Oooh ahhh, Akaroa

1/26/2016 11:39:00 am

I love New Zealand. You can leave Sydney on Friday night, arrive in Christchurch at 1am, crash at a hotel near the airport, then hire a car and go somewhere wonderful. And you can be back in Sydney on Monday morning, just in time to go to work. Almost.

I've only spent a single day on the North Island, whilst we waited for a flight home (although as day trips go, Auckland is not bad). I have some deep feels about two places on the South Island though; quiet and restful places, that make my soul feel good. If I were having an Eat Love Pray-type life crisis, I would retreat to the South Island.

I tried to convince Rob that we should get married on the shores of Lake Tekapo last year, but with the given timeframe (it was February when I floated the idea, and we were going in March) I couldn't organise it, and he couldn't quite get his head around the idea in general.

I was going to tell you about both places, but then I got carried away with photos and decided to split this up into two separate posts.

So here is part one:


Sitting on the shores of a harbour which itself sits in the crater of an extinct volcano, Akaroa was, at various points in time, a whaling harbour,  and a French farming community. Now there is a lot of ecotourism in the area because... penguins.

Lots of the houses are pretty little Frenchie wooden cottages (although having been in March, when the temperature was already in the single digits, I don't think I would want to actually stay in one of the wooden cottages), the restaurants are good, and the Banks Peninsula is all about the nature and the wildlife. I mean, I've never actually seen any of the purported wildlife... never spotted a Hector's dolphin in the harbour, but I live in hope.

There's not really much to do in Akaroa; a day walk, a wander through town, a look around the lighthouse, and you've pretty much seen it all. But that's sort of the point, no? It's a subdued and peaceful place (at least on the occasions that we've been there), and so so beautiful.

The drive from Christchurch is about 2 hours along a very windy road. I suggest that you make your travelling companion do the driving because the view is spectacular and if you have to focus on the road you will miss out.

The first time we visited, we stayed in a studio cottage a bit further out of town. The view was so good,  and the bed so big, and the owner was so nice that he drove us into town for dinner. He offered to pick us up as well, but after stuffing ourselves, it felt better to walk it off.

We had dinner that night at The Little Bistro. It's in one of the cottages on the main street, Rue Lavaud, and although it's very low key it was the site of the best, most tender steak that Rob has ever eaten. So good, in fact, that we once took a weekend trip specifically to re-live the experience. We didn't realise that much of the town closes of winter... The Little Bistro included... Live and learn.

Akaroa is a major day-only destination for the cruise ships that zig zag between Australia and New Zealand, but luckily we've managed to avoid those days on which a big ship drops anchor out beyond the harbour heads. A few years back an overly optimistic skipper brought a full-size ship into the harbour, only to have the weather close in, stranding more than 700 people in a very small town. Aside from the problem that there are not that many beds in Akaroa (many of the passengers had to be bussed to Christchurch for the night), imagine the target demographic of your average trans-Tasman cruise. Now imagine the amount of blood pressure and diabetes medication the local pharmacy had to try and dispense that night...

There are a couple of walks in the area, although the information about them is a bit patchy. The most well-known is actually a multi-day hike (2-4 days) across the Banks Peninsula Track that starts and finishes at Akaroa. One day, one day...

On our last trip we had limited time and so decided to do the Montgomery Park Scenic Reserve tramping track, which seemed a little less arduous than the full day climb to the top of the volcano crater.

The directions for the walk state only to take the turn off at Hilltop, drive for about 2km along Summit Road, and then park the car on the side of the road. The walk itself is marked with only a single faded white sign and a gap in the fencing running beside the road. It's marked as a 'tramping track mostly unformed but with direction markers. Prolonged up and down hill', which doesn't seem too bad, but there were moments, especially when we accidentally found ourselves off piste trying to circumnavigate a sheer drop and landslide, that I thought bad things about the very grey grading system used for outdoor activities in New Zealand. Very. Bad. Thoughts. 

Vague as the instructions were, we climbed up and up, scrambling over rocks and slick, boggy ground. Finally, I'd had it, and declared that I'd gone high enough. I was done. I sat down on the path and told Rob I was ready to turn around. But he is more intrepid than I am and has more stamina in his calves, so he decided to keep going,and about 10 minutes later reappeared from above, badgering urging me to get back up and keep tramping to the summit, Rocky Peak.

So I got up, and focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and finally (probably 5 very long minutes...) the path opened out on to flat grassland and this view. I suppose it was worth it.

Time for a holiday soon, don't you think?

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