There’s Heat in Them Thar Hills

New Zealand has a unique — and somewhat precarious — geological position: it sits at the edge of both the Australian and the Pacific tectonic plates. These plates are always moving, which means that New Zealand boasts several active volcanoes (all on the North Island), is subject to earthquakes, and has a great deal of geothermal activity. This last fact means that there are hot springs and pools to be found throughout the country. Most are concentrated in the Rotorua area in the north, but we were lucky to find a set of hot springs here on the South Island.

To get there, Prescott and I drove up, up, up into the Southern Alps, passing scenery that looked like this:IMG_6777


These hills are spectacularly green in the winter, but it’s high summer here and it’s been dry (good weather for tourists; bad for farmers), so the scenery largely comes in shades of yellows and browns.

We stopped to see a traditionally built house from the late 1800s, called a “cob house.” It’s built with soil that’s mixed with straw and then stomped into place, or “cobbed,” by the building crew. Prescott is interested in cob houses because they (1) use an environmentally sound building method and (2) keep a fairly consistent interior temperature all year round without any need for fancy HVAC systems. The cob house that we saw has had some restoration work done — among other things, sadly, the original thatch roof has been replaced with corrugated metal — but it gives you some idea of how cob houses would have looked: thick walls, low to the ground, and not much space for its nine Irish immigrant residents:


Our ultimate goal in this journey was the tiny alpine resort town of Hanmer Springs. This was our view out of the car window as we approached the turnoff to the town:


Hanmer Springs (population 1,000) is a very sweet town; I wonder if it was what Vail or Aspen might have looked like fifty years ago. It’s low to the ground — nothing over two stories — quiet, and easily walkable. Here’s the view up to the mountains from the local school (note the rugby uprights — people here are obsessed with rugby, and you’re far more likely to see kids carrying rugby balls, or maybe cricket bats, than anything else):


We did a quick morning hike up Conical Hill, which gives you a view down over the town and the valley in which it sits:



The view in the other direction is up into the mountains:


The real point of our having ventured to Hanmer Springs was the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. We rented one of their private pools for half an hour for a meditative soak …


… and then ventured out into the busy pools outside:


The pools were beautiful, but far more crowded than we’d expected; this is a popular place. Also, while there is a kids’ section — complete with water slides — that keeps most of the families occupied, there are plenty of young’uns in the area that we were using. So it was not as tranquil and easy to relax as we had hoped. But we still had a great time. There are many different pools — sulfer pools, aquatherapy pools, rock pools, hexagonal pools — with different kinds of features, temperatures, and minerals in the water. I loved testing all of them.


In the afternoon, we traveled downhill along a turquoise river …


… and stopped for lunch (cheese, crackers, and an avocado — this is becoming a theme) at windy, rocky, nearly empty Leithfield Beach.


It’s warmed up, which is exciting. And we’re applying lots of sunblock! New Zealand is close to the hole in the ozone layer, so it is unfortunately easy to get sunburned here. Prescott is doing his best to stay out of the sun entirely, but that’s nearly impossible.

Our drive down the east coast between Christchurch and our next destination of Oamaru was long and monotonous: lots of flat farms. We were momentarily distracted by the Fanfare sculpture in Christchurch, which is covered in 350 spinning pinwheels. There’s not a lot of public road art in New Zealand, so this piece — apparently one of New Zealand’s largest — was notable.


This is a road trip, so a lot of the time we just chug along:


Prescott has become an expert in driving on the left-hand side of the road!

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