Hanmer Springs is a small but sublime resort town in New Zealand’s south island (approx 130 km north / 90 minutes drive from Christchurch) with lots of things to do – but best known for its thermal hot pools. Compared to the hustle and hubris of Queenstown, Hanmer Springs is a laid back, alpine fresh respite, reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies mountain towns like Banff and Golden.
Popular in the winter for its skiing, we visited in March 2019 (the cusp of New Zealand Summer / Autumn) and found it to be tranquil town, with plenty of natural activities to undertake during the day, and some nice bars and restaurants to recover in at night. Here is our guide for the best things to do in Hanmer Springs:
Hanmer Springs Thermal Hot Pools and Spa
When the official website boasts their hot springs as ‘…one of the world’s greatest thermal escapes’, you can expect that you’ll be in for a treat.
Here at CK Travels, we are big fans of thermal pools and have been to hot springs in Rotorua, Franz Josef, Waiwera and Lake Tekapo to name but a few (it is a hard job researching for this blog but someone has to do it!). Hanmer Hot Springs rates highly, mainly due to the sheer number of pools to choose from (they come in all shapes and sizes) and scenic mountain setting. We tried most of the smaller pools and even managed to have one of the nicer ones to ourselves for most of our session.
We rocked up early at around 10.15am and even then, we had to queue for about 10 minutes to get in. So if you plan to visit and don’t want it to be too crowded, visit early on or stick around for the evening sessions, when most people have deserted Hanmer Springs. We noticed that from late morning, lots of school groups descended on the pools and they were a lot busier (although most school kids hung out in the larger pool that had lifeguards).
There are several admission types to choose from (one off pass, day pass, several day pass etc) and you can also get discounted tickets and save money with Bookme (an excellent NZ discount deals website – click here to view their deals). There is also a spa onsite as well as a cafe overlooking the pools – lockers are available for hire but you can keep your bags on the side of the pool for free. Photography is allowed within reason (one of the lifeguards even gave us tips on where to take the most scenic pictures of the pools!).
Conical Hill and Heritage Forest
After our relaxing hot tub session, we decided to hike up the hillside we could see from the comfort of the thermal pools. Conical Hill looms large over Hanmer Springs township and is a short walk from the main high street (and the hot pools themselves). This hike is the town’s most popular walk and is relatively easy to conquer – the top of the hill is a 550m high summit, which zig zags up at a gradual incline through wonderful wooded trails.
The views at the top are sublime, as you peer down into the neighbouring valleys and back over the township. We were also surprised to find a shelter with loads of seating at the top (a prime picnic spot).
We chose this hike as we fancied something with mountain views and not too challenging after our hot spring session. For a list of other Hanmer Spring hikes, visit the DOC website here.
FURTHER READING – Ultimate New Zealand bucket list – top 50 things to do
Hanmer Springs outdoor activities
If you are an adrenaline junkie then Hanmer Springs has a great variety of fun outdoor activities such as jet boating and white water rafting! Check out the tours below for more details:
Jet Boat Adventure
30 minute speed boat ride along the Waiau Gorge with spins and thrills!
White Water Rafting Tour
Ride the grade 2 rapids on a 2-hour white water rafting expedition of the Waiau River.
Canoe Adventure Tour
Experience the grade 2 rapids and calm waters of the Waiau River aboard an inflatable boat on a 5-hour canoe tour.
Bungy Jump off Waiau Bridge
Bungy jump 35 metres off the Waiau Ferry Bridge in Hanmer Springs, not for the faint hearted!
Quad Bike Safari
Ride a Quad Bike over the challenging dirt trails of Hanmer Springs – ride your own bike or ride in tandem.
Hanmer Springs Town
The township in Hanmer Springs comprises of one main leafy street with the majority of bars, restaurants, shops and lodgings here plus some newer streets that branch out as you get nearer to Conical Hill.
There is a wide range of restaurants here (so you won’t go hungry) including Thai, Indian and American diner style restaurants, plus a Four Square supermarket should you wish to cook for yourself (although note that most places close earlier here than the bigger cities – so get your shopping done before 8pm when Four Square closes).
We opted to visit the Hanmer Springs Monteith’s Brewery Bar in the middle of town as it had a welcoming patio that basked in the evening sunlight, a good selection of our favourite NZ beers plus we still had our free beer vouchers leftover from our Monteith’s Brewery Tour in Greymouth. If you are in a party-mood, the bar also stays open quite late (or you can wander / stagger – delete as appropriate – next door to O’Flynns Irish Bar).
Hanmer Springs Accommodation
There are heaps of accommodation choices to suit all budgets in Hanmer Springs. We decided to stay in the Hanmer Springs Kekapo Lodge YHA and were pleasantly surprised just how nice it was. We have found the YHAs in New Zealand rather hit and miss e.g. Mount Cook YHA and Queenstown Lakefront YHA are both amazing whilst YHA Picton ‘The Villa’ and YHA Christchurch are dire and need demolishing.
The setting obviously helps (mountain views and alpine air) but the YHA here is run by a very helpful and friendly family and the hostel is soooo clean – the kitchen facilities are fantastic and we’ve never stayed in a YHA before that had such a big TV with a Netflix iPad / Chromecast (we spent two hours watching ‘Kath & Kim’ on the big screen one night). We also really liked the outdoor balcony, a great spot to have some wine and watch the sun settle over the mountains.
The only downside is that both nights we stayed at the YHA Hanmer Springs hostel, large school / tour groups stayed as well taking over the rest of the hostel so it can be a tad noisy at night as the kids run around the hostel (but they wore themselves out pretty quickly so all good!).
Other accommodation options include:
BUDGET – Drifters Inn
Highly rated budget rooms just 100 yards from the Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve. Facilities include a guest lounge and large communal kitchen.
MID RANGE – Settlers Motel
Boutique motel in a central location, with studio and apartment rooms – some with private back patio.
LUXURY – The St James Premium Accommodation
Studio accommodation with balconies or patios and mountain views. Located a few minutes walk to town.
CAMPERVAN SITE – Hanmer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park
Modern holiday park located just a 5 minute walk from town, complete with wood fired hot tubs and BBQ areas.
Overall, we’d give a big ‘high 5’ to Hanmer Springs and wholeheartedly recommend a couple of ‘downtime’ days here – you really can’t go wrong with a day of hikes, hot tubs and (beer) hops!
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