Wednesday, February 10, 2010
A Day at the Springs
If you've never been to Hanmer Springs you might wonder what draws close to 500,000 people to this dreamy little village set amid 13,000 hectares of exotic forest, 380 metres above sea level. Tucked beneath Mt Isabel, its streets are quiet and it's hard to believe that on any given day, the usual permanent population of around 865 can swell to over 4,000 people.
Invariably you'll find them steaming themselves silly at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, the promotional flagship of the increasingly busy Hurunui district and the appropriately-billed Alpine Pacific Triangle that forms a neat pleasure-filled shape that includes the thriving Waipara Wine District, Kaikoura's marine attractions and Hanmer's thermal pools. Now one of the most visited tourist destinations in the South Island, Hanmer Springs has a long history of attracting attention - right back in 1859 in fact, William Jones observed "a remarkable fog" near a well-used walking track and went to investigate. There he found seven circular pools, the largest 7-8 yards across. Even then early settlers had pleasure on their minds, eyeing up the pools as a potential health resort; but it wasn't until 1878 when John Fry built a dressing shed by the main pool that things got moving and the trickle of visitors began to grow. By 1879 regular coach services to the pools had begun and in 1883, the pools were officially opened with James Stewart as the first caretaker. Today it's a whole new ball game. The 14-pool complex is nationally and internationally recognised as one of the finest thermal resorts in the country. Last year's $4-million expansion plan - the third in just over a decade - saw the addition of more thermal pools, large landscaped picnic areas, conference facilities and an international-class day spa facility focused around water-based massage and beauty treatments. Flushed with the success of the new facility, they're about to embark on yet another expansion - an $8.5-million project that will re-develop a block of land purchased from the owners of the adjacent and now-disused Queen Mary Hospital. This will include a new freshwater pool and a new slide attraction. The site of the existing freshwater pool will be converted into three giant jacuzzi pools featuring waterfalls. They expect to have it all completed by 2011. I visited the new Day Spa complex - complete with new private pools - a couple of weekends ago and I have to say it's an excellent addition to an already-popular attraction. There was a steady stream of white-robed visitors - male and female - lining up for little luxuries in one of the thirteen new treatment rooms. Body wraps (the chocolate wrap is a special indulgence), deep tissue and relaxation massage, facials, manicures, Vichy massage, skin treatments and reflexology - they're all there. All you have to do is lie back in their quiet, tranquil environment and let the experts transport you into the realms of pleasure. And don't for one minute think this is just for the girls. I was amazed at the number of men visiting the day spa. And who could blame them? It's a sign of the times perhaps, as more and more people treat themselves to the pleasures of New Zealand day spas. Hence the formation of Best Spas of New Zealand, a selection of the country's top spas - Chuan Spa, Auckland; Bliss Reflexology,Auckland; Polynesian Spa, Rotorua; Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa; and The Spa at Millbrook in Queenstown - ensuring you can be indulged from one end of the country to another. If you'd like to look at a possible itinerary to better plan your visit to Hanmer Springs, check here. www.hanmersprings.co.nz