In a small two-hour road trip, it’s all-too tempting to whiz from one end to the other as fast as you can, reducing travel time and maximising your stint in your destination. Unfortunately, this means all the gems, quirks and happenings in between get sidelined, and you miss out on some of the best parts of our mind-boggling country. In this weekend adventure from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs, you’ll stumble across natural landscape mindblowers, award-winning winery restaurants and unearthed vintage treasures, all of which will have been zipped past on countless occasions by drivers trying to race the clock. Let them speed on by, we say.
This itinerary will help you slow down, enjoy the ride and, usefully, do all the work for you when it comes to EV charging logistics. As they say, it’s about the journey, not the destination… Although when the destination is as good as this one, it makes that pretty hard to believe.
Once a Post Office, then a Sunday School, now a cult favourite brunch spot, Hello Sunday’s 18th century building embodies all those warm and fuzzy vibes that Sunday mornings bring. A true local favourite, this Sydenham joint caters for all dietary requirements, priding itself on its vegan/vegetarian friendliness, and has ample space inside and in its quaint outdoor courtyard for all its devotees. Not sure what to try? You really can’t go wrong, but the Shakshuka eggs are enough to warm your belly even on the most brisk Christchurch day.
Channel your inner Upper East Sider with an early morning walk around Hagley Park, Christchurch’s answer to New York’s Central Park. Changing with the seasons, each landscape as bewitching as the last, Hagley Park is over 160 hectares of green space, trees and walkways that will fill your lungs with fresh air and heart with content. Wander along the Avon River or through the Botanic Gardens, or pull up a chair in front of one of the many sports games that take place on Saturday mornings. The number of smiling dogs enjoying the open air around you should be enough to set your weekend on the right track.
Anyone who’s not from the area might be forgiven for assuming there wouldn’t be many fine-dining restaurant options between Amberley and Hanmer Springs, but they’d then be promptly sent away with a map of the Waipara Valley to see what they’re missing out on. The pick of the (grape) bunch in this premium wine-growing region is Black Estate, whose tasting room and restaurant were awarded Best Winery Restaurant in New Zealand in 2017. For a bit of perspective, for the past nine years that same award went to their neighbouring vineyard, Pegasus Bay Winery, so wherever you go, you’ll be in good company.
Continuing on through the district, you will pass by the Historic Hurunui Hotel, which is unfortunately under repair due to damage from the 2016 earthquake. They are aiming to complete the re-open in late 2018, but it is still worth stopping to have a look at this Canterbury icon, which has held one of the longest continuous liquor licenses in New Zealand since 1860. That’s a fair few pints.
Finally, you will arrive at the pinnacle of your roadtrip, the most relaxing and luxurious place in Canterbury, the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. Sourcing water which fell onto the surrounding mountains almost 180 years ago, before making its way to a reservoir two kilometres underground to be warmed by the earth’s core, the thermal pools are left as natural as possible for visitors to enjoy their healing properties. Enjoy a soothing dip in the 42 degrees Celcius Sulphur Pools, or opt for something more thrilling with the SuperBowl Rides or Waterslides.
For dumpling connoisseurs, MK Restaurant is new to Hanmer Springs and an absolute must-try. Serving up Italian, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, Chinese and many more international styles of these little pockets of flavour, MK Restaurant has received raving reviews for their unique and delicious dumpling cuisine. Go to see their food presentation alone (think colour, design and embellishment), get hooked by their impeccable service, and stay for the dessert menu… It might just change your life.
There is a huge range of accommodation options at Hanmer Springs, but the most EV-friendly pick is the Hanmer Springs Forest Camp, where you can either book a powered site to plug in your machine overnight, or charge it at one of their two commando units and book a cabin for a bit more comfort. Dedicated to promoting ecotourism, the greenery-enclosed Forest Camp practices a number of different sustainability initiatives, so rest assured that you and your EV will be warmly welcomed.
Is there any better way to kick off a morning than with a quick burst up to a lookout point? The Conical Hill walk is one of Hanmer Springs’ most popular attractions, probably because, at just one-hour return, it doesn’t require too much effort to discover an absurdly great view of the Hanmer Basin. It’s all uphill, but the zig-zagging track makes it less strenuous so you can reach the top without breaking too much of a sweat. Just a short distance from the village, wander up through an enchanting pine forest until the panorama greets you at the summit.
Scramble back down the hill for your morning food fix, stopping in at the Powerhouse Cafe to regain your own power. Situated in an old hydroelectric power-station, this cafe is one of the best places to find breakfast in Hanmer Springs, especially for those with certain dietary requirements thanks to their fully adaptable menu. Sit back and lap up the view of the surrounding mountains, cruising into your day on Hanmer time.
Unless you were savvy enough to get a two-day pass at the thermal pools so you could enjoy extra bathing time in the morning, it’s time to get back on the road after breakfast, leaving behind the peaceful paradise of Hanmer Springs. Instead of returning straight back to Christchurch, take the scenic route through the rural expanse to the South Island’s east coast. But first, if you’re an EV driver you’ll have to make a slight detour to Culverden to plug in at the Chargenet station in the council car park, because you’ll need the extra juice to make it between here and the next charging spot. Once that’s sorted, head back up to SH 70 towards Waiau, and on to Cheviot.
When you reach Cheviot, turn towards Gore Bay and you’ll soon discover a short walking track through the Gore Bay Reserve, where just one hour on a gentle circuit will make your jaw drop in awe of nature. Mimicking the badlands landscape of a Western film set, the Cathedral Cliffs have an added kiwiana feel thanks to their surroundings of thick New Zealand bush and striking coastline. Against the backdrop of the spectacular and secluded Gore Bay, it’s the perfect spot for a nature walk filled with wildlife and serenity. Work your angles to get that perfect pic while you can, because this spot is bound to make your camera roll sparkle.
Once back on the main highway, head south to reach Domett, where the Mainline Station Cafe is putting up a good fight to put the quiet hamlet on the map. A magnet for glowing reviews, this cafe is housed in a lovingly preserved historic railway station, and is a favourite for both locals and passers-by. Spend an hour (or two) relaxing amongst the vintage NZR memorabilia, or out in the cosy cottage gardens. You’re in safe hands with the unstoppable, award-winning husband and wife duo in the kitchen. Note that this cafe closes over the winter months (June to August), so if you don’t strike the timing well you might have to find another spot for your midday pick-me-up.
Whilst in Amberley, pop into the local Mecca for vintage fiends, Mumma T Trading Lounge. Actually, Mumma T doesn’t just cater for thrift shopping enthusiasts, rather any home renovators, green thumbs, peanut butter lovers, or perusers of aesthetic collectibles. Beautifully-curated and just that little bit entrancing, don’t be surprised if you go into this shop for five minutes and find yourself sneaking out two hours later with a much lighter wallet.
If you find yourself with a bit of extra time in the afternoon, spend some time in the inner city of Christchurch, exploring the heritage buildings of the CBD. Seven years since the devastating earthquakes of 2010/2011, there is a strange combination of both eeriness and opportunity in the centre of Christchurch, as large vacant gravel lots, sad reminders of former offices, stores and apartments, are now interspersed with stylish and contemporary pop ups and street art. Cathedral Square is a must see, with its once state-of-the-art Christ Church Cathedral centrepiece now being held up with a crane, its rubble overgrown with wild greenery. It’s a sombre sight, but the innovation and creativity of young businesses around the town make the case for this rebuilding city being on its way to something exciting. Don’t forget to mural spot as you go - amazing new works of art are bringing colour to the most derelict of building walls.
Relive your old school bus days at Smash Palace, which makes a serious case for upcycling retired buses into much groovier versions of their old selves. Serving mouth-wateringly good handmade burgers and ice-cold beers in their (mostly) sunny courtyard, Smash Palace is the kind of place you’d come back to time and time again without even considering trying some place new. Their Blueburger, which combines beef with caramelised onions and blue cheese, could turn even the worst day into something worth writing home about (or posting on the ‘gram if that’s more your style these days). Even the buns are made from scratch… You can’t top that.
Banner Photo Credit: Cheviot NZ