Story: Canterbury places

Page 3. Hanmer and Lewis Pass

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Lewis Pass

The Lewis Pass, at the southern end of the Spenser Mountains, leads from the Lewis River (a Waiau tributary) into the Maruia River (which flows into the Buller). The 863-m saddle was used by Māori, and crossed by Henry Lewis in the early 1860s. It was not an important route to the West Coast goldfields, but after the road (now State Highway 7) was built during the 1930s economic depression, it became the main route from Canterbury to Westport and Nelson.

The St James Walkway is a popular five-day, 66-km walk through forested and farming mountain country east of the Lewis Pass Road. It was the country’s first walkway to pass through subalpine country.

Jacks and Jollies Passes

These two passes immediately north of Hanmer lead into the upper Clarence Valley. Jollies Pass was crossed in 1852 by Edward Lee and Edward Jollie with 1,800 sheep, opening the inland route for Canterbury runs to be stocked with sheep from the Wairau. The better road now crosses Jacks Pass.

Hanmer Springs

Spa and health resort 70 km south-east of the Lewis Pass. The town’s permanent population in 2013 was 840, but many holidaymakers and tourists visit the thermal pools there. A day trip from Christchurch to the springs is a popular excursion.

The hot springs in the Hanmer basin, known to Māori, were discovered by local runholder William Jones in 1859. Bathing facilities were opened in 1883.

Swimmers’ signals

Early bathers at Hanmer Springs did not wear swimming costumes, so the pools were used alternately by men and women. It is said that a pair of trousers hoisted on a pole by the dressing shed signalled ‘men only’, while a skirt indicated that women were in the pools.

A sanatorium was built in 1897. During the First World War it was replaced by a convalescent hospital that later became the Queen Mary Hospital. It treated people with joint disorders, and later those suffering from psychiatric illness and alcoholism.

A wooden hotel of 1897 was replaced in 1932 by the Hanmer Lodge. At the springs themselves, a complex that opened in 1978 is now a major tourist attraction, with 10 thermal pools and other facilities. The Hanmer State Forest Park protects early plantings of exotic trees.

Lake Sumner

Large, scenic lake on the Hurunui River, not far from its head. Lake Sumner has an area of 14 square kilometres and is the centrepiece of the Lake Sumner Forest Park. It is on the route across Harper Pass and was an important source of food when Māori were bringing pounamu (greenstone) from the West Coast to Kaiapoi.

Harper Pass

Harper Pass leads from the head of the north branch of the Hurunui River into the Taramakau valley. It was the main route for Māori bringing greenstone from Westland to Kaiapoi. It was also the first of the Southern Alps passes crossed to the West Coast by a European, Leonard Harper, in 1857, and was used by the first gold miners flocking to Westland in 1864. It is now used only by trampers.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Canterbury places - Hanmer and Lewis Pass', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 14 Sep 2006, reviewed & revised 6 Jul 2015, updated 17 Aug 2015