Canterbury – This is a huge region!
We drove the scenic Lewis Pass highway to reach Hanmer Springs. This alpine township is a very popular domestic destination for all ages, located only 90 minutes North of Christchurch. Set in a breathtaking natural landscape, surrounded by forests and mountains, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa offers visitors a wide range of experiences. There are twelve open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools, six private indoor thermal pools, a sauna/steam room, and a new freshwater heated swimming pool. The popular family activity area of water slides, water toys and picnic area has recently been enhanced with the addition of the AquaPlay Area and the impressive SuperBowl.
This was a tough place to film, in that there were hundreds of people relaxing in spa pools wondering who the film crew were. We definitely couldn’t be discreet, especially when I flew the helicopter above everyone. After we wrapped up the filming it was time for a few more rides down the waterslide and superbowl before soaking in the hot pools.
The Alpine Pacific Triangle route provided a scenic drive into Kaikoura. Our morning began with a Dolphin Encounter swim with dusky dolphins. Dusky dolphins are highly social, living together in pods off the coast of Kaikoura which can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000. For this reason, Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best places in the world to regularly encounter wild dolphins in their natural state. If you do not feel comfortable snorkelling in the ocean, you can choose to spectate instead.
As the boat departed South Bay we were informed that a large pod of dolphins had been sighted 45 minutes south. After an hour we slide into the cold water with a pod of approximately 300 dolphins! To be honest, I didn’t actually get any cold water shock because I was so well kitted up in head to toe (including gloves) neoprene. We had to sing and make lots of noise while swimming, to encourage the dolphins to take interest in us. (Although, it also provided entertainment for the spectators.) Diving underwater and being ‘dolphin like’ helped as well.
The pod comprised of (mainly) Dusky and Common dolphins. New Zealand Fur Seals made an appearance and swam with us too. We had four swims in total, hopping back on the boat to chase the dolphins when they moved north. The fourth time in the water was amazing, the dolphins were present the whole swim and I got some fantastic footage. When the horn blew, calling us back to the boat, I avoided it for as long as possible.
We were due to meet with Whale Watch Kaikoura at 12.45pm. However, reports came in of an Orca sighting so our course changed in pursuit of them. After an unsuccessful search the tour headed back to South Bay. This made us incredibly excited for our Whale Watch excursion! Our late arrival back meant we met the tour in South Bay, where it also departs from.
Whale Watch is New Zealand’s only vessel based whale watching company offering an up-close encounter with the worlds largest toothed predator, the Giant Sperm Whale, in their natural environment. The catamaran boat, which is equipped with modern engines that minimise underwater noise and designed specially for whale watching, was at full capacity. While the vessel motored at speed we had to remain seated inside. A guide provided a running commentary while delivering a presentation of Kaikoura’s abundant marine wildlife on a large plasma screen.
It felt like only a short time passed before they located a resident Sperm Whale named Tiaki, which translates to guardian. The boat basically went into a frenzy. People pushed their way through each other to capture the massive mammal on camera. Tiaki did not disappoint, he dove down beneath the water displaying his tail, with the Kaikoura Ranges as a backdrop, before disappearing into the deep waters. Our tour moved on, it would be 40 minutes until he resurfaced to take another breath.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t locate the large pod of dolphins we swam with. Instead we found the Orca! I am very passionate about Orca. I feel their name ‘Killer Whale’ instills unnecessary fear in people. It makes them sound ominous when the reality is an Orca has never harmed a human. I swam with Orca in Canada and totally would’ve jumped in the water with them today if I wasn’t on a guided tour. (It is illegal to swim with them in New Zealand.) The boat circled the small pod of Orca until it was time to head back into South Bay. Thank you Kaikoura, we had an amazing day encountering a variety of marine wildlife that inhabit the waters.
Christchurch dawned overcast. Good mates of Sam’s have recently opened a mobile Taco Truck so we visited them for lunch. They currently operate outside The Colombo in Sydenham and where Cashel meets High Street. When we arrived there was a CTV camera crew interviewing them. As soon as they opened at 11.30am a large queue formed. I can see why! Their Taco’s are very reasonably priced, delicious and the sauces are made fresh each morning. Watch this space, these guys are onto a great thing.
Before the weather completely closed in we rode the iconic Christchurch Tram. Like most of the inner city, the Tram was affected by the Christchurch earthquakes. Fast forward a couple of years, it provides a journey through the changing face of the city centre – despite some of the Tram tracks still being unaccessible. Plans are underway to open the second stage of the Tramway at the end of this year, which will link the existing circuit to the Re:START Mall. We rode the train from Cathedral Junction to the Canterbury Museum.
Hassle-Free Tours offer a unique range of day tours. Whether you’re looking for a scenic experience into the Southern Alps, a visit to a Lord of the Rings filming location or you just want to explore Christchurch from the top deck of a Classic 1960’s London Double Decker bus, there is something for everyone. We opted for the central city tour.
Due to the weather conditions we were in the closed top Double Decker bus. The driver provided a full commentary about Christchurch’s fascinating history. He spoke of the devastating earthquake, how some of the iconic heritage buildings are being preserved and about the exciting vision to rebuild and restore the inner city. Riding the double decker bus gave us views I had never seen before of the areas affected by the earthquakes – you can see over the fences and into the cordoned spaces. We hopped off the bus after one hour, due to time constraints, but there is an option to continue the tour for two hours and visit places of interest in the greater Christchurch area.
The following day, after an early start, we explored the MacKenzie Basin, arriving at Tekapo Springs as they opened their doors. This place is multi-functional, there are hot pools and day spa facilities, as well as an ice skating rink, tube park, waterslide and cafe. The outdoor skating rink is full size. During winter it is used for ice skating, curling and ice hockey. In summer the rink is transformed, containing The Trippo – the world’s largest inflatable water slide.
I relaxed in the hot pools, surrounded by the regions native alpine plants. Each of the three pools are shaped to represent the regions lakes – Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo. From the pools I admired the lake and mountain view, which is even more spectacular in winter when there is snow down to lake level.
The Mackenzie Basin is home to the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. This reserve contains New Zealand’s premier scientific astronomy observatory, Mt John Observatory. This observatory is internationally recognised as one of the best sites for viewing and researching the southern sky, due to the lack of light pollution and high number of clear nights throughout the year. Guided tours of the night sky are conducted at the observatory, which is run by the University of Canterbury. This is an amazing experience everyone should do! Also, the views from Mt John during the day are spectacular.
Mount Cook Alpine Salmon is situated in the MacKenzie Basin. This location provides the perfect environment for Salmon farming. More importantly though, the fish are reared under environmentally sustainable farming practices. You can taste the difference too. We sampled fresh Salmon Sashimi and it was simply delicious.
From here we turned onto scenic SH80, which provides breathtaking views of Lake Pukaki and Aoraki (Mount Cook) – the highest mountain in New Zealand. The next couple of hours were spent with Glacier Explorers. We cruised the Tasman Glacier terminal lake encountering icebergs, which periodically break away from the glacier. This experience allowed us to touch and taste the glacial crystals estimated to be 300-500 years old.
This fascinating experience highlighted the effects of global warming. The Tasman Glacier is retreating at an exponentially increasing rate, which is rapidly increasing the size of the terminal lake. Only 50 years ago there was no lake, you could walk across the glacier. Now, on either side of the Terminal Lake, lateral moraines rise up 100 metres to remind us of the scale and greatness the glacier reached in previous times.Next stop.. The Adventure capital of the world, QUEENSTOWN!