Disclosure: We attended Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools as media guests. However, as always, all of our views are completely unbiased and are truly our own.
Do you ever just take a day out to relax? You should, you know you should. We all know that we should take some ‘me’ time once in a while, and that’s even more important when we are travelling. So often, you pack your trip with day after day of activities without any real break, and it is, quite simply, exhausting. So, when you are on your tour of New Zealand’s South Island, you should definitely schedule in a day just for relaxation. And, for us, after a few weeks in the camper van, it was exactly what we needed.
When you first start planning a South Island tour, one of the places that crops up on every itinerary is Hanmer Springs. Hanmer Springs is
a small town located off the Lewis Pass, around 2 hours drive from Christchurch. It is known as a resort town, offering both relaxation and adventure activities, but it is perhaps best known for its thermal pools.
New Zealand is well known for its geothermal activity and its hot springs, consequently, there are many thermal baths around, but the best recognised and most highly regarded, are the ones at Hanmer Springs.
The first thing that hit us when entering Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools was how bright and open everything was. We were lucky, the day we attended, the sun was out and the sky blue with not a single cloud, but I can imagine that even on a dull, grey day, the warmth of the water would instantly lift your spirits. Like with any thermal region in New Zealand, the pools do give off a slight smell of sulfur, but after a few minutes, you no longer notice the aroma.
There are five main types of pool, plus six private pools (additional cost to main entry) and a freshwater swimming pool. The pools range in temperature from a refreshing 28°C to a toasty 42°C.
We opted to start in the Rainbow Pools, surrounded by greenery, these semi-shaded pools offer a quiet spot to relax and chat. We saw several groups of family and friends relaxing in these pools, and there is ample seating within the pools to accommodate even the largest of groups. For us, these were the pools we spent the least time in – not for any particular reason, other than we preferred other pools within the complex.
The hottest of all the pools, and some of our favourites, the three sulphur pools are filled with water from the nearby thermal bore. The waters are mineral rich, the combination of which is said to help rheumatic conditions, whether this is medically accurate is questionable, however the warmth of the pools is pure bliss after several weeks of campervan living, so I’m inclined to believe the waters have some rejuvenating properties.
These were the pools we came back to over and again, the hottest pool was slightly too hot for my liking, but the other two felt like the most soothing of baths.
[The Sulphur Pools are spelt with a ‘ph’ in the middle. Whilst this is the spelling I grew up with, it is not the standard spelling for sulfur according to the IUPAC. You will see the standard sulfur spelling throughout, but for the name of a place, the correct spelling will always be their own – like spelling someone’s name correctly, their spelling is the correct one]
The network of rock pools winds through the middle of the thermal pool complex. Rocks and native plant life surround larger pools of deeper waters, connected by shallower streams. These pools are by far the best for topping up your tan.
The Hexagonal Pools offer a relaxed, partially shaded, pool option – a great place to take a break from the midday sun whilst still being enveloped by the warm, tranquil waters. All the pools are equipped with ample seating space, with views of the local hills and mountains.
The area that we spent most of our time however, was in the Aqua Therapy Pools. The three pools in this area each contain different relaxing features, from waterfalls to water jets, allowing tensions to simply melt away.
If you are looking to avoid the crowds and hubbub of the park, then booking a private pool is that way to go. Private pools are able to accommodate groups of up to six people.
There are six private pools available to rent.
There are three slides at Hanmer Springs, each with its own unique sliding experience. The beige slide is the slowest of the slides, and is definitely the one to start off on. The twists and turns within are more gentle than those on the green slide, which has the added dimension of being pitch black inside; lit only by glowing arrows to warn of the sudden turns. The green slide was my favourite; I found the darkness to be a thrilling element, coupled with never quite knowing what was coming next, made the ride both exciting and exhilarating.
Once you have tried the water slides, head over to the SuperBowl (it is impossible to miss, the bowl is bright blue and yellow, and rather large!). The SuperBowl can be ridden as both a single rider and in pairs, just grab the inflatable that matches your riding preference. Once at the top of the slide, ensure that you look out over Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools, and out to the wider town also – the view is simply stunning. Once you have ogled the aerial views, it’s time to head down the SuperBowl. Slide down the slide section on your inflatable, into the bowl, where you will ride round and round for several turns until you are sucked into the final slide section – sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards.
Please note, access to the slides costs $10. This allows as many rides as you want throughout the day. There is a minimum height restriction of 1.2m on the slides.
The lazy river, or rather, the not-so-lazy river, is a section of the freshwater pool, ideally suited to fun and games. As much as the lazy river is billed as a place to float about lazily, it is, in my opinion far better for racing, tag and silly games. We spent several turns around the lazy river attempting to not touch any walls – which is much harder than you would think, as the jets are pretty powerful!
Part of what sets Hanmer Springs apart from other thermal pools is that it is designed with families in mind, not just adults. There are two main children’s pool areas, the activity pool ad the Aqua Play zone. Equipped with slides, waterfalls, fountains and water toys, the area is a child’s dream. The activity pool is a great place for families to play together, and the picnic tables and grassy areas allow parents to watch from the side as children play safely in the shallow waters.
There is a large café and grill on site with a wide range of food and drink options. Click here for the menu with pricing. Opening hours for the café are slightly shorter than the opening hours of the Thermal Pools, as food service is only available to 8pm.
Alternatively, there are many picnic areas throughout the site where you can eat and drink items bought in from outside.
Togs, towel and suncream are the basic essentials. Swim wear is required in all public pools, and personally, although we went bare foot throughout the day, I would advise a pair of flip flops (jandals) to walk between pools. There are several changing room facilities available within the complex, and I would definitely advise a good shower with both shampoo and conditioner for after your soak (those minerals really dry out your hair).
Like with anywhere in New Zealand, sun cream is vital, but especially so when you are hopping in and out of the water on sunny days. A hat and sunglasses are also advised, but not necessary (although be aware the minerals in the waters, it is advised not to wear anything made of silver in the pool, so don’t ruin your expensive jewellery or sunglasses)
Don’t worry if you have forgotten anything, Hanmer Springs offers a hire service for swimming costumes and towels (prices from $5.00 plus depost. See here for full details)
The pools are located on Amuri Avenue, the main road through Hanmer Springs, and within walking distance of most accommodation options, although they do also offer car parking for day visitors and campervans.
Note of caution, the 7A and Hanmer Springs Road leading into the town have some sharp, cliff-side bends, and there is a one lane bridge across the Waiau River to cross: take your time when driving in and out, especially if you arrive in darkness.
If you have a self-contained campervan, like we do, there is a fabulous freedom camping spot just outside of town at the Hanmer Amenity Area on Jollies Pass Road. The site allows 4 nights stay per calendar month, but is not huge, so early arrival is advised (for up to date information on this site, download the Campermate App for your smartphone). There are two other free camp spots in town, at the War Memorial Carpark and Chisholm Park Carpark, however they are only open 8pm to 8am for camping.
For those without a self-contained campervan, or for those that prefer access to more amenities, there are four campsites offering space for tents and campevans, as well as motel rooms, cabins and en-suite units.
Whilst the Thermal Pools are definitely the main attraction, the town of Hanmer Springs offers a wide variety of activities, many showcasing the majestic beauty of the mountain region.
Breathe in the fresh mountain air on the forest walking trails, or ramp up the adrenalin with bungy jumping, jet boating, mountain biking, quad biking and horse trekking in the summer, and in the winter head up the mountains for a spot of skiing.
If you prefer a bit of retail therapy on your trip, the town is filled with boutique-style shops as well as cafes and restaurants. For a spot of low-adrenalin fun, you can have lunch with a llama and then head out for a short, or multi-day, guided llama trek.
Alternatively, for the more competitive, the small town offers a full, 18 hole golf course, pitch ‘n’ putt, and two mini-golf courses. Freshwater fishing (licenses mandatory), paintballing and archery are also available in the local area.
Hanmer Springs is the perfect spot to rest and recharge during your South Island trip. For couples, and individuals, I would highly recommend adding on a spa day experience (who doesn’t love a bit of pampering), and for families (and the adventurous) the waterslide pass access is absolutely worth the extra expense.
Monday – Sunday
10:00 – 21:00
Child (3-15 years old) $12.50
Private Pools: From $35pp
Locker Hire: From $3.00 for 2 hours
All prices and times are accurate at time of publishing.