After the hustle and bustle of Sydney we set off for the South Island of New Zealand for a complete change of pace. Before heading to my wife’s home town in the far south of the country we decided to take some days to chill out closer to Christchurch, our arrival point.
And so it was I was introduced to Hanmer Springs, a delightful small Canterbury Town that nestles in its own valley at the edge of the Southern Alps about 130km North West of Christchurch. It grew up around the thermal springs that were discovered there in the 19th century. These became a tourist attraction and were then joined by a hospital which throughout its history was a place of therapy and recovery, treating recovering servicemen, women and in its final years before closure was a leading drug rehabilitation centre.
Actually I think twice about using the word “developed” to describe Hanmer. Today’s Hanmer Springs has a permanent population of just 700 people. Its economy may depend on tourism, especially outdoor fun, but I could hardly think of a gentler, more low key and unobtrusive place to take a few days of retreat. I can imagine why the hospital was such as place of therapy because the tree lined town with its views up to the mountains in every direction.
Today the hospital is a slightly sad place waiting with its memories to be found a new purpose that preserves its sense of wellbeing.
This atmosphere is helped in many ways by the town’s architecture which has its history in the simple New Zealand “bach” or “crib”, originally the name for a homemade holiday hut or hunting shack in the hills or by the sea. In popular New Zealand resorts like Queenstown holiday homes have long become architect designed grand statements or taken on the shape and style of European ski villages. But in Hanmer even the modern ones are still mostly neat single storey houses, cabins or mobile homes that fit among those that have been there since the 1920s.
The second morning we were there we woke to a sharp frost which reminded us that we had at last arrived in a country where winter was setting in but also gave me the chance to take in some stunning crisp scenery in the clear morning light.
We walked, wandered, mused and completely achieved the gentle relaxation we were looking for.
You told me I would like Hamner Springs. As usual you were completely right.