Hot Springs and Beer School

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15/03/08
Howdy all! Hope you are all having a great day. I’ve been having a blast since I got off the bike in Christchurch. I immediately set off to book some day trips to get to some spots that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see while on my train trip heading back up north. The first such tour that I booked was a Backpacker Tour of Hanmer Springs with an outfit called Way Out Tours. They only set up shop this year, and they’re targetting the younger demographic, by enticing us with the offer of Beer School. It was to be their last tour of the season, so expectations were high. Of course, to get the tour started, I had to actually make it out of bed, which proved to be a bit of a challenge, given that I actually didn’t get to sleep until somewhere around 4am! Bars stay open pretty late, and we had ended up at a club called Fat Eddie’s, where the ‘Batmen’ were laying some excellent tunes down. However, since I’d paid for the tour, I forced myself out of bed at 7am to get ready. A quick shower helped as well. Check out the map, and read on for the full details of my adventurous Hanmer Springs Hangover Tour trip.

I was the first person to be picked up for the tour, at 7:45am in front of the hostel. I was greeted by Josh and Jimmy, the owner-operators of their little company. They looked a little tired as well, but were cheerful enough about the prospects of the day, and were looking forward to showing us all a good time, since it was their final tour of the season. I got onboard, and slumped down in my seat for a little bit as we headed into town to pick up the other guests. They were all picked up at the BaseX Backpackers, and they filled up the rest of the van. There were 9 of us, plus Josh and Jimmy. This is where I first learned of their marketing technique. Basically, the two of them head out to the bars at night, handing out brochures and trying to drum up business while partying with potential ‘clients’. That’s why they say they have an 18 hour workday, but they love their jobs. I suspect next year the business will just come to them, as they ran a great tour, and have what I’d say is a lock on their target market.

Once everyone was loaded up on the van, we hit the open roads bound for Hanmer Springs. This of course is one of the more famous hot pool areas of New Zealand, and although I hadn’t planned on visiting, I was nonetheless keen once I saw this tour. After all, what better way to relax at the end of a long cycle journey than sitting in 41 degree sulphur pools? My body deserved it. On the way out to Hanmer Springs, we only made a couple quick stops. The first was to check out a cool rock formation known as Frog Rock, and to talk about some of the geology of the area. There was still quite a bit of cloud cover at this hour of the morning, but we could see that it would end up being a stunner of a day overall. Next on the road was a stop at a cafe for some breakfast food. Thank God! I could really use a delicious pie and a muffin to try and make my head feel better. I’d taken an Ibuprofen, but it just wasn’t doing it for me. I guess I’m out of practice.

At the cafe, we got to know each other by finding out where everyone was from and what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was a pretty good way to break the ice, and before long, we were off once again. Next stop was at a place called Thrillseeker Canyon, where one company offers a host of stuff like Bungy Jumping, Jet Boating, Paintball, 4×4 rides, and even Clay Pigeon shooting. Although that one sounded interesting, I decided I’d pass on all that stuff. They were all on offer as something we could do later in the afternoon. However, I had already decided I wanted to go for a round of minigolf along with a maze. It was only 10NZD, and seemed like a good way to kill some time. I wasn’t alone in that decision, as it turned out all of us but one person opted to do that. There was only one German girl who decided she’d rather go horseback riding while we golfed.

From thrillseeker canyon, our next stop wasn’t going to be until we got to the hot springs, where we’d be spending almost two hours soaking away our worries. We arrived there shortly after the place opened, so it wasn’t too busy yet with the hordes of tourists. Of course, since we were a group of 11, we sort of made our own little gang, travelling from pool to pool as one group, scaring away all the other tourists. I must say, it was heaps of fun. The sun was shining very hot, but out thoughtful guides even had big bottles of sunscreen we could use to keep us from burning to a crisp. Nice touch guys! The hottest pool in the complex was a natural sulphur pool running at about 41 degrees. After a few minutes in there, it didn’t seem all that bad, but the rotten egg smell sort of got on your nerves after a while. After that pool, we headed to a section of the pools which was more like a stream or a ditch, and all spread ourselves out in the shallow water and just chatted. It was a pretty awesome way to while away the time.

Once we were thoroughly soaked and felt ready to move on, it was time to go do some off-roading to make our way to the secluded BBQ spot that Josh and Jimmy had planned for us. Once there, out came the folding chairs, a table, and a bbq. The lads got busy preparing our salad and cooking up the sausages we’d be eating, while we poked around a little bit in the cold river. After eating, Josh taught us all how to cross a river properly when tramping. On the other side of the river, there was a rocky cliff calling my name, which I started climbing. It was rotten rock though, and it kept crumbling as I was climbing. At one point, I realized a fall from my height would be nasty, so I made my way back down to rejoin the others. Next stop was afternoon activities, so for most of us, it meant the mini golf. What a hoot that was! 18 holes of adventure golf, in 3 teams of 3. My team came 2nd, and I ended up with the 3rd best score. After golf came the maze, which was cool.

They had a big concrete maze built out there. But it wasn’t just a maze, it was also a puzzle. You had to find all the clues on your way through the maze, in order to complete a secret phrase, which would in turn get you a reward at the completion of the maze. There were also a couple water challenges, and dark passages to go through. Considering what we paid for the whole works, it was a lot of fun I’d say. I was hoping to ‘win’, but when Daniel and I finally emerged from the maze neck and neck with the fully completed puzzle, there were already a couple other people out there. I’m sure they cheated :-). The reward: gold chocolate coin, which I promptly ate. Of course, all this was just the precursor to the real reason for the trip, the Beer School!

We walked from the golf place up to a bar (appropriately called Robbies!), where we each ordered a pint while waiting for Jimmy and the German girl coming back from their horseback riding. On their return, Josh pulled out containers of different malts and hops in raw form, and went through a series of beers for us to sample, explaining which ingredients were put in. We could sample the hops and malts as well, although I don’t recommend chewing on hops. They’re not tasty! At the conclusion of the lesson, we were also entitled to a free pint of our choice. By this time of the day, we were all getting along awesomely, and our entire group was having fun. Traditionally, from here, the tour concludes by you driving back to Christchurch, having a beer at a pub, and that’s it. However, due to the fact that this was their last tour, and because we were all getting on so well, the tour had a couple twists up its sleeves.

Next stop on our modified tour, local supermarket to stock up on beverages for consumption in the van. Completely legally I might add. I’d been chatting with Josh about how they set up their company, and he explained all the certifications and tests they had done, including the fact that they had an onboard consumption licence allowing guests to drink while we were driven. Awesome. The ride back was a classic drinky drinky tour, with all the requisite stops for relief and general silliness. We played some games with a rugby ball at one spot, and at another place, Jimmy did a haka for us, the traditional Maori ritual. Also on the road, a few phone calls were made, and it was announced that if we’d like, we could join the lads at a house party rather than go to a bar. We’d make another grocery stop to pick up some food to BBQ and more liquid supplies should they be needed. I quickly accepted the offer, as this is what my trip is all about, getting to know the locals, right?

A number of the other people decided to get out at their hostel instead, to shower and get ready for more fun later. However, all agreed we’d meet up at the Sinners and Saints bar at the BaseX backpackers later on in the evening. Four of us joined Jimmy and Josh though, and headed to that party. It was a typical house party, with loads of friendly kiwis to chat with while we ate meat and drank more goodies. There were a few surreal moments at the party, especially when the random superhero showed up. I still have no idea what that was all about, but you’ll see the picture at some point. I was pretty amused however. I also took up my favourite party spot, plunked in front of the computer in the house selecting the music for the night. At some point, it was time to move on, and Jimmy was still ferrying us around in their tour van. We had to go to Josh’s as well though, so he could change. From there, back to town and into the bar. The rest of the tour group were there as well, and we all hung out for a while longer before deciding to move on to another bar. This was another surreal experience, as on the walk there was a fire dancer doing his thing, while some guy heckled him telling him to catch the fire in his mouth. A ruckus ensued, and you’ll see a nice picture of a fireball the guy sent the heckler’s way. Too strange.

Final stop for the day was back in the same area as I was at the night before, but by that time, I decided I had to pack it in. Two hard nights made for a tough slog, and from the Beer school to the party van to the house party to the two other bars meant I’d had my share of tasty malted beverages. I hopped in a cab and made my way back to the hostel. After all, I had to get up early again the next morning to catch my shuttle to the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa. After the low sleep I’d gotten Friday night, I was hoping to get a little extra shut-eye. I’m not too sure what time it was, but it was before 1am at least this time. I quietly headed to bed, happy with another excellent day spent experiencing the true Kiwi life. That about wraps it up for this story, but I will say that if ever in Christchurch, I highly recommend you look up Josh and Jimmy and Way Out Tours, and sign up for one of their trips. You won’t be disappointed! Till then, later gators!

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