Aquabear makes a splash in Rohan

After Kaikoura, which I’ll post about shortly, I headed inland on windy, twisty roads (New Zealand is beautiful but I have to admit that I’m starting to fantasize about driving through Kansas or Nebraska, where you don’t have one hairpin turn after another, endlessly). My destination was Hanmer Springs, yet another hot spring beneficiary of New Zealand’s highly unstable geology.

I was going to skip Hanmer, suspecting it would be like the tourist hotpots of Rotorua, but I liked its brochures – more low-key and, dare I say, classy – and I liked the name of the place. To me, Hanmer Springs sounded vaguely Viking-y, and also like the kind of place where you might find some Rohirrim soaking away their woes. (LOTR reference: Rohirrim are the dudely dude horseman warriors of Rohan, and scenes of Rohan were filmed largely in Canterbury, the region in which Hanmer Springs sits. It all makes sense. Maybe just in my head, but trust me. It makes sense.)

I am so glad I did it. First, at least at the time of year I visited, there was no tourist trap, let’s get every penny out of the fur’ners kind of vibe. The hot springs were well-designed and clean and relaxed, much more like, say, your average nice-but-not-snooty Scandinavian sauna than a tourist attraction. Also, they were affordable… NZ$14 for an adult day pass, which got me into all the hot spring pools and a freshwater lap pool. Camping was cheap, too, at least out of the town. I got a lovely sheltered spot at Alpine Holiday for NZ$10 (that’s about US$7) and walked through the beautiful Hanmer Forest, about 2km, to get back to the springs.

Once there, I couldn’t resist the lap pool and jumped in, doing an easy kilometer without even breathing hard. Ah, Aquabear* in her element. It was really nice to be back to swimming.

(*Most of you know, but for those who don’t, when I do triathlons I think of myself as Aquabear, because I identify so much with the polar bear (my “triathlon totem animal” or “visualized motivator” or whatever sports psychology term you want to use). Like a polar bear, I am not superfast or graceful in or out of the water, but I am relentless and I get where I’m going. Eventually. And I am well-suited to swimming in cold water thanks to my, uhm, God-given natural insulation. And, as we all know, bears ride bicycles. About as elegantly as I do.)

Anyway, I eventually stopped swimming, noticing the shadows across the pool from the trees were getting longer and longer. I tried out a couple of the hot spring pools, which were really nice, not too hot (I did the 36 and 39 degree Celsius ones, though they went as high as 41 degrees Celsius), beautifully designed and clean. But Aquabear does not have the patience to just sit and soak. And, I am sorry to report, there were no Rohirrim about, just a lot of old guys whose Speedo-wearing days were far behind them (or should have been!) and their wives, about whose appearance I will not comment lest I be judged. There were a couple families, too, and all in all it had a nice, relaxed atmosphere.

I lasted about 15 minutes in the hot pools before I decided I had to get out… when you look at the photos, you might think “hmm, it looks like it’s twilight already.” Yeah, it was. It was getting dark, and quickly, and I had to walk through Hanmer Forest back to the campground. I suppose I could have taken the road back, but how un-perilous and dull. So of course I set off in near-darkness through the forest, which is criss-crossed with dozens of trails. I only made one wrong turn, and realized quickly enough that I got back on track before losing too much time. It was a close one, though. I barely made it back before darkness swallowed the campground, the kind of can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face inky blackness that’s hard to find these days. It was wonderful.

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