Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools: One of the best family holiday spots in New Zealand, now better than ever

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools.
The hydroslides all now have no height restrictions. Photo credit: supplied

Two of my best days of this awesome New Zealand summer we're experiencing were definitely those I spent at Hanmer Springs.

It's been years and years since my family visited the hot pool town and this time it was better than ever, mostly thanks to recent upgrades undertaken at the thermal pools.

If you've unfamiliar with it, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools is arguably New Zealand's best water park. It has a great selection of slides and family play areas as well as an emphasis on wellness and relaxation with some of the pool and spa options, all of which use geothermally heated water rich in minerals.

What makes this season the ideal time to go is the age and height of the littlest members of our whanau, who benefitted from the recently change rules, along with the fancy new hydroslides.

The four hydroslides are:

  • Conical Thrill
    You do this 13.5m high ride on a raft with one other person. The pair of you get fired up a  large, near-vertical ramp and it's cool seeing just how high you can get.
  • Super Bowl
    Another two-person raft ride, as the name suggests this is a bowl slide. You ride around the large central bowl a few times before dropping through to the lower slide and it's a coin toss if you do that last bit forwards or backwards.
  • Violet Vortex and Waiau Winder
    This pair of hydroslides opened in October 2023 and feature LED lighting and visual projection technology. They're both well designed and fun to ride, but neither are particularly fast or scary - it's the two raft slides that are the thrill rides.

It's asked that kids be 5-years-old to ride these, but the height restrictions were dropped in December - which was absolutely perfect timing for us, as we had two 5-year-olds who were  both under 1.2m when we went in January.

Conical Thrill at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools.
The Conical Thrill may be a bit nerve-wracking for some. Photo credit: supplied

A word of warning though: Even in mid-summer, in this part of the country if you get a southerly wind on an overcast day with a bit of rain, it can get quite cool. As the queues for the slides can get long, for us this meant either standing around shivering unpleasantly for a while, or giving up and jumping into a hot pool for a while before trying our luck later.

Nearby the hydroslides is a large family pool with a cave area and an overhead bucket that empties every few minutes, much to the kids' joy, as well as a short lizard slide. Nearby is another dedicated littler kids area with four slides for under 8s.

Despite being allowed on the bigger thrill rides, it was the family pool and childrens area the two 5-year-old members of our group wanted to play in most, as much as they enjoyed trying out the bigger attractions.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools.
Part of the main family pool with the Violet Vortex and Waiau Winder in the background. Photo credit: supplied

To mix things up there's also a lazy river that's great for the children too.

One day at the pools is definitely not enough time. We got two-day passes which is what I'd definitely recommend as the park is really large with loads to do. Spreading it over two days takes the pressure off and makes it a more enjoyable experience, plus the pricing for a two-day pass makes sense.

All up there are 15 nicely varied open-air thermal pools of different temperatures including a couple at a toasty 42C. There's an adults only pool with plenty of jets and waterfalls to soothe muscles and while I didn't try them out, there are also spa treatments, private thermal pools, sauna and steam rooms on offer for additional costs.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools.
The aqua therapy pools are adults only. Photo credit: supplied

Beyond the water attractions, there's a lot about these pools that just feels a bit more world class than other similar complexes in Aotearoa, from the design to other modern features like the togs dryers on hand in the changing rooms.

It's also a pleasant surprise how reasonably priced and decent quality the food from the onsite café is. Often at places like this, as it's the only outlet there, you'll get sub-par food and pay and arm and a leg for it - not so at the Tea Kiosk.

Once you're finished with the pools, there is a wide range of great activities and attractions in the surrounding area. Like most tourist hotspots in Aotearoa, there's bungee jumping, jet boating and quad biking options nearby.

We checked out Fairy Door Walk in Hanmer Forest which went down superbly with the little ones. It was super cute, although more of a casual stroll and play than an arduous walk for adults; but there are more challenging walks and mountain biking trails in the forest too.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools.
The pools are in a particularly scenic area. Photo credit: supplied

The town itself is one of those quaint, relaxed, friendly and welcoming places, with less of a hectic feel than other tourist hubs even when it is packed.

I got my accommodation through Booking.com and stayed at The St James, which was ideal. It's a short walk away from the hot pools, but was a little quieter than more central places and it offered stunning mountain views.

The apartment had a lovely big spa bath in it and other luxurious touches, as well as a very handy on-site laundry, a dishwasher and even a sewing kit, too.

To get to Hanmer Springs from Christchurch I got a car from Ezi Car Rental, again through Booking.com. I was pleasantly surprised to be the first customer to drive a brand new 2023 Ford Focus, even though I booked the 'Toyota Corolla or similar' category that I think was the cheapest option.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools.
The Super Bowl. Photo credit: supplied

Going through Booking.com - and there are many similar websites like Expedia and Kayak - is a really convenient way to book travel arrangements, with a loyalty system that can mean discounts after a few trips. Booking the rental car through it was great, but next time I won't be getting the insurance through Booking.com again, as it presented a couple of issues I wouldn't have experienced if I'd just gotten that direct from the car rental company.

But however you do it, flying to Christchurch or Blenheim and getting from there to Hanmer Springs is a gorgeous road trip. Make sure you're not rushing so you can pull over often and drink in the amazing views.

I can't wait to do it again.

Newshub received accommodation in Hanmer Springs and a rental car hire courtesy of Booking.com for this article