Walking the Walk
Consider this: 35km (22 miles) of unspoiled coastal farmland scenery; undisturbed colonies of fur seals, penguins, and dolphins; sheltered turquoise bays; the rustic comforts of trampers' huts; and enough moderate exertion to keep you honest. This is what you get with the Banks Peninsula Track (tel. 03/304-7612; www.bankstrack.co.nz). The track twice climbs to 600m (1,970 ft.) and features rugged, exposed headlands, so a reasonable level of fitness is required. The season runs from October through April. The cost is NZ$230, and includes transport from Akaroa to the first hut, 4 nights' accommodations, track registration, and landowners' fees. The 2-day tramp, at NZ$150 per person, is recommended only for the very fit.
A Beach Diversion
On the way to or from Akaroa on State Highway 75, take a detour to Lake Ellesmere. It measures 287 sq. km (111 sq. miles), but it's only 2m (6 1/2 ft.) deep at its deepest point and is home to thousands of Australian black swans and other birds. And for a dramatic seascape, don't miss Birdling's Flat, in the same area. The seas are very dangerous on this stone-covered beach, so don't attempt swimming under any conditions. It's signposted off the main highway about 30 to 40 minutes from Christchurch.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, 42 Amuri Ave. (tel. 0800/442-663 in NZ, or 03/315-0000; www.hanmersprings.co.nz), has attracted visitors for over 125 years. The complex boasts nine open-air thermal pools, three sulfur pools, sauna and steam rooms with plunge pool, four private thermal suites, a 25m (16-ft.) heated freshwater pool, a family activity pool with two water slides, a gym, and therapeutic massage facilities. The water in the pools is maintained at a temperature between 90°F and 104°F (32°C-40°C). The Garden House Café overlooks the whole complex. The pools are open daily from 10am to 9pm. Adults pay NZ$14 admission; children pay NZ$7. Hanmer Springs is 1 1/2 hours northeast of Christchurch. It's a picturesque drive, but be careful in winter, when icy conditions can make the roads dangerous. Take Highway 1 out of Christchurch and go 45 minutes to the left-hand Hanmer turnoff just over the Waipara River Bridge. It's well signposted the rest of the way. If you don't have a car, call the Hanmer Connection (tel. 0800/242-663 in NZ; www.atsnz.com), which operates daily between Christchurch and Hanmer. Bookings are essential. It costs NZ$33 one-way, NZ$60 same-day round-trip. They also offer package deals that include a swim at the pools.
The Hanmer Springs i-SITE Visitor Centre, 42 Amuri Ave. (tel. 03/315-7128; fax 03/315-7658; www.alpinepacifictourism.co.nz), is open daily from 10am to 5pm in winter and 9:30am to 5:30pm in summer.
For an overnight stay in Hanmer Springs, try the Cheltenham House, 13 Cheltenham St. (www.cheltenham.co.nz; tel. 03/315-7545). Len and Maree Earl have decades worth of local knowledge and an elegant 1930s home with six sunny, spacious bedrooms; central heating and electric blankets will insulate you against those icy, 14°F (-10°C) winter mornings. The house is set in large gardens, a 2-minute stroll to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, and only NZ$220 to NZ$260 a night. Another good B&B option is Rippinvale Retreat, 68 Rippingale Rd., Hanmer (www.rippinvale.co.nz; tel. 0800/373-098 in NZ, or 03/315-7139), where John and Helen Beattie offer two beautiful full suites, each with its own sitting room and kitchen, each NZ$355. The Heritage Hanmer Springs, 1 Conical Hill Rd. (www.heritagehotels.co.nz; tel. 0800/368-888 in NZ, or 03/315-0060), is another excellent choice, with 64 stylish rooms from NZ$235 to NZ$425.
For a host of excellent, fast-paced activities all centered in one place, contact Thrillseekers Canyon Adventure Centre, 839 Main Rd., Hanmer Springs (tel. 03/315-7046; www.thrillseekerscanyon.co.nz), which is open daily 9am to 5:30pm offering everything from bungy jumping and jet-boating to river rafting and assorted combos. Walkers must investigate Hanmer Forest, which provides a web of pretty walkways through stunning collections of exotic trees. An excellent forest brochure at the visitor center outlines the best woodland, forest, and alpine walks. Make sure you take your camera!
Hanmer is now home to a host of excellent eateries. One I always enjoy is Malabar, Alpine Pacific Centre, 5 Conical Hill Rd. (tel. 03/315-7745), which has a delicious Asian-Indian menu. For the best coffee, go straight to Powerhouse Café, 8 Jack's Pass Rd. (tel. 03/315-5252), or Springs Deli Café, 47 Amuri Ave. (tel. 03/315-7430). The latter has a fabulous range of takeout picnic food.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.