It’s a strange sensation travelling in New Zealand during it’s off-peak tourism season. When I travel in the winter I’m struck by how quiet the country is – even the Viaduct in Auckland or Lambton Quay in Wellington – can have an air of “last one to leave, please out turn out the lights”.
But there is also something incredibly peaceful in a country that has gone indoors for winter: the beaches are quiet (but no less beautiful), the roads are less traveled, and the locals seem to have a little more time to linger.
So it was when we were travelling south to Christchurch on State Highway 7 through the Lewis Pass. It was an overcast, cloudy mid-afternoon as we made our way through the Lewis Pass. I don’t think we had seen another vehicle for at least an hour when the unmistakable smell of sulphur began to fill the air . . . hot springs! I didn’t need to speak a word to my co-driver . . . he turned off the highway and into the Maruia Springs Thermal Resort car park with a smile.
I had heard stories about the hot pools located in the Lewis Pass (some in secret tramping locations) but I had only previously visited the pools at nearby Hanmer Springs. The pools at Maruia Springs were known to be more rustic but equally as appealing as their big brother in Hanmer Springs.
It didn’t take us long to get our swim gear organised, and we headed into the main building where the friendly receptionist told us that we were the first guests to arrive that day: “The road was closed yesterday, so you have the pools to yourselves for now”. Wow. A private thermal resort. Now that’s unexpected.
We quickly changed into our swimming attire and tippy-toed through the still un-melted snow on the footpath into the first pool. Gorgeous. The reviews I had heard about the pools were all true: the pools are natural, smooth rock tarns and the water is highly mineralised. Only wooden benches adorn the area around the pools and the view is incredible.
When we arrived, the clouds were low and heavy set, but by the time we had settled into the pools we were blessed with one of the best valley views in New Zealand. And, all from our own private hot pool.
So, if you’re heading around the country this winter, I highly recommend talking to some locals and taking some extra time to discover some of the hidden gems New Zealand has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.