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.