Hanmer Springs

New Zealand: Reflections

As our trip comes to a close – we fly out today – Robyn and I have been doing some early post trip analysis. Here are our thoughts on our trip.

Best Coffee
I’ve written a lot about coffee so it seems only fitting this is the first cab off the rank.
N: Bureau de Cafe, Queenstown
R: Bureau de Cafe, Queenstown
Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of it – but honourable mentions go to the Sugar cafe in Kaikoura, Gusto in Picton and Coffee Culture in Christchurch.

Gusto, Picton

Worst Coffee

There have been some stinkers on this trip. It’s hard to pick. But here goes.

N: The Why Not Cafe, Kaikoura, I’ll tell you why not – the coffee seemed to be exothermic. It got hotter as time wore on, the coffee itself was untastable because our taste buds were scalded off.

R: Piazza coffee at the Hermitage Hotel/Edmund Hillary Centre at Mount Cook.

Best Budget Accommodation
N: Top 10 Holiday Park, Franz Josef. Talk about million dollar views. It worked out at $42.50 pp so that’s value. Plus there were bunk beds in the room so we could have been even more efficient.
R: Holiday home at Hanmer Springs. Worked out at $30pp and was clean, well equipped and very comfortable.

Best Accommodation

We’ve stayed in some nice places as well as some budget places. Here are our top picks.

N: Living Space, Christchurch. It was quirky, colourful and handy to the CBD for strolls and coffees.

R: Breakfree Alpine Village, Queenstown. The views of the lake from the balcony were stunning and it was a spacious one bedroom apartment handy to town.

Worst Accommodation

N & R: Te Anau Holiday Park – the lakeside A-Frame cabins look cute and cozy, but inside were anything but. It was cold. We were supplied inadequate blankets and the bed was like a marshmallow.

Dishonorable mentions: Picton Holiday Park – full of smokers, poor facilities and dangerous cliffs.

Best Breakfast

N: Sugar Cafe, Kaikoura – Big breakfast – venison sausages, hashbrowns, bacon, eggs and a terrific relish.

R: Sugar Cafe, Kaikoura – maybe it was the seal swim induced appetite, but the Sugar Cafe scored again for their eggs benedict – Robyn says it’s the best she’s ever had.

Best Lunch

N & R:  Fergburger.

Honourable mentions go to the Skyrail buffet, and the Honey Pot Cafe for their sensational toasted sandwiches.

Best Dinner

N & R: Bailies Pub, Christchurch. Robyn had Lamb Shanks, Nathan had a sirloin cooked to tender perfection.

Honourable mention – the hot rock dinner at Hanmer Springs.

Best Activity

N: Seal swim, Kaikoura. Seals are cool.

R: The Skyline experience – paragliding, luge and lunch. What a winning combination.

Honourable mentions go to horse riding, puzzling world and the jet boating part of our white water rafting adventure.

Best Drive

N: Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura – the rest of the car was asleep but these picturesque mountain roads were fun to drive.

R: Te Anau to Milford Sound – lots of scenic stops on the way, a tunnel through a mountain and the constant presence of a glacier in the rear view mirror on the trip back made this a drive to remember. As did the early morning start.

Honourable mentions – Queenstown to Lake Tekapo for the Lord of the Rings style rolling mountains and craggy rocks, Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook for the cows and roadkill, and the Wanaka to Queenstown stretch.

Best City/Town

N: Christchurch – lots of cafes, churches, old buildings and a comfortable city feel.

R: Hanmer Springs – a cute little village in the mountains.

Honourable mentions – all the rest.

Most Memorable Person

N & R: The grumpy horse riding lady.

Most Memorable Day

N: Picton – simply because Robyn almost fell off a cliff. I won’t be forgetting that in a hurry.

R: Queenstown – paragliding, luge, lunch, and gondola ride – plus the best coffee all trip. A winning combination.

Honourable mention: Fox Glacier. I’ll never forget the pain in my legs during that walk – or the sense of satisfaction drinking a cold beer on our return. It was all worth it though – walking on a glacier is kind of cool.

Most Picturesque Location

N: Mount Cook

R: Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd.

Honourable mentions: Milford Sound and Kaikoura.

We’ll add pictures and links when we get back to Australia – right now it’s off to breakfast.

The road to Kaikoura

After an eventful morning farewelling Hanmer Springs in the best possible style – coffee at a Yak shack – aka an animal farm cafe complete with llamas, alpacas and what we think was a yak. We’re unsure because we weren’t prepared to pay the $10 each to leave the confines of the cafe for the greener pastures of a series of animal enclosures.
We hit the road – route 70 to be precise – although that’s from memory so it’s probably wrong and started the journey to the coast. We took a “scenic route” although I am unsure whether there are any non-scenic routes in New Zealand. I was struck by the lack of suitable shoulder areas on the road for drivers to stop to take photos. As my passengers were sleeping in the seats around me I was composing a letter to Tourism New Zealand suggesting they create better “lookout” facilities for drivers wanting to capitalise on the rolling hills and forests. But then I realised creating lookouts the whole way along would be an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money. We did stop for a few happy snaps – including the obligatory photos of sheep. Robyn thinks that sheep in New Zealand have reached plague proportions as every mountain is littered with them.
As we drove past a number of farmsteads heading into our eventual destination – the township of Kaikoura – I noticed that each had a unique letterbox – some where weatherboard, others were 40 gallon drums. I thought about commissioning a coffee table book of photos of the letterboxes of New Zealand – but didn’t want to end up with a collection of photos of bins (litter boxes). Something may get lost in translation there.

Tonight we’re in Kaikoura. I’m still unsure how that should be pronounced. We’re staying at a reasonable (both in price and quality) “Holiday Park” that’s Maori for Caravan Park. It’s The Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park. It’s an appropriate name. Kaikoura is situated at the base of snow capped mountains and on the coast – a blend I’ve never before experienced. The combination of New Zealand’s long twilight, the rocky beaches and a combination moonrise/sunset made for some great photos. Fish and chips on the beach is not the same without sand – but I’m happy to report the seagulls here are just as pesky as those in Australia.

We spent an inordinate amount of time throwing rocks at the ocean – well the brother-in-law-in-law, and I, started off trying to skim rocks, but that was an abominable failure. Then it became a chance to be like the children sitting next to us who were chastised by their family for throwing stones only minutes earlier. There was no fear of corporal punishment though – so it was an impressive effort by the parents to get their offspring under control. Robyn’s discus prowess was equally impressive. She could hurl a stone a mile (that’s a small bit of hyperbole) and it glided through the air with perfect form.

We’re going “swimming with the seals” tomorrow morning – so tonight was a great opportunity to scout out our prospective swimming buddies with a trip to the seal colony on Kaikoura’s headland. There was an impressive array of seals “sunning” themselves on the rocks by the water – and a bunch of really smelly kelp to add to the atmosphere. At this point the sun started to go down leading to a pretty spectacular photo opportunity on top of the hill.

I’ll have to add all the photos I plan to insert in this post at a later date, we’re about 4 minutes off running out of our hour of prepaid wireless. Hopefully some of them will be up on the picasa album before our time is through – tonight’s time that is. You should check it out now.

Hanmer Springs

Day three of our New Zealand adventure began with an early morning departure from Christchurch. We picked up a quick caffeine hit from the now thrice mentioned Honey Pot café and then hit the road. Christchurch has an inexplicable array of streets with changing names. Streets change names without warning for seemingly no reason at all. This made following googlemaps directions hard. We got a little lost. Tempers were frayed because we were late, late for a very important date. It wasn’t Alice in Wonderland and we weren’t risking decapitation at the hands of the queen of hearts – but we did receive an icy welcome when we did arrive at Hanmer Horses – the specialists in horse tours of the surrounds of the quaint ski village. We were asked to arrive with half an hour to spare, and got there with 20 minutes up our sleeves. Not a bad effort considering we’d run the risk of quite literally “running on empty” to get our troupe of equine adventurers to the ranch on time.
Hanmer’s very own Queen of Hearts greeted us with possibly the grumpiest reception I’ve ever experienced from anyone in the tourism industry. Actually, make that the second grumpiest. The grumpiest was a deckhand on the Dunk Island to Mission Beach ferry – who when informed that the journalists and Tourism Australia media representative I was travelling with had not been issued tickets upbraided us with a series of cuss words that only a mariner can truly command. But I digress. Tourism is a people industry. If you’re not into people – but like the company of a horse – perhaps vet science is a better career path. This lady yelled at her staff and then quite literally “took the reigns” before they’d had a chance to heed her commands. She harangued us for being late. For having the nerve to expect to pay with credit card using a signature rather than a PIN and was abrupt and sour the whole time she interacted with her customers. She was a blight on what otherwise was by all accounts a pleasant ride through picturesque New Zealand territory.
I was left to my own devices for a couple of hours while the intrepid “four horsemen” where off gallivanting and galloping around the hills, I used the time wisely acquainting myself with the birds and bees of Hanmer Springs. Literally. For that to truly make sense you’ll have to check out some of the photos in our web album – I’d link to them, but we’re very close to running out of time with our hour of wireless internet.
The riding experience left our party saddle sore and weary – and it was time for respite and repast. We made haste to the Springs Deli – where we supped on salads, and other such delights. All this eating and merriment left us in need of a nanna nap – so our troupe trouped off to our holiday house to emerge hours later ready for dinner. We decided to head back to the town centre to pick up some meat from the supermarket but decided to make do with an antipasto platter when we determined meat was not so forthcoming in these parts. The platter sated our hunger somewhat as we tried to negotiate a recalcitrant wireless hotspot.
We decided to go for some real food – and experienced what was roundly acclaimed as the best food we’ve eaten all trip, probably all year in most cases. Stone grilled meat is something I’d never experienced before – and I can only wonder why. This pub specialised in the fine art of stone grilling – which means they basically bring you a really hot slab of stone and some raw meat and you cook it yourself, to your liking. It was superb. The Moroccan chicken pizza we had along with the meat was also superb – and you’ll hopefully find pictures of both in our album – or here if we locate reliable internet before you’ve digested this post.
After this meal it was time for a movie and bed. We had to be up the next day (today – or yesterday depending on your timezone) for some whitewater rafting thrills and spills at the appropriately named “Thrillseeker’s Canyon”. Thrillseeker’s Canyon seems to have its approach to staffing just right – our experience there was nothing but positive. We were a little nervous to begin with because we’d been told this was a category 4 rapid run – and that apparently meant some serious rapids and danger. In reality the journey was smooth sailing with just a few bumps along the way. Our Maori guide – Darren – was excellent, and made sure we had an enjoyable trip with some forced “abandon ships” to make sure we had the rescue and recovery process down pat should problems arrive further downstream. The typical rafting run covers about 7km and includes stops for jumping off high rocks into water, and general aquatic frolicking. Our atypical trip ended with a nice surprise. The trip ends at a swimming hole – and I had asked at the outset how we’d be getting back from b to a. A to b seemed pretty straight forward. Our very helpful kiwi leader told me with a straight face that the river was round – and we’d just paddle back. That was all the answer we were given – and I was inclined to believe this was the case, however improbable it may seem. We were pleasantly surprised then when a jetboat arrived to pick us up. Generally these jetboats ferry passengers back to base – in this case we were treated to a surprise jetboat experience. It seems there’s a rafting/jetboat combo, and some of the group we paddled with had purchased that option. It’s a case of one in, all in. If only a couple of passengers on a trip order the combo everyone gets upgraded (shame airlines don’t offer the same level of service). We scored. All morning I’d been watching these boats hoon past with a sense of envy. We were given the run down at the outset – these boats sport twin Lexus V8 engines, at full speed they glide in just one inch of water. They’re aluminium, with the walls just 4mm thick. Our very experienced driver had been handling the boats, and the rapids, from the age of 13. This would have been comforting to know before he’d hurtled upstream drifting towards and away from the rockface at incredible speeds. There are photos of these boating adventures (or there will be soon) in the picasa album.
Hanmer Springs is a nice little village – and it’s easy to picture it filling up during ski season. Hopefully the coffee improves during peak time. We didn’t manage to find anything spectacular – and suffered through a couple of shockers picked up in pubs. Even if a pub advertises its coffee on its roadside A-frame it’s unlikely to be good coffee. I can say that now, with the benefit of hindsight.

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