When international borders started closing in 2020, Kiwi travel blogger Alexx from Finding Alexx pressed pause on her year-long solo round the world trip and managed to make it home to Aotearoa just in time. The next two years brought a silver lining in the form of lots of New Zealand adventures, from epic campervan road trips to whirlwind weekend getaways. And one of her all-time favourite places to visit in the country? The stunning Hurunui region.
Here are Alexx’s top five reasons to put Hurunui at the very top of your New Zealand bucket list
1. The scenery
We all know Aotearoa is a beautiful country but the Hurunui region takes it to the next level. From quaint alpine villages bordered by snow-capped mountains to rugged beaches to crazy rock formations, Hurunui’s views are postcard-perfect everywhere you look.
Cathedral Cliffs are a must-visit, there’s an easy-to-access viewpoint on the road down to Gore Bay with plenty of parking. After this, head down to the beach to see the bright blue water lapping at the sand, and for another mind-blowing coastal view take a short detour to Manuka Bay.
The village of Hanmer Springs is another scenic spot to tick off, I reckon it’s up there with some of the most photogenic towns in New Zealand! Head up Conical Hill for sweeping panoramic views, stop off at the Waiau Ferry Bridge lookout for a fabulous photo spot, and don’t forget to step outside after dark to catch the Milky Way on a clear night.
2. The adventures
Want to get your heart pumping but keen to visit somewhere different from the usual adventure capitals of Aotearoa? Hanmer Springs is the place for you.
If you reckon you’re up for the ultimate adrenaline rush, the Hanmer Springs Bungy is a 35m free-fall off the iconic Waiau Ferry Bridge, complete with 360 degree views (if you can bring yourself to look!). For something a bit less terrifying, there’s also jet boating, horse trekking and quad biking on offer, plus some nearby skiing opportunities in winter.
For more of a physical challenge, I highly recommend hiring an e-bike (or just a normal bike if you’re that way inclined) and hitting the St James Cycle Trail, one of NZ’s Great Rides. The full track is 59km but it’s easy to do a bike-in bike-out half day or day trip along part of the track, and the track is mostly intermediate grade with some gravel hills but nothing too risky. We did the 15km one way cycle to the Cow Stream Hot Pools, a natural thermal spring with some man-made rock pools for soaking your muscles mid-bike. Actual paradise.
3. The relaxation
The gem of the Hurunui region, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa is something you just can’t miss when you’re in the area. With a range of pool options from family-friendly chill out zones to thrilling hydroslides to aqua therapy pools to waterfall features, there’s honestly something for every type of traveller (or swimmer!). Want some privacy? There are private pool options too, where you can enjoy a good soak in silence.
For the ultimate relaxation experience, book a treatment at The Spa at Hanmer Springs just next door, they offer massages, beauty treatments and more.
4. The food and drink
Hurunui seriously punches well above its weight in terms of food and drink options, with loads of top-rated eateries serving up culinary treats and an equally impressive number of wineries making the region proud.
My absolute top pick for the best food in Hurunui would be Black Estate, a winery on the outskirts of Waipara that has the most amazing views over the vines and up to the mountains. Black Estate (like most of the wineries in Waipara) is organic and has a huge focus on local produce, with a seasonal menu that changes often, but I can honestly say that the food we had here was some of the best I’ve ever had in the country. And I eat at a lot of restaurants, so that’s saying something!
Waipara’s wineries are absolutely worth the visit if you’re driving from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs (or vice versa), you could spend a couple of hours or a couple of days there depending on how strong your love for wine is! In terms of food, Amberley has some really cute cafes and the Amberley Hotel serves up some great pub-style meals, Crown & Anchor stocks local wine, cheese, meats and more if you want to DIY a picnic, and No. 31 was my favourite meal in Hanmer itself.
5. The variety
They say variety is the spice of life and that’s certainly true in the Hurunui region. Everything I’ve mentioned above is within just a couple of hours by car! So whether you’re visiting for a super quick overnighter or for an extended trip with more time to spare, you can be confident that you’ll be able to experience at least a couple of Hurunui’s top highlights.
And whatever you miss just gives you an excuse to come back!