Lou insisted on getting a taxi to the airport rather than the Airbus as it was easier. It was also way more expensive (about 6 times the price) but I’ve been told not to go on about it so I won’t. Much.
NZ Airlines have started a quick check-in procedure at little terminals in the entrance hallway. Insert a credit card so it can read your name and tell it what flight you’re on. Confirm the passengers and your boarding pass pops out. Drop your bags off (if you have any) at the express baggage lane and you’re off. Dead easy.
Breakfast was BLT sandwiches which weren’t cheap, but were typically huge. Straight through the x-ray and onto the plane for our return to Christchurch. The flight was pleasant enough and the scenery as we prepared to land was unbelievable. Snow-covered mountains to the right, green hills to the left. Canterbury, the county wich contains Christchurch, had the largest snowfall in 60 years a couple of days previous and some areas further south were still without power. The airport itself has had to close at the time due to the weather, so we were lucky with our dates.
Backpacker Camper Vans picked us up when we landed and we were supplied with our home and transport for the next 2 weeks or so – a nice campervan, fully loaded with everything. We’d not gone for the luxury one with loo and shower, though. There really didn’t seem to be a point. To charge the batteries, they have to be parked up in a proper van bay every 2 days or so anyway. All the campervan parks have showers and toilets anyway, so why have teeny ones in the van that just cost more and have to be replenished regularly? The van we got came with a fridge, cooker, sink and beds – all we needed!
As we wanted to be in Christchurch two mornings later for the England v T&T match, we decided to head north first of all. Hanmer Springs was our destination. The town takes its name from the thermal springs in the area and they’re apparently well worth a visit. So visit, we did.
The drive up was almost becoming familiar after the journey from Picton and return trip to Kaikoura the previous week. Everything was slightly whiter, though. We turned off for Hanmer and the road became narrower and the scenery even better. We were heading into mountain country and driving towards them brought skydiving into my thoughts. You’re belting towards something at 100km/h yet it doesn’t seem you are as they never get any closer.
We arrived in Hanmer at around 4:30 and night was already drawing in as the sun set behind the snow-capped peaks. The camp we stayed at was called Mountain View for a reason – it was also run by a very friendly woman who recommended the springs (again). We promised we’d go, especially when she told us they did swimwear hire as we’d forgotten ours.
The springs are in two sections – some pools you can splosh around in and a health spa with massages and so forth. We just headed for the pools and it was well worth the visit. We forked out £25 for the pair of us to visit – but we opted for a private sauna and a private pool for half an hour each, and full use of the outdoor pools, and costume hire. Hey, we’d only be here the once.
Getting changed wasn’t the warmest experience in the world. I’d guess the outside temperature was around minus four, though there was no wind chill. The worst bit by far was the stone floor which numbed my feet in seconds. First up, private pool. Woah. It burned getting in. Well, it did me. Lou jumped right in and loved it. I stepped gingerly in – it was like getting into a really hot bath only much huger.
We chilled for our half-hour until a knock on the door told us it was time to move to the sauna. The guard apologised, but the sauna had almost turned itself off and wasn’t as warm as it should be, so they said we could stay in for as long as we wanted to make up for it as nobody else had booked it. We managed to sit out the half hour and I was about to jump into the plung pool next to the sauna when Louise recommended I check the temperature first. It was bloody freezing! I opted for a shower instead, then we walked outside to use the pools there instead.
All the pools were mapped out and varying temperatures detailed. The coldest was 28 degrees and standard swimming-pool shaped. Three hexagonal pools varied from 37 to 39 degrees, the sulphur pools were in the mid-40’s and some other scenic pools were also around the 35 mark. In addition, there was another large pool at 28 degrees, but this was for use with the water slides which were closed due to the cold weather.
Steam was everywhere and the only cold spots seemed to be the stone flooring. Even standing on the snow was warmer! We lazed in most of the pools except the 28-degree one, as that actually seemed cold by now. After soaking in 40+ degree sulphur water, there’s no returning to a UK standard high-20’s pool!
Our time was up just before 8pm (the springs are open until 9pm) as there was a 2-hour limit on the lockers. Only it seemed when we went to the locker that we’d missed the deadline by a minute or so and had to insert another $2. Which was difficult as all our money was in the locker. Fortunately, one of the staff saw the logic in this and with a quick check just opened the thing for us. After all, as she said, it was only a minute or so over. Try and find a traffic nazi/warden in the UK with that attitude. I’ll tell you, over here I’ve struggled to find a jobsworth.
We’d intended on getting a carry-out dinner from a shop opposite, but they’d pretty much sold out so we walked to the “local” just down from the holiday park. $21 got us a platter for two covered in chips, spicy potato chunks, chicken nuggets, chicken legs, deep fried cheese, deep fried mushrooms… By my reckoning, enough to feed two lions rather than two pub guests. I swear they even re-heated the kitchen to serve us as all the lights had been off when we turned up.
Safely fed and beered (well, one beered and one wined) we returned to our home on wheels. We’d left the fan heater on while we’d been out to keep the chill off and Lou insisted on turning it up full tilt before we went to sleep. It was certainly snug when we switched the lights off!