Hanmer Springs – Guide for Backpackers
However you relax, you can find it in Hanmer Springs.
People’s idea of relaxing can be very different, but somehow Hanmer Springs caters to all. If your idea of a good timeout is soaking in a hot pool, Hanmer Springs has it! If it’s getting completely filthy on a quad bike, Hanmer has it! Rafting down a river, Hanmer has it! Skiing down a mountain, Hanmer has it! (Is this a good place to stop)? Experience the alpine buzz whatever the season, whether it’s camping, hiking and biking in the summer or skiing and snowboarding in the winter. But no matter the season, you’ll always find your way to the thermal pools. Check out more details about these things to do and more in this Hanmer Springs guide for backpackers.
We understand that in-depth guides can be useful, but if you simply can’t be bothered with this, check out 10 Things to See and Do in Hanmer Springs.
Things you can’t miss in Hanmer Springs
- Soaking in New Zealand’s biggest thermal pool complex
- Seeking adventures like quad biking, rafting, bungy jumping and paintball
- Hiking up Conical Hill or Mt Isobel to see some awesome Canterbury views
- Go on a mountain biking day trip with the St James Cycle Trail
- Shred, ski, slide, slip, stumble and smash on the nearby ski fields.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools
Quite possibly the biggest attraction of Hanmer Springs is the award-winning thermal pool complex. Hot pools are a big thing in New Zealand, but the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools offers the widest range of ways to enjoy the naturally heated mineral water.
There are more than 20 pools nestled in native trees, with temperatures ranging from 28 to 42 degrees Celsius. To leave your skin feeling silky smooth, like they do a moisturiser advert, try the Sulphur Pools with the most minerals. Hold on tight for the jets in the Aquatherapy Pools, which is made to help with any aches and pains. When and if you’re bored of relaxing, there is, what we like to think as, the “big kids’ area” complete with water slides, lazy river, dumping bucket and waterfall.
To top it all off, just know that this water is 173 years old, to be exact! The water is snow and rainwater from the mountain, seeping into the rock until it reaches a heated reservoir 2km underground. The water is then drawn from the ground for us to stew in today!
Adventure activities in Hanmer Springs
You just need to take a look down Hanmer Springs’ main street, Conical Hill Road, to get a taste for how much adventure is to be had in the area. Activity providers line the street offering jet boating, white water rafting, clay pigeon shooting, quad biking and bungy jumping.
To find adrenaline activities all in one place, head to Thrillseekers Adventures with a 35-metre bungy. Admittedly, it is the lowest bungy in New Zealand, but you don’t need to tell people that once you have done it. The white water rafting goes over grade 2 rapids… but you don’t have to tell people that either. Jet boating, is always a “safe” bet for excitement, as the high-speed boat trips are similar across the country. Experience crazy 360 spins on the jet boat and have near misses with narrow gorge walls! This Thrillseekers trip on the Waiau River also includes a few white water rapids. A similar trip can also be done on the Amuri River with Amuri Jet. Learn more about jet boat tours in New Zealand here.
If you want to control your own thrills a couple of activity providers have quad biking missions through the dirt, rivers and rocks of the Hanmer Springs terrain. Next up is your plain old shooting. Shoot your friends in paintball or a disc in clay pigeon shooting.
Remember, there are a number of activity providers in the area, so always compare to find the right adventure for you!
WALKS IN HANMER SPRINGS
Conical Hill (1 hour one way)
A popular option in Hanmer Springs, Conical Hill offers excellent views of the town and surrounding mountains. Expect a bit of a climb from this track that starts at the end of Conical Hill Road.
Woodland Walk (1-hour return)
An easy stroll through exotic forest, meadows and streams. Start from Torquay Terrace or Jollies Pass Road car park. Combine this walk with the Mojuba Walk which connects with Conical Hill to make a circuit.
Dog Stream Reserve (30 minutes oneway)
This is your closest walking track to Hanmer Springs Village, which you can access via Jollies Pass Road, Cheltenham Street, Bath Street or Fraser Close. This woodland walk is also wheelchair accessible.
Upper Dog Stream Track/Jolliffe Saddle Track/Timberlands Trail Circuit (1h30mins loop walk)
Combine these three short walks to make a moderate level forest walk. Access is via footbridge below the picnic area on Jollies Pass Road.
Waterfall Track (2h30mins return)
From the McIntyre Road car park, walk through the forest to reach the 41-metre high Dog Stream Waterfall. An alternative route back from the falls is via the Spur Track, which takes an extra 30 minutes.
Mt Isobel (3-6 hours return)
Make a day of it by tramping to the summit of Mt Isobel and back. There are four ways to get to the top.
- Waterfall Track (6 hours) – As above, take the turnoff just before the waterfall up a zigzag track to meet the Mt Isobel Track.
- Clarence Valley Road Car Park (5 hours) – the most popular and straightforward climb to the summit.
- Jacks Pass (3 hours) – The quickest route but also the hardest. Start on Clarence Valley Road.
- Near Jollies Pass (4h30mins) – The track starts 800 metres north of Jollies Pass on Jollies Pass Road.
St James Walkway (5 days)
Want to experience a multi-day hike with less of that intense mountain-climbing New Zealand is known for? Choose this walkway through the St James Conservation Area. This is the perfect way to take in the Hanmer Springs landscape on-foot with farmland, beech forest and sub-alpine environments. Accommodation is in the DOC huts or campsites. To get to either end of the track take State Highway 7 (Lewis Pass Rd) – one end is near the top of Lewis Pass and the other is at Boyle Village.
Mountain Biking in Hanmer Springs
Explore this alpine environment at a fast pace! The forest and mountainous terrain give thrills for both beginner and advanced mountain bikers. From day rides to quick downhill descents, there are some great options in Hanmer Springs. Just rent a bike from the town and be on your way.
Easy Rider (30-minute loop)
As the name suggests, this is an easy ride through the Hanmer Forest. The trail links to other tracks in the forest so you could spend much longer here.
St James Cycle Trail (6-9 hour loop)
One of New Zealand’s Great Rides, the 64km St James Cycle Trail takes in the stunning mountain scenery passing Hanmer Springs. The loop track has mixed terrain, grade 2-4, through sub-alpine forest, super clear river water, lakes and alpine meadows. The track is best enjoyed during summer’s longer days, also giving you a better chance of spotting wild horses. Start between the Mailing Pass car park and the St James Homestead, just north of Hanmer Springs. You can park your car at St James Homestead and cycle 25 km up Tophouse Road to the start of the trail.
There are a number of easy-to-spot mountain bike tracks around the back of Conical Hill. To find more, take the Flax Gully as you hit the shingle up Jacks Pass Roa. Here, you’ll find Swoop and Majuba, which are intermediate trails.
Tank Track/Yankee Zephyr (30 minutes one way)
These trails follow one after the other giving you some extended downhill fun. To get to the start, pass the thermal pools and turn onto Clarence River Road. Carry on for another 2km until you reach the start of the track at a car park just passed the water tank. Then start the downhill thrills on this single track. The track ends at Pawsons Road where you’ll then turn off at the sign for the Yankee Zephyr on the left. Weave through the trees and down a couple of drops.
Jacks and Jollies Backcountry Gravel Road Loop (2-hour loop)
If mountain passes and rivers are your thing, then this is the trail for you. The 25km track has a few hill-climbs to test your endurance but has some fun descents that are not too technical. Leave town on the Jacks Pass Road then turn off at the ski field which will take you over Jacks Pass. Then follow the Clarence River before deciding how you want to get down. Option 1: keep right at the top of Jollies Pass to take the Pylon Track for a speedy forest descent. Option 2: turn right at Clarence River then right again to come back on Jollies Pass Road.
Ski Fields Near Hanmer Springs
Those who love making the most of winter should really consider Hanmer Springs. Shred the powder/spring slush on the uncrowded slopes by day and hit the thermal pools by night. The closest mountains are Hanmer Springs Ski Area and Mt Lyford.
In true Kiwi style, these ski areas are small compared to many Northern Hemisphere resorts, but less crowded with a laid back atmosphere. You can hire gear either on the mountain or in Hanmer Springs village. Learn more about the New Zealand ski season here.
Hanmer Springs Ski Area (elevation: 1769 metres, terrain: 52 hectares, vertical: 310 metres)
Grab a few mates and stay in the backpacker-style on-mountain accommodation. The ski area is a 40-minute drive from Hanmer Springs, so not too far away from the thermal pools if you are heading back at the end of the day. Lifts come in the form of fixed grip tows, nutcracker and Poma tows. Beginner and intermediate trails are groomed.
Mt Lyford (Mt Terako elevation: 1750 metres, terrain: 180 hectares, vertical: 450 metres)
For an even lesser crowded ski day, head to Mt Lyford which incidentally covers Mt Terako. When a big storm hits, it’s worth the 1-hour drive from Hanmer Springs to chase the powder and see the views, which sweep all the way to the ocean. Lifts include T-bar, platters, fixed-grip tow and rope tow. There are also park features to try, and some areas are groomed.
If you have more time in Hanmer Springs…
- Go camping at Lake Tennyson’s free campsite. From Hanmer Springs, follow Clarence Valley Road, turn left into Tophouse Road, which becomes Wairau-Hanmer Springs Hydro Road. Follow until the signpost for Lake Tennyson
- Play golf! Either enjoy some serious golf in mountain vistas or have some simple fun with mini-golf
- Meet the farm animals at Wai Ariki Farm Park
- Take a short drive to the Waipara Valley to explore vineyards and their produce.
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