Our Road Trip from Nelson to Hanmer Springs

St James Track

Brent, Suzie and Kirsten embark on a three-day self-drive adventure from sunny Nelson, along State Highway 5 to the Alpine and Spa Village of Hanmer Springs. A long weekend full of unexpected treasures, interesting excursions amongst some really remarkable scenery - so all in all thats more than a thumbs up!   

The driving was relaxed (despite increased traffic while State Highway 1 to Kaikora is repaired). We allowed five hours driving at a gentle pace through Murchison, Maruia and the Lewis Pass. The highlight was our easy two-hour hike into the spectacular St James walkway. The walk begins by skirting around an alpine Tarn on a wooden boardwalk, with views of the mountain ranges reflecting in the perfectly calm, tawny surface. All types of fluro green moss, lichen and native fauna kept us company as we dropped into a deep valley, crossing a long swing bridge. The walk is well sign posted and follows an ancient Maori trails. We promised each other to tackle the multi-day St James walk on another trip. (There is also a separate mountain bike trail, which is highly recommended). 

St James Track

Our destination was Hanmer Springs, a small alpine village, surrounded by mountains and forests with natural thermal pools. The village has a fascinating history as the thermal springs were first discovered by Maori travelling through the area. It wasn’t until the 1850s when European pioneers found the bore and the sulphur pools and started a settlement. Today, Hanmer Springs is popular with international travellers and locals alike. Driving from Christchurch takes less than two hours, which makes it a great family destination for weekenders, day trips or longer as city folk flock to enjoy the many activities on offer.

Hanmer Springs
Twin Pass Mountain Bike Trail

The highlight of our time in Hanmer Springs was a half day mountainbike ride, which took in a loop from a drop off point on Jack’s Pass. We followed a high country gravel road to Jollies Pass, winding along the valley beside the mighty Clarence River. In the malty tussock we spotted wild deer and falcons (and not another human being). The ride down through Jollies Pass was exhilarating (lucky the disc brakes were well maintained) and we took up the option of riding through the purpose-built forest trails. We had packed our lunch and stopped on soft pine needles at a well placed table, admiring the red and white toadstools, bird song and dappled light. This was an easy to moderate ride, with spectacular views and only a small amount of uphill climb.

Twin Pass Mountain Biking
Accommodation and Dining

We stayed at the five star luxury Clear Ridge Serviced Apartments (28 Jack’s Pass Rd), which were outstanding for their spaciousness, warmth and location. Well-appointed king bed rooms and spacious living areas with an easy two minute stroll to the many bars, cafes and the popular Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. After our soak in the thermal pools, (a 5 minute walk from our accommodation) we added on a massage – it was only fair after the activities of the last 36 hours.

If you don’t want to self cater, there are plenty of eating out options. No 31, a fine dining restaurant (check them out on Trip Adviser) accommodated our last minute dinner booking and wowed us with their oysters and Coconut Mohitos. For breakfast and great coffee, we couldn’t fault The Powerhouse (8 Jack’s Pass Road).

No 31 Hanmer Springs

Returning to Nelson (and reality) on Sunday we stopped off at the rural township of Murchison. We called in for coffee, French pastry (made by a real French pastry chefs) and shopping for treasures amongst the several antique and brick-a-brack stores.

Rural Shops New Zealand

Arriving back in the Tasman Region, we just had time to quaff some wine at  Waimea Estate’s cellar door at the start of Appleby Rd (Trev’s Red our favourite) ; this was chased up by stuffing in a few more bluffies (Bluff Oyster shooters a specialty at the Urban Oyster Bar and Eatery Hardy Street Nelson) before getting home to the children.

A very grown up three day retreat, declared an all around success! :)

Travelling from the Nelson region to Christchurch?

Try this as an alternate route - there is plenty to see and do...


Picton/Blenheim/Nelson | St Arnaud
From Picton and travel south on SH 1 to Blenheim, then take SH 63 which travels along the wonderful braided river, the Wairau, to the township of St Arnaud near the beautiful Lake Rotoiti.

St Arnaud
St Arnaud is a small alpine village located on the northern edge of Lake Rotoiti, against a stunning backdrop of mountains. It's the perfect base for exploring the Nelson Lakes National Park, which has many magnificent hiking trails. Local adventure operators offer you a choice of kayaking, river rafting, mountain biking, horse trekking and 4WD motorbiking.

St Arnaud | Murchison | Hanmer Springs
From St Arnaud, you'll follow the Buller River west. Just after Murchison, where you can find out about the massive earthquake that shook the region in 1929, you'll turn onto State Highway 65.This beautiful section of road leads you through the enchanting Maruia Forest, which has New Zealand's largest natural population of Kakariki (a native parakeet). At Maruia Springs you can enjoy a hot soak before Lewis Pass takes you through red and silver beech forest to Hanmer Springs.

Driving Times

Nelson to St Arnaud 87.5km / 54.4mi (1 hour, 14 minutes)
Picton to St Arnaud 128.3km / 79.7mi (1 hour, 32 minutes)
Blenheim to St Arnaud 102.6km / 63.75mi (1 hour, 13 minutes)
St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs 235km / 146mi (2 hours, 42 minutes)
Hanmer Springs to Christchurch 133.5km /  82mi (1 hour, 53 minutes)


Kirst Thorp
Kirsten Thorp
: 25 Jun 2017 (Last updated: 1 Feb 2019)

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