NATURE IS AN UNBEATABLE BALM to reinvigorate your spirits and sooth the soul.
Few places in New Zealand exemplify that better than Hanmer Springs, our premium alpine spa destination, with a long and lustrous legacy as a haven for healing.
Just a quick 90-minute hop from Christchurch, this alpine village of vitality has faithfully served as a sanctuary for the weak, weary and leisure-seeking for centuries.
Luring over half-a-million visitors annually, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa is a sizzling watery wonderland, where you can hop-scotch between the 22-strong network of rockpools, aquatherapy pools and sulphur pools. The latter are completely natural, containing unfiltered mineral water, with a soft and silky feel and piping hot at 42-45C.
You can also laze in the sociable hexagonal pools, loll about in the freshwater lap pool and lazy river, or enjoy some high-action spills on the waterslides, headlined by the latest instalment, the Conical Thrill.
In addition to the pools, New Zealand's busiest day spa offers a slew of exquisite treatments, from facials to the full body affair. My body was treated to some prizewinning primping, preening and panelbeating, courtesy of a hot stone massage.
Two-wheeled and two-footed pursuits are a big draw in Hanmer and the wider Hurunui. Last year, a new cycle route traversing the heart of the district officially opened, the Hurunui Heartland Cycle Ride.
The 205km on-road cycle route uses minor roads from Leithfield and Amberley to connect with Kaikoura, through scenic heartland countryside.
Legendary Paralympian, Mark Inglis, was heavily involved in seeing the project reach completion.
I caught up with him, to ride a few tracks in the Hanmer Trails network, which takes full advantage of Hanmer Forest, with over 70km of dedicated walking, mountain-biking and horse-riding trails.
From the easiest trails to the most extreme, there's a track to suit you. Mark took me on a blast through a selection of MTB trails, some of which he has just finished constructing, cleaved out of the forest floor during lockdown.
A recent addition to the Hanmer Heritage Forest, off Jollies Pass Rd, that was developed two years ago, was the animal sculpture trail on the 30-minute return Forest Amble walk. These whimsical wooden sculptures were created by Christchurch sculptor, Andrew Lyons, crafted out of a felled Redwood. They're designed to delight and surprise walkers along the Forest Amble walk.
Where to dine? Spoil yourself with dinner at No. 31 Restaurant & Bar. Housed in a characterful main street cottage, No. 31 is lauded for its upmarket intimate dining with NZ Beef & Lamb Ambassador Scott Buckler at the culinary helm.
For my main, I feasted on a grass fed 30-day aged beef fillet, accompanied with pommes anna, seasonal vegetables, a grilled mushroom filled with red onion marmalade and topped with steak butter and drizzled in Terrace Edge pinot noir jus.
The desserts are deliriously good too, plumping for a warm sticky licorice pudding with salted caramel sauce, candied walnuts and vanilla bean ice cream. As you'd expect from such a decorated establishment, the cocktail menu is just as creative. Order up a feijoa and manuka honey mojito, crafted from fruity feijoa liqueur, sweet Manuka honey, white rum, lime and mint.
Boasting the largest suites in Hanmer Springs and only a 10 minute drive from the village, Braemar Lodge is a boutique-style haven specialising in stylish comfort, solitude, impeccable service and expansive valley views across the mountains and forests cradling Hanmer Springs.
Nature's magic had painted the ranges in a fresh coat of overnight snow, as I enjoyed a mixed grill breakfast in the divine on-site Altitude Restaurant. Open for breakfast and dinner, you can dine on fresh seasonal cuisine whether you're staying in-house or as a casual diner.
My 60sqm sized Superior Spa Suite was spacious, with warm tones, rich fabrics, stirring oil paintings, a gas fire, private balcony with hot tub, luxurious marble bathroom with double spa bath and a super-king size bed. Spoil yourself with a radiantly indulgent escape in the cradle of supreme comfort at Braemar Lodge.