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Our History

Hanmer Springs History

Taking pride in our rich history

As we celebrate 150 years since the first dressing shed was built next to the original thermal springs, we look back on our whakapapa (genealogy) and our journey to be where we are today. 
Let’s go all the way back to the very creation of the thermal pools as we know them now...
  • Tamatea the great Māori traveller

    Legend tells of the famous warrior Tamatea calling on the Ariki (chief) of the North Island volcanoes, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, to save his party from freezing on their return north, after their waka was wrecked off the Otago coast. The Ariki answered by sending flames from Ngaruhoe’s crater down the Whanganui River and across to Nelson -  a piece of flame landed in Hanmer Springs. This gave rise to the hot springs, known as Te Whakatataka O Te Ngarehu O Ahi Tamatea – ‘where the ashes of Tamatea’s fire lay’. 

    While Māori never settled here, the discovery of ancient native umu (ovens) indicated travellers' camps or signs of people passing through. 

    The nearest Māori settlements in the early nineteenth century were those of the Kaikoura coast; at Kaikoura itself, at Omihi (near Oaro), and in the vicinity of Haumuri Bluff.  

    As a location, Hanmer Springs was somewhat of an intersection for Māori, with those travelling east to west in search of pounamu stopping here, alongside those moving north to different settlements.

  • Did you know Mania Rauhea (Plain of the Shining Tussock) is the Māori name for the Hanmer Plain?

    Today when we soak in the pools, we can think of that haerenga (journey) and the warmth found here in Hanmer Springs.

    This year we are celebrating 150 years since the first dressing shed was built on-site – so let us fill in some of the gaps and paint a picture of how the complex came to be after those early discoveries by Māori.

  • At the heart of our story is our community, who fought to keep the pools alive decades ago and continues to support us in the modern era.

    In 1859 an announcement in The Lyttelton Times marked a discovery of “hot water springs” by Mr William Jones. While he believed he was the first to ‘make them generally known’, in the same year Julius von Haast wrote about a visit to Hanmer Basin thermal springs in his journal. 

    The first dressing shed was built in Hanmer Springs in 1871 by Mr John Fry. He built the shed and put in steps to the hot springs so his customers at the Jollies Pass Hotel could enjoy the thermal pools. 

    During these early years bathers were separated according to gender – with a skirt or trousers flown on a post to let those know who was enjoying a soak. We are sure there were some surprises for everyone back then! 

    The site became a public establishment in 1883 when the Crown fenced it off for the paying public, and by 1884, work was underway to build a bathhouse. 

    For some 15 years prior to 1978, community groups had to fight to secure and source Government funding to develop the pools into a larger-scale complex that would enable people to reap the health benefits of the thermal springs. 

    Community spirit and perseverance won in the end and the pools have since grown from a simple bathing area to a multi-million-dollar attraction that is still in public ownership, under the Hurunui District Council.

    Today by the numbers:

    • 22 outdoor pools
    • Four waterslides
    • NZ’s biggest aquatic thrill slide

Our history timeline

We've compiled a collection of historical images. Click an image to learn more!

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