The most northerly of the cross-mountain routes, SH7, crosses the Lewis Pass following an ancient Maori and early Pakeha trade route. A side road spurs off to the spa town of Hanmer Springs, which is also a popular base for summer walks and winter sports at the nearby Hanmer Springs Ski Area. Some 60km further west, you cross the Lewis Pass and drop down to the steaming thermal waters of Maruia Springs.
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About 140km north of Christchurch, a side road heads 9km north off SH7 to HANMER SPRINGS at the edge of a broad, fertile plain snuggled against the Southern Alps foothills. Rainwater seeping through fractures in the rocks of the Hanmer Mountains absorbs various minerals and is warmed by the earth’s natural heat, before rising to the surface as the springs that made the town famous. Everything centres on oak-lined Amuri Avenue, which runs past the springs, the i-SITE, shops and the shady park that gives the town its quiet, sheltered feel.
West of the Hanmer Springs turn-off, SH7 continues its climb towards the 907m Lewis Pass, 65km to the west, with low-yielding grassland with broom (blazing yellow in the summer), spiky matagouri, manuka and kanuka giving way to red and silver beech forest. To explore the area on foot, pick up DOC’s Lake Sumner/Lewis Pass Recreation leaflet from the Hanmer Springs i-SITE, which outlines almost two dozen day and multi-day walks.
West of Lewis Pass it’s a further 8km to Maruia Springs, a blissful spa grouped around Japanese-style men’s and women’s bathhouses, private bathhouses and natural-rock outdoor hot pools, whose steaming mineral waters range from black to milky white.