Few getaway destinations are enjoyable in heavy rain, biting cold or brisk wind but Hanmer Springs lets you leave the weather behind.
My car's windscreen wipers were slicing their way through a recent Saturday's downpour as I drove about 255km south and then west inland to the alpine, thermal town of Hanmer Springs to enjoy a weekend of pampering by, and in, the pools.
The pamper pack is marketed as "the perfect way to reward yourself and recharge your batteries after a hard week (or tough day)," and approaching the i-Site Visitor Centre to collect the necessary vouchers, I felt I fitted into the former category.
My first glimpse of Hanmer Springs, however, may have been enough to convince me that a relaxing weekend was not in store.
Tour buses filled with hordes of visitors clogged the main street, queues of people streamed out of the thermal pools complex waiting to be let in and spare carparks were proving a valuable commodity.
Everyone else seemed to have realised Hanmer Springs was the place to be when it was raining too.
The pamper pack voucher was ready and waiting on my arrival, but a mix up over whether my accomplice and I had a pre-booked time for a private thermal pool meant we had to chase it up - first by waiting in the queue in the rain and then, defeated by the downpour, over the telephone.
This was followed by confusion at our accommodation, the Hot Springs Motor Lodge. Staff at Hanmer Springs' newest motel soon fixed the problem with the bedding configuration and we were comfortably installed in our spacious, in fact wheelchair-friendly, unit.
Buoyed by our arrival and confirmation of our private thermal pool for 3pm, we headed into the centre of town in search of lunch, some retail therapy and hopefully a carpark.
Certainly Hanmer Springs has changed markedly since the days of childhood family trips, with a new stone-clad shopping complex full of boutique shops enticing tourists' dollars from their wallets, modern apartments springing up for out-of-towners and Hot Chocolates available for almost $6.
However a delicious lunch, and luckily a spare seat, was found at the Springs Deli, followed by some mid-afternoon entertainment next door at the Koru Tree giftshop.
Owner and operator Margaret Hitchcock, who has opened her shop's doors to visitors for the last four years, has her family's 87-year-old pianola displayed prominently in the centre of the store.
In fine form, she plays tunes from one of 47 rolls to entertain those who are drawn to the pianola, continuing the tradition started by her grandfather, the instrument's original owner, whose photo sits on its lid.
During our visit, Margaret treats us to a rendition of Danny Boy, which tinkles out of the pianola as she pumps its pedals.
With her nine-week-old white West Highland Terrier Monty darting around our heels, we are all singing along merrily.
"My daughter said 'people will think you're mad' and I said I don't care," laughs Margaret, who clearly enjoys interacting with people and invites me to try out my pianola skills.
Further retail roving reveals an array of upmarket shops, selling everything from dreamy dressing gowns to luxurious lollies.
Like Queenstown and Wanaka before it, Hanmer Springs is putting its commercial best on display.
Also appealing to those who want to spend more was our private thermal pool which we lapped up for a decadent 30 minutes.
The pool complex is rapidly trying to catch up with inflated crowd numbers, with a new entrance way due for completion later this year.
Also underway is the second half of the spa complex, and according to the staff member at the entry desk, plans for refreshed changing sheds.
Just as well, considering that the one thing that hasn't changed much in Hanmer Springs for some time is the public toilet-styled changing area and bathrooms.
Wet concrete floors, communal showers and old toilets detracted from an otherwise upmarket experience.
The private thermal pool was relaxing and clean, and avoided the awkwardness of sharing bench space, water and tog appearances with all those in the crammed public pools outside.
Light music and a modern waterfall added to the ambience, and 30 minutes passed all too quickly.
With a prune-like and somewhat bedraggled appearance, and energy levels at a low, we retired for the evening, to enjoy a few glasses of wine and a takeaway pizza.
Decadence had never tasted so good.
Sunday morning dawned brighter and quieter, with the crowds having disappeared with the rain.
First up was half an hour in a private steam room, to cleanse out all of the toxins consumed the night before.
A cross between a sweaty workout and sitting near a heater, we perspired and hoped the process was not in vain.
Again, light music lent the drippy, humid room a calming effect and a cool shower and several glasses of water helped us regain some composure.
Fortunate really, considering as we then had to wait in the spa complex's reception with its perfectly finished staff members coming and going.
Our final treat of the weekend, an unwind-your-back massage, awaited in a dim room, lit only by scented candles.
My masseuse, Gaye, introduced herself and I got comfortable, and practically clothes-less, on the massage bed.
Thank goodness for burrowing in among the fluffy, white towels.
Not a newcomer to massage, I found the beeswax scents and the rolling pin sensations enjoyable though familiar.
Despite a plug by the other masseuse for us to indulge in some body butter "for just $20" mid-massage, the experience was one that generally eased both the muscles and the mind, and smoothed out any stubborn tense areas which had not already disappeared.
Massaging my neck while pushing down on my shoulders, Gaye commented that I would be a bit taller when I left.
Always appreciated by someone who stands at just 1.65 metres.
After my back, shoulders and neck were completely unwound, Gaye enquired how I felt.
"Marvellously relaxed, but I hate to think what my hair looks like," I replied, with a humidity-enhanced, beeswax-ified do.
"It's massage hair," she said, which made me only marginally more comfortable about appearing back into the reception area looking so dishevelled.
Perhaps the idea is to proceed onto the plethora of other treatments on offer which can put most areas of the body back into shape, but that was where our spa experience drew to a close.
Continuing the tranquil theme, we bought some bakery filled rolls and took a picnic to the Hanmer Springs Forest, before a light walk and the long drive home.
It was a some distance back to Blenheim from the alpine town, but, thanks to the weekend's pampering, it was even longer before the stresses and tensions of everyday life returned.
Source: KATIE WYLIE - The Marlborough Express