The Canterbury Plains is full of attractions for rest and relaxation. It abounds with golf courses, bays for wind surfing, kayaking, cruising and swimming (maybe with dolphins), places for walking and mountain biking, delightful gardens, wineries and quaint cottages. Rivers crossing the plains are perfect for rafting or jet boating and in winter it's a paradise for skiers and snowboarders.
The Alpine Pacific Triangle touring route links three of Canterbury's most popular destinations Hanmer Springs, Waipara Valley and Kaikoura. It begins 45 minutes north of Christchurch's airport and is easy to navigate. The circuit is 370km and can be enjoyed in a few days, in any direction, and combined with other south island destinations.
Hanmer Springs, 90 minutes from Christchurch, is an alpine village known for its thermal pools. For 125 years Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve has attracted people wanting the benefits of its natural mineral waters and clean, clear alpine air.
Set in a breathtaking natural landscape, surrounded by forests and mountains, the award-winning reserve has seven open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools, four private thermal pools and a sauna/steam room. There is a freshwater, heated pool and a family activity area with water slides and toys and picnic area. Water temperature ranges between 36-42°C, excellent for soothing aches and pains or just relaxing. The geothermal water comes from a bore, providing natural water of high quality.
Also available is a range of massage and beauty treatments from trained professionals.
The Garden House Café serves light lunches, a la carte evening dining and good New Zealand wine.
Waipara Valley is the centre of Canterbury's grape-growing area and forms one of the three cornerstones of the route. It's the country's most rapidly expanding wine region; the soil also produces quality olives and nuts.
The Waipara festival takes place every March, attracting those who enjoy both food and wine.
Kaikoura is a seaside settlement overlooked by mountains which are snowcapped for many months of the year. It sits on the Kaikoura Peninsula, which offers superb scenery, excellent marine attractions and adventure activities. It's best known for whale watching (ironic given that it was a major whaling town until 1964) and crayfish. (Kaikoura is Maori for "crayfish food"). It's an important habitat for fur seals, birdlife and marine life.
Also on offer are cave tours, horse trekking, skiing, motorbiking and half-day track walks.
Nin's Bin is a business with a twist. Rodney Clark and his family catch, cook and sell fresh organic crayfish from their roadside caravan. Rodney heads out each morning at 5.30 to empty his craypots. There are no preservatives, additives or tank taste for the consumer, just natural sweetness. They are fairly priced and if you can't wait to savour the cray, the Clarks will cut it up and you can barbecue it right on the spot. There's nothing like hoeing into freshly cooked cray, accompanied by wine from a local winery and fresh bread from the town's bakery while overlooking the ocean. But be warned Rodney refuses to serve chips with his cray, so if you can't resist them, you will need to buy them elsewhere!
The Old Convent B&B was a convent for a French order of nuns between 1911 and 1980. It became a B&B in 1992 and in 1996 was renovated and extended by its current owners, Judy and Jenny Hughey and Gordon Cockerill. There is still some French influence remaining in one of Kaikoura's few historic buildings.
The convent and school building have 17 guest rooms, surrounded by green dairy farm paddocks. Mother Superior's room and the nun's cells are now ensuite bedrooms. The music room is a family room and the chapel, complete with open fireplace, a guest lounge. The travellers bar features a spiral staircase used by the priest for access to the confessional. The schoolroom is next door and houses six guest rooms. Many local residents attended primary school here.
Breakfast features a range of cereals, breads and baked items, yoghurt, fruit and their own jams. A cooked breakfast is available. In the evenings, a typically French dinner is available. The Old Convent offers bicycles, pool, petanque, croquet and laundry and Internet access.
To make your journey simple and argument-free, we came across a wonderful invention, the Kruse, invented by Jonathan Kruse. This is a small black box which sits on the dashboard and plugs into the cigarette lighter. GPS technology automatically plays commentary as you drive through places of interest. The personal tour guide imparts information, history, place names and scenic points. In between places of interest, music entertains passengers until the next place is reached, when it cuts in again. It has a reset button if you wish to re-listen. Commentaries have been carefully designed to be unintrusive.