiau River Estate

Go rafting (and jetboating) on the Waiau River

It’s one of the first things you’ll notice as you enter Hanmer Springs – the Waiau river gushing beneath the incredible bridge (more on that bridge later).

You might even spot a bright red jet boat, turning in tight circles as you hear the excited screams of tourists hanging on for dear life. Yup, that could be you!

But, seriously, one of the best things to do in Hanmer Springs is to go white-water rafting down the river and, once you’re done, get a heart-pounding jetboat ride for your return journey.

The rafting is suitable for nearly all ages, as the river is a ‘Grade 2’, meaning it gives you a bit of fun but really isn’t too strenuous or dangerous. You’ll find yourself paired with an incredibly knowledgeable guide (in our case, two!), who gives you all the safety and paddling instructions you’ll need. Once you’re wetsuited and booted up, you take to the river for about 90 minutes including the jetboat return.

Speaking of the jet boat, did you know that it was invented in New Zealand, actually in Canterbury! The jet boat ride is steered by a consummate driver who really knows their boat – cue absolute fear and hilarity in equal measure as you race at high speed down the river, squealing past the cliffs, brushing through trees and spinning 360 degrees through the water.

You can book it through Hanmer Springs Attractions, who also manage some of the other outdoor activities in town (more on those in a bit), plus canoeing, paintball, claybird shooting and even helicopter tours!

Relax in the thermal pools

They are really what put the town on the map so you really can’t pay a visit without spending time soothing those aches in the various hot pools and springs, as part of your Hanmer Springs itinerary.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa is the most visited attraction in Hanmer Springs and, of course, is what made the town initially famous.

The springs offers more than just hot springs but has a range of different pools for different purposes – soothing rock pools, smoky sulphur pools and different water temperatures to get the pulse racing. There are sauna and steam rooms plus a full array of spa activities that you can book, to pamper yourself.

Beyond the pools, there is also heaps for kids to do if you have some in tow. Activit pools, lap pools, a lazy river and even awesome water slides! The ‘Conical Thrill’, a newer attraction, is the country’s largest aquatic thrill ride and at 13.5 metres high it’s quite the treat!

They have an onsite café plus green areas for picnics, so you really could spend a whole day just at the springs.

The pricing model varies but the single entry ticket including the waterslide and use of the entire complex is 35 NZD (23.50 USD / 18 GBP) for adults, 20 NZD (13.50 USD / 10.25 GBP) for children and free for kids under 5.

Location: 42 Amuri Avenue, Hanmer Springs 7334

Open: 10.00am to 9.00pm daily

Hike up Conical Hill

It’s the most famous walk in Hanmer Springs, for good reason. Starting just at the end of the ‘high street’, the Conical Hill walk sees you ascend up the hill to get sweeping views of the town below, and the forests behind.

While the hike isn’t too long – it’s about 3km return – it can be slightly heavier going for those (like us) who don’t like uphill! This is a slightly steep ascent punctuated by a lot of switchbacks! It’s a gorgeous walk and very shaded so you could attempt it even in the heat of summer.

You’ll find yourself surrounded with pretty unique trees – Japanese cypress, western hemlock and giant firs towering above you before you reach the summit. Here there is a permanent outpost which you can climb to get a 360 degree view; well worth it after the short (but steep) climb!

Depending on your pace, the walk should take about 1 hour.

Bungy Jump from one of the oldest bridges in New Zealand

Now we mentioned it a little earlier, and you’ll definitely know that the bridge is a lifeline to Hanmer Springs, once you’ve crossed it. It’s the only route in and out of the town, so has a very special place in its history.

The original bridge was constructed in 1864 but collapsed after just ten years, after some particularly blustery winds. The current incarnation was then built in 1887, and has really stood the test of time as it’s still there today; nearly 140 years later!

The best way to ‘see’ the bridge though, is definitely to get that adrenalin pumping, and doing a bungy jump off the side. It’s not the highest bungy in the world, but its still a total trip! A 35 metre freefall to the gushing river below you and, we might add, a free pick up from the fire engine red jetboat, which will then ferry you back to the riverbanks.

You can book it with Hanmer Springs Attractions here and the cost was NZD 169 when last we checked (115 USD / 85 GBP)

And, even if you don’t decide to jump off the side of it, definitely head to the bridge for a cracking photo. We got the one below by driving just past the bridge and pulling over at a small lookout about 450-500m on the left.

Cruise around town in a buggy

If you head up to the top of Conical Hill road, towards the hills, you’ll definitely glide on past some bright-coloured contraptions, like strange over-sized bicycles meet buggies.

These are the Village Cruisers where between 2 and 6 people hire it to take a drive around the town.

It’s a pretty fun activity particularly for families, and since traffic in Hanmer Springs is relatively relaxed so its quite safe to take the ‘cruisers’ around. You can even store a basket on the front to have a picnic, or it can be used as an infant seat.

At time of writing it cost 18 NZD (12 USD / 9.25 GBP) per half hour for the ‘Sport’ models (room for three people plus two pre-school children) or 26 NZD (17.50 USD/ 13.30 GBP) per half hour for the ‘Limo’ which takes six people plus two pre-school children).

Go skiing or snowboarding

As Hanmer Springs is an alpine village, it of course has to offer snow sports, including skiing and snowboarding! While it might not be the most challenging skiing you’ve ever done, it’s well worth a visit to the Hanmer Springs Ski Area.

Just 17km from the town itself, they have a number of different runs (and off piste) suitable for beginner and moderate skiiers. They even have a great beginners and kids area.

The ski area boasts three lifts – a rope tow, fixed grip tow and a Poma.

A bit further afield is also the Mt Lyford Ski Area which offers slightly more challenging skiing and a Wild Ride Terrain park for those wanting to test out their tricks.

Get a hole in one at Alpine Golf

So it’s not technically golf; it’s mini golf! Alpine Crazy Putt is a cosy little mini golf course located just up the road near the Conical Hill walk. It’s also the place where you can rent the Village Cruiser buggies, so you could always do a combo (more on that below).

The course is a little more challenging than a standard putt putt green but well worth a bit of time doing a round (or two). We loved that it is ‘themed’ for the town and surrounds, including models of the Thermal Pools and Hanmer Forest.

It even has a waterfall and river winding its way through the course!

It cost 12 NZD (8 USD / 6.15 GBP) for adults and 8 NZD (5.35 USD / 4 GBP) for children. You could also look at a combo deal to do a round of mini golf and half an hour on the Village Cruisers for 50 NZD (33.50 USD /25.60 GBP)

Walk in the woodlands

If you enjoy hiking as much as we do, you’ll want to supplement your Conical Hill outing and also take in some of the beautiful forests in Hanmer Springs.

The Woodland Walk is probably the most popular walk in the forest since it’s a very easy one – mostly flat and fine even for prams and young children. Plus it’s entirely sheltered in the forest so you can beat the heat.

The trail starts from Jollies Pass Road carpark and you’ll see all types of landscape and vegetation: soaring pine forests, bubbling streams and wetlands all in a one hour (return) walk.

Pack a picnic if you have the space, and attempt the walk just before lunch.

Go off-road on a quad bike

In case kayaking, jetboating, bungy jumping or mountain biking was not your type of adrenalin fix, then we’d definitely suggest you head out on a quad bike.

You can take a two hour quad biking trip through the spectacular alpine areas around Hanmer Springs, using a specially-designed track! You’ll do everything from traversing fast-flowing streams, gliding through mid, zipping through the forest and navigating rocks in your 120 minutes of fun. And we highly suggest you do!

The quad biking adventure is available through Hanmer Springs Attractions and is suitable for everyone from 6 years onwards. Never ridden a quad bike before? You’ll be in good hands – the guides will help you learn the ropes.

Quad biking another adventure activity in Hanmer Springs

Try the local wines at Waiau River Estate

Now New Zealand is pretty world-renowned for its wine, predominantly in the top of the south island, in Marlborough. That said, Hanmer Springs has some of the highest altitude vineyards in the country and is well worth a visit. Take a turn at the Waiau River Estate to try one of their white wines, notably the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. They also do a mean Pinot Noir, if you’re more enamoured with reds.

Location: 2254 Mouse Point Road, SH7, Hanmer Springs 7334

Open: 10.00am – 4.00pm Friday to Mondays (closed Tuesday – Thursday)

When to go to Hanmer Springs

Unless you’re keen on skiing, usually the best months to visit are December to March where you’ll find warm weather and dry temperatures.

Where to eat in Hanmer Springs

There are a number of good restaurants in the town but our vote goes to The Roasted Bean, a gorgeous little eatery just off the main drag of the town. They must make the best lattes in all of New Zealand, plus some of the best pizza in  Canterbury.

The pizzas are available from 5pm and you can choose from lipsmackingly delicious options like Moroccan Lamb, Smoked Chicken or the veggie-friendly Pear and Blue Cheese, which comes with caramelized walnuts.

If you’re popping in to see Liza and her wonderful team earlier than 5pm, then do yourself a favour and have one of their ‘doorstopper’ sandwiches or the spectacular homemade waffles.

Location: 47 Amuri Avenue, Hanmer Springs 7334

Where to stay in Hanmer Springs

For a relatively small town, there are actually some great accommodation options in Hanmer Springs! If you’re not in possession of one of the amazing holiday homes, here are a few of our favourite picks for hotels and accommodation:

Mid-range: Set right in the middle of Hanmer Springs, close to the thermal spa and with everything in a short walk, Settlers Motel is the perfect option if you’re looking for high-end accommodation at mid-range prices.

Budget: If you’re looking for the perfect budget option, you can’t go wrong with Kakapo Lodge – with great living areas and kitchen facilities, you’ll get a backpackers feel to the place, but the rooms are really great for the price – most rooms have mountain views to boot.

Campervan: We had a camper van throughout our South Island itinerary, so were always looking for the best Holiday Parks and powered sites. We stayed at the Hanmer Springs Top 10, and really loved it. While it had questionable ratings on apps like Rankers, we thought it was great value for money and well-kept. The park has its own hot tubs that you can rent for an hour, heaps of fun for kids (playground, jumping castle), brand new bathroom facilities and even a wood-fired pizza oven in the common area!

What camera equipment and other gear do we use?

We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.

Did you enjoy our travel guide to Hanmer Springs? Let us know if anything has changed or if we’ve missed any key attractions, either in the comments below or get in touch!

Disclosure: The Travel Scribes were very fortunate to be hosted by Hanmer Springs Attractions for our white water rafting and jetboating experience. However, all views are our own, and we are not paid to include Hanmer Springs Attractions as part of our itinerary, but rather have included it as it was a really fun experience.


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