Situated 133km north of Christchurch and 65km southwest of Kaikoura, Hanmer Springs is one of the South Island's premier alpine and spa destinations, thanks to the hot springs upon which the town is built. Water plays a major role here, whether it's the therapeutic mineral waters of the spas and hot pools; jet boating; water slides; or kayaking through gorges and ravines.
The town's former reputation as somewhere slow and relaxing to come and spend a few days' R&R is still true, but is rapidly becoming eclipsed by a new generation of family adventurers, keen to experience the "next big thing" in adrenalin-rushes. Expect plenty of bungy-jumping, abseiling, white-water rafting, skiing and snowboarding.
Mountain bikers can take advantage of the undulating forest trails and the backcountry terrain of St James Conservation Area which includes the 64 kilometre St James Cycle Trail.
For those seeking a more relaxed pace, the 18 hole Hanmer Springs Golf Course that was established in 1912, is open to visitors all year round. A network of walking trails offer a range of half and full day hikes while the region’s network of rivers and lakes that include Lake Taylor, Lake Sumner, Lake Mason and Lake Sheppard, offer some of New Zealand's best fly fishing.
The i-Site Visitor Centre in the heart of the village is the place to go to get orientated, but it's not a big town, so you'll do equally well to just go wandering and see what you turn up; the streets are leafy, well-kept and safe. Sooner or later, you'll happen across the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa complex, which houses an impressive collection of indoor and outdoor mineral and sulphur pools, together with a sauna and steam room, picnic area, cafe, day spa and water slides.
There are two major ski fields in the area; Mount Lyford and Hanmer Springs, both suited to skiers of intermediate level, though with some beginner slopes. More town-based activities, like horse riding, quad biking, golfing, fishing and hunting, can be found all year round.
Because of its pretty location, many artists have made Hanmer Springs their home, so try and make time to explore the various art galleries and craft shops, such as Majuba Gallery and The Koru Tree. You'll also find a few boutiques, a supermarket and a bank. Eating out is surprisingly easy, considering there are under 1,000 residents here.