Day Two: Trams, Gondolas, and Hot Springs
I’m not much of an earlier riser, but day two pretty much demanded a 7 am wake up call. So I dragged myself out of bed and headed down to the breakfast buffet, which offered a ton of fresh fruit, bagels, pastries, sausages and bacon, eggs, and all kinds of cereals and juices.
I finished breakfast in time to make it to the city’s historical tram tour right around 8 am. Nicknamed the “The Brill,” our tram was built in 1921 and was in service for around 30 years. Electric trams were actually introduced to Christchurch around 1905, and today there’s a fleet of four models from different historical periods that offer visitors a chance to ride around the city center. Driven by a funny, smartly dressed individual, complete with an earring, carefully groomed gray beard, and an engineer’s stripped hat, the tour was full of must see attractions and heavy on humor and historical facts. In total, our trip didn’t last much more than around twenty minutes.
Generally, for anyone who’s planning to stay several days in Christchurch, the tram seemed to me like an excellent way to get your bearings and learn more about places you might like to visit. It stops at a variety of parks, museums, and galleries. And Christchurch itself has a blossoming artists community, so a ride on the tram gives visitors a chance to scope out some of the better places to take in some of the region’s best artwork.
Somewhat pressed for time, I chased down a taxi with three of my fellow tour goers—Chris, Yosh, and Sam—after the tram ride, and we headed outside of town to the Christchurch Gondola. Basically, the gondolas are enclosed ski lifts that carry visitors up to an excellent vantage point on the rim of a caldera, and the view from the top provides a stunning look over much of the area.
For visitors who have the time, the gondola is a great way to take in the beauty of the Canterbury region and get a better sense about its geological history. The volcanic craters that shaped the land are evident, and the beauty of the ocean and the mountains is dramatic. And there’s certainly no need to take a taxi. The gondola is serviced by a prompt and regular schedule of local busses and entirely accessible for visitors. But definitely plan a little extra time to have a snack or a drink at the café at the top. We all stopped for a little coffee and some fruit juice, and the backdrop was truly second to none. I had no problem taking far too many pictures.
After a quick cab ride back into to town, we hopped immediately on to the tour bus, or coach as it’s known in New Zealand, and met Shannon Dudley, our knowledgeable and hilarious driver. On the way to Hammer Springs, a little mountain town a few hours north of Christchurch, Shannon offered us a variety of facts about our first real look at the marvelous New Zealand countryside. And as we curled our way along the surprisingly narrow road, a number of dense forests, picturesque mountains, and twisting rivers seemed to pop up around every turn.
Hammer Springs is well known for its geothermal pools, and most of us didn’t waste anytime finding our bathing suits and heading down to the hot springs after checking in to the hotel. The spa facility offers a lot of options, including private saunas and pools at very reasonable rates. There’s also a water slide for kids and a number of children friendly areas. My favorite of the many options, however, were the sulfur pools. They carried a pungent odor, but were by far the warmest. In the cool air of the autumn evening, the views of the mountains in the fading light were splendid and the warm water in the springs felt fantastic. Mustering up the energy to actually get out took me quite a while.
Night 2: The Heritage Hammer Springs Hotel
Accommodations: Our hotel was smaller tonight than the Grand Chancellor, but the room was again very comfortable and came fully equipped with a mini-bar that offered quite a collection of temptations. This time, however, we had a little tile porch outside, furnished with chairs and a little table, and, of course, impressive views of the mountains.
Dinner : Tonight was our first multi-course meal at the hotel, and I enjoyed the potato and leak soup before getting to the main course: rib eye steak complimented with a lovely little onion tart and steamed veggies. And for desert: a powerfully tart but tasty bit of cheesecake. I also enjoyed my first glass of New Zealand wine, a cabernet merlot mix from the Nelson region, which was excellent.