Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hanmer Springs

After a brief hike around Cave Springs in Arthur's Pass, we started driving back to the main road and then north to Hanmer Springs. The cave was very cool, with a stream running right into the large mouth of a limestone grotto. People were allowed to go through the entire cave, in cold waist-deep waters, and would have to climb up several small waterfalls in the pitch blackness other than their headlamps. Although we had our wetsuits and briefly considered it, after my last caving experience, we decided to pass. There was also some bouldering in this area but because of lambing season you were required to get a permit.

On the road to Hanmer Springs, we stopped at the Yummy Food Cafe so Erich could try a meat pie which he was excited about. After watching "Sweeny Todd," I was less excited about this idea. Nonetheless, he ordered his mince pie and said it was quite good.

We arrived in Hanmer in time to join the white-water rafting trip we had wanted to try. The river was more mellow, only being a class 2, which was perfect for me. We watched a couple people bungie jumping off the massive river bridge (no, thank you) as this location called Thrillseekers Canyon offered many trips and potential ways to hurt or kill yourself. We stuck to the rafting and met up with the group of three little kids from Australia, their dad, and our guide. We put on our thick wetsuits and booties and dragged the raft down the hill to the river. The wind was gusting through the canyon, so we went much faster than usual according to the guide. I had imagined the raft just goes straight down the river, facing forward most of the time, but that's not really the case. There was lots of spinning action and going backwards, and some paddling through sections to help the guide steer.

The rapids were really fun, but nothing overwhelming or dramatic. The scariest part of the trip in my opinion was the guide constantly trying to get people into the water, either by having them jump off the rocks on the side of the canyon (which the kids did) or by pushing Erich into the freezing cold river. I clung on to the ropes for dear life as I did not want to take a dip on the cool windy day and be freezing for the rest of the ride.

Once we pulled up onto the rocky riverside at the end of our float, apparently you get a two-for-one sort of deal as the jet-boat is what takes you back to where we started. I had never even heard of a jet-boat before this trip, although the guide said we do have them back in the States. It basically works the same way as a jet-ski, pulling up water and shooting it out the back so it can get very fast without a propeller. This allows them to drive the thing in ridiculously shallow water, like some spots of the river, get extremely close to canyon walls and do full 360s in the middle of the river.

The guides loaded the raft onto the back of the jet-boat and we all hopped in. The jet-boat ride was nothing short of insane and I can see why we don't have them in the US. The driver would aim directly at rocks and canyon walls, going 100 Km/hr and then swerve out of the way at the last second. At one point he headed right for a rocky overhang and at the last second tilted the boat so we were less than 6 inches from the rock. If Erich had stuck his hand out the side it would have been gone. The spins required you held onto the bars in front of the seat as the boat whipped around, spraying the entire side of the canyon with water. Erich had actually wanted to go jet-boating, so lucky for him I got suckered into it even though I had not wanted to voluntarily sign up for the experience.

Following our afternoon on the river, we stripped out of our damp wetsuits and headed over to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools, which is what made the area so popular. The pools are all spring fed, at different temperatures, some with chlorine and some just pure spring water. The place was packed, as it is a three-day weekend here in the Canterbury region. The Kiwis actually just had a 4-day weekend when we arrived here, so we were surprised to learn there was already another holiday.

We decided to spend just a little bit more and get our own private thermal pool, complete with a private shower and drinking water. This was well worth it judging by the masses in the public pools on such a busy weekend, and we loved our hot soak for an hour in the tub. Plus we got to take a real shower, not just a 2 second camper van shower, which was heavenly.

Feeling relaxed and toasty from the soak, we walked to a nearby restaurant for some dinner. We had decided on an Indian place since the curries are so good here (from the British influence), but they were desperately understaffed on such a crowded weekend and we got tired of the wait and went next door to Robbies instead. They had fresh caught salmon, from the rivers right around here, and it was cooked perfectly. It had a bit of a different flavor from our salmon, but delicious all the same. The vegetables here seemed to all be on steroids, as we've noticed in the grocery stores, and the capers on the fish were the size of olives. The asparagus was about the size of a carrot, and the leeks in the grocery are so huge we cannot even fit them in the fridge. The best part is that everything is so fresh and grown locally.

After dinner we struggled to find a place to camp. The holiday parks were extremely full from the long weekend and all of the rest stops or dirt roads had signs posted that overnight parking was not allowed. This seemed to becoming the norm for places that were really popular with tourists, especially on the South Island. At one point we pulled off the main road to look at our map, and there was a tap on the window. It scared me since it was pitch black outside, but when Erich rolled down the window, it turned out it was just the milk truck driver who had stopped to see if we needed help or directions. It was unusual to us to have this young, clean-cut, nice looking guy who was just out driving the milk truck from the dairy, stop and make sure we were okay. These things just don't really happen to us back home, but it seems to be the way of life here.

We finally gave up looking and pulled into a small grassy picnic area just off the main road. It wasn't one of our five-star scenic camping spots, but it was fine and quiet for the night. The wind was whipping through the huge oak tree we parked under, and aside from that, it was just sheep sleeping in their paddocks on the other side of the camper.

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