Escape the disappointed strangers in Hanmer Springs and head to St. James Conservation Park in search of natural hot pools.


  • Bathing in secluded thermal hot pools
  • Stunning surrounding scenery
  • Mini 4×4 adventure or moderate mountain bike ride
  • Escape the crowds

The Lowdown

A popular stop on a tour of the South Island of New Zealand is Hanmer Springs. The quaint mountain town, located in the Hurunui District, offers walking, mountain biking and river-based activities, but is most famous for its thermal pools.

Geothermally heated, the pools are at the top of most visitors’ ‘to do’ list, meaning that regardless of the time of year, whether there is a blizzard or glorious sunshine, it’s reliably busy.

The marketing material will have you believe that it’ll just be you and one, coincidentally attractive lady sharing the pools. Upon arrival however, fantasies are quickly dashed as you’re greeted with several hundred other people who all had similar aspirations. Your afternoon is thus reduced to bathing with many, many strangers in collective disappointment.

The good news is that an alternative way to get your peaceful fix of bathing in the light aroma of sulfur-infused water does exist, although it requires a bit more effort.

Thermal Hot Pools

North of Hanmer Springs exists a rugged, expansive landscape where few visitors bother to tread. On the East is Molesworth Station, the largest in New Zealand at over 1,800km². To the Wast is St. James Conservation Park, a wild empty area which ticks a lot of activity boxes such as walking, mountaineering, mountain biking, horse riding, hunting, 4×4-ing, skiing etc. which, when collectively grouped together may be referred to as ‘a busy morning’.

What St. James also offers is secluded hot pools, hidden from the crowds of Hanmer Springs.

By Bike Or 4WD

If you arrive during the warmer six months of the year (between about October and May) and are fortunate to have a 4WD, then you can opt for the lazy option and navigate the 12km of moderate 4×4 track to get to the pools (note that you will need to register your vehicle to obtain the gate combination code and get access).

If you don’t have the luxury of 4WD, arrived during the colder, darker months of the year, or just feel a bit more enthusiastic about the adventure, then it’s a 12km cycle.

Mountains begin to grow as you head deeper into the conservation park, with cheery names such as Mt. Horrible and Mt. Sadd, evidently named by explorers who could have done with a nice relaxing dip in a thermal pool. Several stream crossings later, a left turn at Cow Stream will lead you up a steep hill towards the hot pools.



Two pools, made from a mixture of grey stone and concrete, are nestled within the depths of a stream-cut valley. The larger of the two pools accommodate about 10 people, the smaller about 6. Both pools provide the occupants with an opportunity to immerse themselves in the warm bubbling water, with only the soothing sound of a flowing stream within earshot. As well as its audible calming properties, the stream also provides turnover within the pools, removing any stagnant water.

The final issue to contend with is how long to spend in the too pleasant to leave water, before having to head back to civilisation.

Essential Gear

  • Walking Gear
  • Togs / Towels

How to Get There

Access to the pools first requires escaping from Hanmer via the Clarence Valley Road, which takes you over Jacks Pass and onto Tophouse Road. Approximately 10km later, the Peters Valley 4×4 Track appears on the left hand side, at which point the exploration can really begin.


  • Bathing in a thermal pool
  • 4×4 driving / mountain  biking

Skill Level


Distance Covered / Elevation Gain

12km / 100m