Of Hanmer I shall never tire

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I’ve never had a bad holiday in Hanmer. It’s both a fact and a wee adage I have. I think it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Hanmer is one of my favourite places on planet earth. I am there now and on my walk this morning thought I might share my thoughts on this magical place.

To those reading who do not know it, Hanmer is an alpine village located in North Canterbury. It is a leisurely one and a half hour drive (well two from Sumner) from Christchurch. Nestled against the mountains Hanmer offers an all year set of things to do. The main attraction of the village is the thermal pool complex and I simply love hot water!

The thermal pools were long an attraction but at the end of the Great War become the focal point for the establishment of a hospital and sanatorium for shell-shocked soldiers. The Queen Mary hospital became renown for treating those with addictions in its’ latter life. The hospital was closed a few years back, sadly, but the development of Hanmer has continued.

As with many Christchurch people I have been coming to Hanmer all my life. I can recall day trips with my parents and siblings that inevitably included a walk up Conical Hill. It seemed like quite a hike when one was young but is a simple 30-minute stroll these days. Then there were the trips to the pools, a very simple affair in my youth with none of the Spa facilities, hydro-slides or themed rock pools we now enjoy. Three simple octagonal shaped pools and a cold water pool was the sum total. There were private pools as well as I recall but they were beyond our budget or need at the time.

I remember one memorable trip with my friend Glenn in his Austin A40. We were coming for a day and had flat tyre just past Mouse Point. For some reason Glenn didn’t have a spare so we started walking (the wrong way) in search of a garage. Some kind soul picked us up and we wasted much of a day getting the tyre repaired. I lost a woolen vest that had been knitted for me by my friend Kim on that day… random thought I know. I do recall we drowned our sorrows at the old public bar at the Hanmer Lodge and ate fish and chips for tea. Interestingly and completely out of the blue, he connected with me on Facebook today (he now lives in Aussie). Perhaps he knew I was here.

I came here on a couple of occasions with Special Camping Services (SCS). SCS was an organisation set up to take young adults with special needs on holidays. Parents and caregivers of people with special needs are entitled to respite care. An entrepreneurial fellow from Sumner had set up SCS on a model where the parents would pass the respite care monies along with a bit more so their children could go off on holidays (rather than just going into a faceless residential care unit). Along with a number of other young adults I was invited along to assist with the care and we received as payment our accommodation and food along with gaining from the experience. We went to all sorts of places over the three years I was involved: Nelson, Wanaka, Napier and on at least three occasions, Hanmer. We always stayed at the mobility lodge. The old forestry workers camp had been modernised and a specialized lodge had been built which provided excellent facilities for those with disabilities.

The SCS trips were always great fun. I remember one hilarious occasion where we took the gang to the pools. I was sitting in one of the pools with some of the guys and a girl called Cathy who had Down syndrome stood at the top of the steps to the pool. The pool was quite full with tourists. Cathy dipped her toe in the water and proceeded to pee down her leg into the pool. I was too comfortable to care and figured the water to urine ratio to be in my favour considerably. A great number of tourists disagreed and we ended up in a much less congested pool.

On another occasion we cleared the pool by singing loudly (and out of tune). There is nothing amorous teenagers like less than a bunch of lads who look different (Downs’ syndrome) singing.

We would work hard and look after our ‘wards’ during the day and then we’d pack them all off to bed and have a great time. More than once we snuck into the pools after they were closed (impossible now but relatively easy in those days) and help ourselves to the warm waters. I first watched the movie the Blues Brothers in Hanmer as I recall.

Katherine and I bought Annie here on one of the first wee holidays we ever had as a family. Annie was all of about 8 months old and we stayed at the old AA motor camp. We walked into the village each day, a fair hike. Annie had her first experience of the hot pools and loved every minute of it. She conveniently slept all day and was awake all night. Molly was not conceived in Hanmer!

We have been here as our little family or we have been here with Katherine’s wider family, all the sisters and cousins.

Katie ate her first solids here. We were staying at the Seven-away holiday homes and she was 5 months old. I first read a Terry Pratchett novel in Hanmer.

We have stayed in lots of different homes here. I always dream of having our own place but it is so easy to find a place to rent and we get to stay in different parts of the village. Some we like and go back to again, others we avoid.

We pretty much do the same sorts of things each time. We get takeaways one night and go out for dinner another. We have fresh bread from the bakery and I sneak off and drink copious amounts of decent coffee.

I tend to wake earlier than the others and go off on long rambling walks. I end up usually at the Powerhouse Café, I like it ‘cos it’s small and the coffee’s good. We explore the shops and occasionally do mini golf or the silly bike things.

We always do the pools.

I spent much of June overseas. I was in the US, Canada, Germany, the UK and Ireland. I was in Singapore in May. I have done an enormous amount of travel in the last 12 months but nowhere do I feel so relaxed and at peace. There is just something about this place.

We have had many family holidays here. Here we are again with Annie at age 15, Molly 12 and Katie enjoying her last days as a 4 year old. She will start school after these holidays. She too wandered up Conical Hill today. It started snowing on the way up which was rather magical.

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