Sunday, 10 September 2017

Snow at Hanmer Springs


From Christchurch we made our way north to the NZMCA Park at Hanmer Springs- parking in our preferred 'secret' spot, up on the old road that passes through the site- less traffic noise, solid ground and a view. 

This must be our 4th or 5th visit to Hanmer so we don't have too much exploring to do but I did take a walk down the Hanmer River (which passes the rear of the park) to where it exits into the Waiau River. From there I was able to get a river bed view of the historic Waiau Ferry Bridge; a one way bridge and the only way into Hanmer. I waited for the jet boat to return- it takes tourists up the Waiau River- but gave up after 15 minutes or so. 

With snow once again forecast we decided to stay put for a few days before tackling Lewis Pass, the new alternative route between Picton & Christchurch. For my overseas readers, the alternative route is a 480km, 7-8 hour 'detour' caused by the November 14th Kaikoura earthquake which damaged the main State Highway along the coast- a route that took about 3hours. 

We had  a few neighbours overnight, and now you can see why we park up on the road, especially in winter!

And right on schedule (although not as much as I'd hoped for) the snow arrived overnight.

We'd left the flexi buckets out overnight after collecting water off the roof when it rained the previous afternoon...

...which was not a good idea, there was a thick layer of ice over the top which we had to break up to get to the water underneath.

It's the busiest we've seen the Hanmer Park, even in the summer. The alternate route passes Hanmer, so it's become a very convenient overnight stop for NZMCA members.

The day before the snow arrived we did a tiki-tour over Jacks Pass (at the back of Hanmer) and down to the Clarence River. We've explored the road in both directions a few times before but not when there has been snow about. 

We've been up to Lake Tennyson and come in from St Arnaud on the Rainbow Road so today we turned right following the river along the Molesworth Road which leads to the Molesworth Station and through to Blenheim at the other end. And that's a road half closed sign- it means the road is closed somewhere further on but not right here. Yes. Seriously. You learn these things after awhile. It also stops Joe Blog explorer/tourist from venturing any further, he's too scared. Which in turn means if it is really closed then no one will have to come rescue him when he tries to go off road in his 2WD rental through the snow.

The scenery was once again stunning. Blue sky ahead...

...and dark clouds looming behind.

A few kilometres down the road we spotted a car backed in off the road and two guys taking their kayaks off the roof.  Kayaks is not what you expect to see in the middle of a snow covered landscape!

But they were the reason I then found myself following David up the road in a random vehicle! The guys talked us into taking their car and trailer 10 kms up the road to where they'd haul out after kayaking down the Clarence.

It saved them driving their car to their exit point and then biking back to the kayaks. One of them said to his mate "See, I told you someone would come along, o ye of little faith!" 

It suited me just fine! I  was able to stop and take a few photos along the way. where did David go? 

Oh there you are! Waiting for me a a gate and wondering if this was where they wanted us to leave their car. 

We checked the river and decided there was no way they could haul their kayaks out of the narrow gorge below us, so we carried on.

Until we got to the Clarence River Bridge. This is near the confluence of the Clarence & Acheron Rivers, the historic Acheron Accomodation House and the road proper through Molesworth Station.

I waited until David walked out on the bridge to get a shot...

...and then carried on to pick him up at what happens to also be the boundary between Canterbury and Marlborough. Unfortunately, this is as far as we'll go today, there's locked chain across the bridge and I suspect there's a locked gate further on. We haven't driven the Molesworth road yet (it's closed over winter) but we've planned twice before and both times we had to abandon the trip; the first time the road was closed due to high fire risk and the second time the Kaikoura earthquake foiled our attempt. Maybe we'll get it done this summer when it reopens at the end of October.

We left the kayaker's car at the bridge and headed back along the road craning our necks to see if we could spot them everytime the river came into view. 

It was a fluke that we saw them when we did, from an area high above the river where we could watch them approaching...

...and then paddle through the riffles and off round the bend at the far end. David called to them as they went past to let them know the car was waiting for them at the bridge. Job done.

We carried on, heading straight into the bad weather we'd seen earlier rolling over the mountains behind us.

These two photos were taken just 1 hour apart- the one below I took as I followed David up the road.

We toyed with the idea of taking Jollies Pass Road back to Hanmer instead of Jacks Pass which was a little further on, we've crossed it before and it is a lot more rugged and you do need 4WD but it's doable. In the end the decision was made for us; it had a locked bar across the road just around the first bend. 

So it was back over Jacks Pass to Hanmer and what a difference two hours made to that journey! These two photos were taken at the top of the pass which actually sounds worse than it is. Jacks Pass isn't actually that bad, it's just a short climb up and then through the mountains that form a backdrop to Hanmer. 

But look at how quickly New Zealand mountain weather closes in on you; this is what catches tourists (and a few New Zealanders) out.

It was thick cloud and heavy rain all the way down the other side into the village. It was time to head home and crank up the deisel heaters.


  1. Though it looks cold, and at times bleak, it's lovely countryside. An area I haven't seen before, so thank you :)

  2. So many people motorhoming out there in winter! We once used a Burstner motorhome like the blue and red one in the center of your photor. Wonder how they were doing in the snow. You know I asked a lot of questions about winter camping ;)
    Anymore updates for your opinions and advice in this topic after such a long winter stay down south?

    1. Well, you're never going to believe this but very soon you'll be able to read quite a bit about winter camping... You'll have to be a little patient though :)

  3. Hi Shellie & David,
    I'd say those Kayakers were lucky to see another vehicle in those conditions in that location and doubly lucky to get you to take their van back down the road! Part of your route is the Rainbow Rage Cycle ride 106 kms from the Rainbow to Hanmer down Jacks pass 106klms. Christines has done that 4 times.

    1. Hi Jimu, I think they were pushing their luck too! We never saw another vehicle that afternoon. Just all part of the 'life on the road' experience. The cycle race sounds like a good one, although a sore bum one too, knowing what that track is like. Four times!! Christine is very keen!

  4. Great read. I look forward to exploring the Molesworth soon in our (4WD) bus. Woo-hoo!

    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Keep an eye on the blog, we're hoping to do the Molesworth as soon as it opens for the summer. We may even see you there!


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