Category Archives: NZ Adventures

Day Trip: Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools



Once a year my father likes to treat us to a day trip to Hanmer Springs.  Every year the boys look forward to it, and this year it was a surprise phone call the night before announcing that Dad had been looking forward to it all week and wanted to go the next day.  So we went.

Thermal rock pools
Thermal rock pools

Hanmer Springs is an alpine village, a very pretty 90 minute drive from Christchurch.  It is most famous for its thermal hot pools.  The thermal springs were discovered by the Maori, and then by a local farmer in 1859, and in 1883 the Government Lands Department excavated the natural springs to create the first swimming pools.  Over the next hundred years the pools and Hanmer have grown, and are now a popular tourist destination.  Many friends prefer to stay the weekend and enjoy the walks and mountain biking in the surrounding hills and mountains, but we tend to make it a day trip.

Original hexagonal pools
Original hexagonal pools

There’s something calming, relaxing and luxurious about sitting in piping hot water up to your neck.

I remember coming to the hot pools as a child on the end of a weekend church camp at the local forest park, then it was three uninspiring hexagonal concrete pools, but we still loved it.  Now, there are twelve thermal pools, three sulphur pools and a fresh-water family pool, lazy river and kids activity area, as well as two hydro-slides and a SuperBowl.  The thermal water is drawn from a bore adjacent to the pool complex.  This means you have to remember NOT to put your head or ears under the water!

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We reckon the best time to visit is in autumn.  In summer it’s too hot to sit in hot water up to your neck, in winter your feet go numb hopping between the pools and I can’t think of a good reason not to go in spring, but in autumn you’ve got the beautiful leaves changing colour.  The main street is lined with lovely big trees so it makes a nice entrance to the pools.

Selfie with the boys
Selfie with the boys

Now that the boys are a bit older we can negotiate with them.  As youngsters they wouldn’t sit still in the hot pools for long enough, which is what I like to do, and wanted to play in the kids area, which is decidedly cooler!  This time we took a picnic, having seen others do so, and this was a great idea.  It broke the day up nicely giving us two long swims.  There’s lots of picnic and seating within the pool complex, and as the cafe is really bad, it’s the much better option.  We stopped for coffee and slice at the end of the day in the cafe, the staff were surly, bordering on rude, the hot drinks were very average and the slice was decidedly awful.  The changing facilities could do with an upgrade too, but I’m prepared to overlook that as the pools really area fab.

We start in the hexagonal pools, move to the rock pools, then indulge the boys in the lazy river, family pool and kids playground.  After lunch Dad and I took turns in the adults only (bliss!) pools and then we all sat in the incredibly hot sulphur pools before finally getting out and heading home.

The SuperBowl
The SuperBowl


This year my eldest son went on the hydroslides and SuperBowl which he’d been keen to try for a few years.  He loved it and was able to ride them alone and pop back once in a while to check on us.  They have cleverly positioned the family pools and an end of a rock pool close by so parents can now sit in relative warmth and keep an eye on the youngsters.

The pool complex also boasts a spa which I’d LOVE to try……one day.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools cost us $50 for a mini group (2 adults and up to 3 children) and the hydroslide cost an extra $10 for unlimited rides.  The complex is open 10am-9pm every day except Christmas Day.

Pool feet
Pool feet

The beach in autumn

Solo sandcastle
Solo sandcastle

I don’t know about you but I find the beach in summer is often hot, and sticky, sandy (of course), FULL of people and the last straw is often trying to find a car park.  We tend to surf in summer and walk in winter and in autumn we play.

Hanging houses and arty shipping containers
Hanging houses and arty shipping containers

We’ve had a stunning run of autumn weather these last couple of weeks with chilly mornings and sunny days and marvellous afternoons.  So on Sunday we headed to our favourite playing beach, Sumner.  Sumner has been hit pretty hard by the earthquakes and the raw damage is still evident to some beautiful homes once perched on the edge of the cliffs, now literally hanging off them.  Lines of shipping containers have been brought in to protect the main road to Sumner, and these are now the site for an art exhibition in the form of canvases stretched over a container.  Clever, as they’re pretty ugly.

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The boys and I took their best buddy and headed across town.  The aim of the afternoon was to make sandcastles, well that’s what I wanted to do, but boys being boys, were keener to dig holes and ‘quarry’.  The littlest one and I made a small sandcastle, then I left them to it, digging happily away.

The littlest one and the ball
The littlest one and the ball

Being autumn the wind soon became chilly so after a while we headed back for ice creams – there’s always such a good selection with cones, and licked away watching the kite surfers.

Next time you’re wondering what to do on an autumn afternoon try the beach – it’s often better than the height of summer.

Seashore treasures
Seashore treasures
Three friends
Three friends

Hunting for…The Big Egg Hunt NZ

Have chocolate and bikes - will hunt!
Have chocolate and bikes – will hunt!


The Big Egg Hunt NZ is fun event is being held down under for the first time, here in New Zealand.  100 eggs have been hidden in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and on Saturday the boys and I set out to find a fair few of them, and consume some chocolatey goodness at the same time.

The Big Egg Hunt was first held in London in 2010 and combined fun and fundraising for charity.  Next year hunts will take place in London, Dublin, New York and New Zealand.  The Big Egg Hunt NZ is to raise funds for Starship Foundation (a charity which supports our national children’s hospital here in NZ).  Each egg has been designed by top NZ artists and at the end of the hunt they will be auctioned off on Trade Me (our version of E-Bay), with 20 of them being auctioned at a gala evening.

With a host of sponsors, the principal one being Whittaker’s Chocolate, the aim is to find as many eggs as you can and enter the competition.  Prizes range from peanut slabs through to a gold slab (rumoured to be worth in the region of $300K).  You can do this by either texting in the unique code found on the plinth of each egg, downloading an app (this is what we did) or follow the directions on specially marked blocks of Whittaker’s chocolate.

The boys and I decided this was the perfect activity for a gloriously sunny autumn afternoon and set off on our bikes from the Botanical Gardens, in the centre of town.  To make it even more fun, we took along a specially marked block of Whittaker’s chocolate, and for every egg we found, we ate a square.

The first eggs we found were handily in the Botanical Gardens and I think Egg #82, Insecta Egg, with the butterflies and insects has to be my favourite.  I would happily have that sitting on a plinth in my garden.  Each egg is mounted on a plinth which has a biography of the artist and some talk about the inspiration for their egg design.

The app turned out to be a little temperamental, so at our next stop at the Museum, the helpful guide offered us a good old-fashioned paper map for the egg hunt which turned out to be much more reliable, but she wouldn’t give any clues as to the locations of the two eggs hidden in the museum!  We hunted, and found them.  Despite being large, they were surprisingly easy to miss amongst all the other exhibits.

The next eggs were at Cathedral Square which was the heart of our city, but is now dominated by the ruins of our now fought over Cathedral.  My eldest son struggles to see the remains of the earthquake destruction and didn’t enjoy the cycle through the empty streets, but the youngest one didn’t mind a bit, and in fact enjoyed the traffic-free streets.  Cathedral Square turned out to be quite lucrative as there were four eggs there, therefore four pieces of chocolate!  We followed the map and found the eggs and stopped and played and looked inside buildings.  The new Transitional Cathedral, commonly known as the Cardboard Cathedral provided a warm welcome and another egg.

Our last stop found that two of the eggs had been thoughtlessly damaged and were being removed as we tried to check in with our app.  Despicable damage to such a fun event for a worthy cause.

All chocolate consumed and happily tired boys we cycled back to the car.  They boys reckon it was loads of fun and are keen to do it again next year.

The Big Egg Hunt will run 21 March until 22 April in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  Until the app is reliable, I recommend using the paper map (available online) and texting in your entry.

Art: Burster, Flipper, Wobbler, Dripper, Spinner, Stacker, Shaker, Maker

Burster, Flipper, Wobbler, Dripper, Spinner, Stacker, Shaker, Maker is a colour explosion of an exhibition aimed at families that’s just opened at the Christchurch Art Gallery’s new temporary site at Art Box.  I do wonder how they came up with that name…

Art Box is a developing art precinct in the centre of town.  The venture is run by CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) and most of it has been gifted or donated.  Currently there is the art gallery’s exhibition, a private gallery and still coming are music and artist studios.  It’s reminiscent of a mini arts centre in the middle of the empty building sites.

Christchurch has been without an art gallery for a number of years since the earthquakes, and this is the first time my family has ventured inside a building, albeit shipping containers, to experience art, and it was soooo good.  The space itself works perfectly for a small exhibition with light wood floors, white walls and natural indirect light flooding the space.  There was enough but not too much so the boys weren’t overwhelmed by the art, but the adults had plenty to keep us visually stimulated with the number and variety of the artworks.

Having been so long without viewing art in a building, I went to touch it, but then remembered, that of course, being art, I really mustn’t.  I’m told that the artists are very keen for their work to be handled and stroked, but the art gallery, in the interests of preserving it for future generations, are understandably not so keen.  The artwork that drew me in the most were the morphing pencil sculpture, the paint skins suspended like tubes from the ceiling, and the slow-motion video of the exploding paint-filled balloon.  All the pieces were visually stimulating with huge impact, especially for younger people who can recognise objects being used in very different ways.  It challenged their view of art beautifully.  Simple name plates next to each piece and longer interview sheets were nearby for adults.  I personally much prefer this leaner yet more in-depth way of providing information.


We went to the Family Day in mid-February to mark the opening of the exhibition, and for my easily excitable boys, this was just the right amount of stimulation.  Both went straight for the imagination playground – imagine foam duplo crossed with mobilo.  This will be a permanent feature of the learning space when the gallery re-opens.

My youngest spied the paintings some of the kids were making using a humble salad spinner.  Squirt blobs of colour onto a round piece of card inside a salad spinner, spin hard, add more, spin again, dry with a hair dyer and ta da!  Instant art.

Back to the imagination playground, then they discovered there were FREE iced lollies, so they stopped long enough to sit and listen to the band and suck their ices.  There were colourful chinese lanterns to decorate with stamps and then gently blow up, and then the littlest one found the face painting lady…

Happily occupied all afternoon, we were now the last ones left with the gallery staff, so the biggest one and granddad helped to put away the imagination playground whilst the littlest one had his face painting finished.

Burster, Flipper, Wobbler, Dripper, Spinner, Stacker, Shaker, Maker runs from now until September, so in the upcoming chilly months, venture into town with the kids and have a look.

All exhibition photos courtesy of Christchurch Art Gallery.

Tidying up
Tidying up

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Ferrymead Heritage Park

I’m always slightly intrigued by enthusiasts who spend so much of their free time indulging their passion and sharing it with the general public.  This is essentially what Ferrymead Heritage Park is, a group of heritage enthusiasts who spend their time preserving, and living, the past for future generations.  They’ve been doing it since the 1960s, incidentally on the site of New Zealand’s first public railway.  On Sunday three generations of my family went along for their annual Children’s Day, which meant free entry, free sausages and lots of extra exhibits and stalls for children and families.

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Ferrymead High Street

We hopped on the tram as soon as we entered the park.  The loveliest of grey haired gentlemen drive the trams and keep the safety rails down and all the little hands and feet inside.  Wooden carriages in beautiful condition, are a pleasure to ride in.  Reminds me of the trams in San Francisco where they too have revived old cable cars which are used in general service.

The tram
The tram

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My favourite at Ferrymead is the houses, in full working order, complete with people ‘living’ inside, in costume.  The house I chose to visit (I was only allowed one…) had a woman in the front room making a baby quilt, a gentleman playing a pianola, which the boys had a turn peddling, two kids eating their lunch in the kitchen, and a woman and her daughter playing in the children’s bedroom upstairs.  It’s pretty realistic, so much so, that I felt slightly odd peering at what the kids were having for lunch – cheese sandwiches!  I chatted to the pianola player, who turned out to be a food technology teacher at a local intermediate school.  Having spent all week with kids, all credit to him for then spending his Sunday cooped up in a hot, dark living room pumping the pedals of a pianola.

Original 3D
Original 3D

Further on down the High Street we came across a sign that even the boys could read, Free Sausage Sizzle, and after a surprisingly short queue, we were all in possession of hot sausages in bread and tomato sauce.  A classic kiwi lunch sure to please.  We sat under the trees and enjoyed the entertainment – a variety show of small children’s music, and some impressive young singers, through to martial arts and Suzuki violin.  The boys were keen to try out the adapted wheelchairs for basketball, rugby, and racing.  It was harder than it looked.

We left the wheelchairs with a whole new respect for those who play sport in them and lined up on the platform to wait for the steam train.  It was just like being back in England, except without the yellow line to stand behind I had a running battle to keep the boys safe while they enthusiastically peered up the line for the train.  When it arrived and the crush of people getting off had barged through the mass of people waiting to get on (Cantabrians are unskilled at getting on and off trains), we squashed on and stood like sardines, so very reminiscent of many train and tube journeys in London.  We then heard there was a 20minute wait (even more reminiscent) but the boys were unperturbed as they had a prime view on the carriage platform.  Finally departing on the loop, the boys thoroughly enjoyed their ride, complete with earsplitting whistles.

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Train light - pretty isn't it
Train light – pretty isn’t it

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Too hot for a jacket
Too hot for a jacket

The earthquakes haven’t left Ferrymead unaffected and their Hall of Flames with their marvellous display of vintage fire engines was closed.  Somewhat disappointed, but now thankfully tiring, we went instead to their next favourite place, the miniature trains.  Noses and sticky hands pressed up against the glass and they pointed and exclaimed at the tiny trains.  It really is enthralling to watch these miniature trains travel through a slice of history, in perfection.  Grey haired men watch carefully over their handiwork and little boys wish to have a turn.  Thankfully the glass prevents them from asking.

Tired and happy, with iced lollies to lick on the walk back to the car, we head home from Ferrymead.  Despite being very busy, the park had a real buzz about it which was nice to be a part of.  And with free entry, we’ll be back next year.

Ferrymead High Street
Ferrymead High Street

Emergency Services Family Day

As soon as I heard that the Emergency Services were having a Family Day I knew the boys would be dead keen to go (yes I do realise the phrase I used…).  We’ve seen these different rescue agencies at their best during the aftermath of the earthquakes here, but I thought it would be really good for the boys to see them when they were putting on a show rather than a brave face.

So after Saturday morning tennis we headed out to Pegasus Town, a contrived new town still waiting for its inhabitants, about 20minutes drive north of Christchurch.   All the different rescue agencies had been invited: Westpac Rescue (Air Ambulance), NZ Army, Civil Defence, USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) NZ Fire Service, Rural Fire Service, St Johns Ambulance, NZ Police, Surf Lifesaving, Red Cross, and the NZ Coastguard.  They couldn’t have been friendlier.  Every agency we visited had something for the boys to see, do, clamber over or explore inside, and they made the most of it.  Here are our favourites:

NZ Army

The two boys clambered through the truck had the soldier on the roof happily let them have a look through the scope mounted gun, and the soldier on the ground handed his gun over to my eldest who was itching to have a hold.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter

Having had their Otago colleagues airlift my youngest son from our holiday home to hospital after a prolonged seizure, we had a long chat with the crew.  The little one was fascinated to see the helicopter up close having heard so much about it, but not having any memory of it.

We then watched them work with the surf lifesavers to demonstrate a water rescue where a paramedic jumped out of the helicopter into the lake, secured a member of the Surf Lifesaving Club, and then winched to the helicopter and transferred to land.  The helicopter then demonstrated a dry land rescue where they winched a person from the ground into the helicopter.  Impressive to see.  And then their movements picked up the pace and there was a flurry of activity as an emergency call came in and they headed off on another mission – a motor vehicle crash in Governors Bay.

Rural Fire Service

They had a good clamber through the Rural Fire helicopter with its monsoon bucket, and then watched the pilot demonstrate his impressive flying skills with a monsoon bucket attached.

Search and Rescue

At camp this week Search and Rescue (SAR) had come in and done a couple of exercises with the kids which highlighted the importance of how hard it is to search and find something, and the importance of bright clothing in the bush.  Alpine and Cliff SAR had a rigging up with a bucket that the littlest one needed no encouragement to jump in and be shown how they rig up patients.

Alpine & Cliff Search and Rescue
Alpine & Cliff Search and Rescue

NZ Fire Service

The boys had seen smoke and ran to investigate.  To their delight the Fire Service had a fire which they were lighting, letting the kids put it out with a fire extinguisher, and lighting it again for another turn.  Needless to say they happily queued.

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3 Days as Camp Parent

School camp, in one form or another, is a rite of passage for many children the world over.  Here in New Zealand they are a feature of the school year from about Year 5. This week it was my eldest son’s turn to experience the fun and adventure of three days at camp, and I was one of four parents who went along for the ride.  We are fortunate that Christchurch is fairly close to the mountains and camp was at Pudding Hill, nestled at the foot of the Southern Alps.

Shortly after arrival we headed off up the hill into the bush to walk to a reserve where we picnicked and played games in the sun.  Our school is fairly unique in that half of the children come from countries other than New Zealand.  This means that firstly, the food provided by parents for camp was delicious, and secondly, walking in the bush (as well as many of the other activities) were first time experiences for many of the children, and they LOVED it.  We made bivouacs (just like Bear Grylls) and it was hard as parents not to help out as we had so many fond memories of making huts ourselves, so we blew the rules and got stuck in.

The class teacher was particularly looking forward to the water slide that was in store for the afternoon – a giant sheet of black plastic, held down by tyres, that ran down the hill in front of the lodge.  Covered with water and dishwashing liquid it becomes an adrenalin filled ride down the hill.  It wasn’t long before the parents and teachers were hopping into line with the kids for turn after turn of whooping and laughing.

The weather the next morning reminded us that we were indeed in the mountains and we set off in grey, drizzly conditions wrapped up for warmth.  A short hike over the hill took us to Pudding Hill stream and we practised our river crossing skills group by group, as we made our way back down the stream to camp for mugs of steaming Milo.

Abseiling was something I’ve done before and enjoyed, and standing at the bottom of the rope I felt so proud of the kids for placing all their trust in a rope and harness as they leaned backwards over a cliff and slowly worked their way down.  More bravery than tears, and a lot of encouragement from our Camp Guide and every one in our team made it down.

Having seen them grow as a team I was hopeful they’d complete the Low Ropes Course well, and they did.  A series of challenges designed to foster strategic thinking and team work, they balanced along ropes, laughed as they helped each person scramble through a tyre, and transferred the team along a log without falling off.  Now chilly and still grey I was looking forward to a blat on our bikes and we headed off down the road, across a farmers track and back up to the reserve.

Feeling much more energised after a good dose of endorphins it was time for the kids to make their own pizzas, a newspaper costume competition and finished off the evening with toasted marshmallows.

The final morning saw a beautiful sunrise and the weary kids emerge from their bunk rooms ready for another day.  Archery is something I’ve never tried, and the kids were very keen to give it a go, some having seen ‘The Hunger Games’ and some the  movie ‘Brave’.  They were surprisingly good and three in our team shot bulls eyes.  One of the other parents enjoyed it so much she’s thinking of taking it up as a sport.  Time to clean and pack and head back to the stream with our packed lunches for a final picnic and play in the water.  Some impressive dams were built and most feet got wet.  Packed into cars we headed back to Christchurch, all tired, happy, and with a fair number of new experiences under our belt.

As a parent I felt privileged to be part of these kids’ lives for three days, to watch them grow as individuals, work together as a team and bond as a class.  I was so proud of my particular team and how well they encouraged each other, enjoyed success and became friends.  Thanks very much for having me Room 3!