Sunday, May 28, 2023

Take A Trip to the South! The Best Long Weekend Options For Christchurch, Akaroa & Hanmer Springs

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Been enjoying those public holidays that have given us a few long weekends this year already? We’ve all had a fairly stressful start to 2022 (after a stressful few years!!) and we could do with a little time out every now and then to recharge those batteries! If you’ve been looking at the calendar and eyeing up a time to create our own long weekend (or you’re very on the ball and are eyeing up Easter!), may we suggest a trip to Christchurch or its surrounds? We’ve taken the hard work out of it all and found the best places to eat, sleep and see in ChCh, Akaroa and Hanmer Springs!

Hanmer Springs

Roughly an hour and a half’s drive north of Christchurch you’ll find the little gem that is Hanmer Springs. It’s inland, near the foot of Lewis Pass and best known for its sensational thermal pools. Nestled by snow-capped mountains, it’s picturesque, with a great little town full of boutique shops and eateries. Plus there’s really no bad time to visit – in winter, the springs are magical and there’s plenty of spots with a roaring fire to enjoy a glass of red wine in front of. In summer, those cold pools and waterslides come in handy when it’s baking hot (but with some changeable weather – the week I was there in January I went from overheating in 30 degrees, to needing to put the fire on at the end of the week when the temp plunged to single digits overnight).

See: You can’t really visit Hanmer without a dip in their world famous pools. There’s a plethora of them to choose from at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort from the aqua therapy pools, to the sulphur pools and the tranquil rainbow pools. There’s also plenty of options for kids and families, as well as adult’s only areas – and the option of paying extra for your own private pool, sauna or massage. I can’t vouch for them myself, but if the queues to the hydro slides were anything to go by – they’re obviously a lot of fun! The café is also pretty darn good, with tasty pizzas, salads and very generous servings of hot chips on offer.

Otherwise, there’s plenty of great walks and cycle trails around Hanmer – the sculpture trail is particularly good for kids, or you can take them to the local animal park to pet and feed wallabies, deer and llamas.

Or, go for a drive and take in the scenery around Lewis Pass. Go a little further – it’s about an hour’s drive from Hanmer – and you’ll find Mariua Hot Springs. They’re quieter than Hanmer and quite a different experience too, with a more rustic, boutique feel (and an amazing restaurant onsite!).

Go to The Powerhouse Cafe and eat these crumpets immediately!

Eat: My pick of the bunch is definitely the Powerhouse Café, right in the heart of town. It has cosy indoor and outdoor seating and I had THE best brunch – it was so good, we went back again, and again.

I can highly recommend the French toast crumpets, grilled kumara corn cakes and the breakfast burrito, but the menu is so good, you can’t go wrong. Plus the coffee is A+.

Stay: There’s SO many great options in Hanmer – I’d definitely recommend getting on and having a good search. But my top pick would be Braemar Lodge and Spa, for a truly relaxing stay. It’s a 10 minute drive to the village, giving you that extra bit of peace and tranquillity.

The suites are also very generous – the largest in Hanmer – and look out to the mountains and alpine forests. There’s also a gym, sauna, day spa and excellent restaurant onsite!

The magnificent grounds at The Hanmer Springs Hotel.

Otherwise, if you’d rather ditch your car for a long weekend, stay right in town at The Hanmer Springs Hotel (formerly The Heritage) – it’s just five minutes walk from the Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort and handy to everything in the village centre. But there’s also plenty to do onsite, including an outdoor swimming pool, tennis and petanque courts, plus a fine dining restaurant that offers alfresco meals in summer, or round the roaring fire in winter.


Head in the opposite direction and drive an hour and half south and out to the peninsula, where you’ll find the pretty little seaside town with a French twist, Akaroa. It’s a beautiful drive as you wind up through the hills and down to the coast.

Yes, it’s all about the dolphins, but LOOK AT THIS DOG!

See: Hands down my favourite outing in Akaroa was a trip out on the water aboard Akaroa Dolphins. We cruised out into the harbour on a picture-perfect day, with flat seas and blue skies – and a seriously cute extra passenger onboard.

On every cruise you’re accompanied by one of Akaroa Dolphin’s three official dolphin spotting dogs, who dress the part with tiny lifejackets (a must, after they’ve been known to get a little too overexcited and have taken a tumble overboard). And sure enough, not long after setting off, Buster – a Miniature Schnauzer – suddenly leapt up from his slumber and ran to the bow, port side, making a huge commotion. About 10 seconds later, a pod of Hector’s Dolphins appeared, jumping and playing in the waves.

Over the next two hours he’d routinely jump up and excitedly make his way around the boat to announce the arrival of another pod – sometimes almost running in circles as dolphins came in from all directions. Buster was pretty much my ideal dog – he loved a pat, got excited to see dolphins, and had a distinct hatred for anyone on a jet ski. Every time he spotted or heard one, he’d stop what he was doing to give them an angry bark.

The tours are kept to small groups, and over the two hour journey you’ll see lots of local wildlife (including seals – and their pups! – birds and the occasional penguin if you’re lucky) – and spots of historical significance. It’s definitely worth the trip over to Akaroa!

Eat: About half an hour out of Akaroa, on the road to Christchurch you’ll come across the tiny little stop of Little River – there you’ll find the Little River Café and Store, which was my favourite meal on the peninsula! The queue stretched through the café to the road outside and once we reached the cabinet it was easy to see why so many people were willing to wait. There’s choices galore (including lots of different options for allergies) and every item (all the breads, salads, slices, sauces) are made totally from scratch, onsite. It’s also the best spot to stop for a coffee – they serve Hummingbird Coffee who have even made a special Little River Café blend.

The balcony at Akaroa Village Inn makes for the perfect spot to sip a glass of French rose!

Stay: Motels line the shore of Akaroa – with many offering stunning views across the harbour, and easy walking distances to all the attractions. We booked in at Akaroa Village Inn through, which is handily just across the road from Akaroa Dolphins and a 10 minute walk around the shore to Ma Maison – Akaroa’s finest restaurant (make sure you book well ahead!).

Studios with balconies are available that look right over the harbour – a perfect spot for a glass of wine as the sun sets, or for a coffee and croissant in the morning. If you need a bit more space, there are two-bedroom units available with giant, comfy beds.


Flying into Christchurch and would prefer to just stay put? There’s plenty to do and see in the garden city – as well as to eat and drink!

See: If you’re travelling with kids, a stop at the International Antarctic Centre is essential. It’s super easy to get to if you’re flying in or out of Christchurch as it’s literally right across the road from the airport. We made excellent time driving back from Hanmer Springs, so dropped our bags at the airport and made the five min walk over to check it out – and it was well worth it!

The star attraction is the Penguin Rescue, where you’ll find a colony of Little Blue penguins (the smallest – and arguably the cutest! – in the world). These little fellas are local penguins who have sustained an injury or disability that means they couldn’t quite cut it in the wild, but have a glorious life at the IAC. Make sure you time your visit for feeding times at 10.30am or 3pm. Besides the penguins, there’s a 4D theatre, an interactive Antarctic gallery, a Hagglund Field Trip, Husky experience, plus the Storm Dome, where you can experience what it’s like to be in the thick of an Antarctic storm as minus 18 degree winds sweep through the room once an hour. It’s all covered in the one entry fee with kids starting at $29 and adults $49.

Eat: Get thee to Little High Eatery on St Asaph Street! With loads of different seating options – from cosy indoor booths and tables, to outdoor shaded or sunny spots, you can also take your pick for what to eat from a huge range of delicious eateries. There’s eight different local and family-run businesses to choose from, making it perfect if you’re each feeling like something different, or you’re eating with kids. There’s a fab wood-fired pizza joint, noodles, sushi, a latin kitchen, fab dumplings, a grill and more. I can highly recommend Bacon Brothers – despite the name I got the best vegan and gluten-free burger I’ve ever had!

For some R&R AND a bit of glamour, book into The George!

Stay: Experience a little luxury, without a massive price-tag at The George, situated right in the heart of the city. Overlooking Hagley Park and the River Avon, it’s a seriously peaceful and relaxing five-star hotel, with just 52 stylish, spacious and comfortable guest rooms to choose from.

Downstairs is the award-winning Bistro restaurant (open for breakfast, lunch or dinner – they offer a dusk dining special which is the most beautiful time to be overlooking the Avon – and the menu is fab. Do try the balsamic baked strawberry dessert!).

  • With thanks to for their assistance in making these trips happen!

Main image: The Ferry Bridge leading to Hanmer Springs at sunset – image by Tourism NZ.

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