New Zealand offers best: whales, wine trail & spring hot pools

Years ago the area was known for its sheep farming – and the great Canterbury lamb was a money spinner. Today the paddocks are being ploughed in and turned into vineyards – as far as the eye can see.

Whale watching in Kaikoura

Eighty minutes drive north from Waipara is the majestic Kaikoura with stunning picture postcard scenery and now world famous for its whale watching. A number of operators get you close to giant sperm whales but the best is Whale Watch – superbly run by Wally Stone, a local identity who heads New Zealand Tourism board. They have a 95% success rate and if you don’t see a whale you get 80% of your money back.

Kaikoura is a special place of lush pastures and towering, snow capped mountains that plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

There’s a fair you may see a seal lazing on the rocks by the beach in town or on the coastal drive into Kaikoura. The sperm whales are the biggest of the toothed whales and the world’s largest carnivore. They are equivalent in size to four elephants.

Fontainebleau luxury retreat lodge

From Kaikoura take a scenic inland drive about an hour or so to Hanmer Springs where about half a million visitors head every year to soak in the thermal hot spring pools. Hanmer is a place for lovers, for romantic weekends and a place to unwind. It is set against snowy mountains and it can be so romantic sitting in the expansive upgraded hot pools as it snows. They even have a dial a flower service here, appropriately name: passionflowerhanmer! Perfect for winning over a wife, partner or lover.

The most luxurious place in town to stay is the boutique Fontainebleau luxury retreat lodge. They greet you with a local bottle of Waipara wine, chocolates and stunning rooms that make you melt away. It’s tailor-made for romantic couples.

Just recently opened, the purpose-built lodge captures forest, lake and mountain views from the guest suites, reflecting North American and European influences. Virginia’s breakfasts are sumptuous: delicious fresh fruit, eggs benedict, pancakes dripping with maple syrup or whitebait patties.

With New Zealand being an adventure playground, Hamner has its own thrillseeking fun with bungee jumping, mountain-biking, jetboating, horse trekking, skiing, snowboarding, quad biking through forests, rafting golf and fishing.

The hot springs of Hanmer Springs

But the place to go is the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. The pools have been used for 125 years but totally revamped in recent years. It used to be part of the former Queen Mary Hospital, which was known for years as a place for alcoholics to dry out. It closed down some years ago and ironically facing the old hospital now are a handful of number of hotels for drinkers!

Keep in mind the leafy village can get stiflingly hot in summer. But winter is the best time to enjoy the 14 open-air hot pools. The Alpine Pacific Triangle trip should be spread over four or five days – depending how much you like wine, viewing giant whales, tasting lobster and fresh fish, and soaking in luxury hot pools.