French Connection and Volcanos

March 4, 2016

The sun is out and the Tui birds are singing their tunes. A new cruise ship is in OUR bay but I am getting ahead of myself. The drive to Akaroa from Kaikoira involved a half hour drive along the crashing surf with occasional sighting of dolphins and seals. Of course in NZ you are never far from an ocean or sea or for that matter a river or lake. We then launched into a mountain range with plenty of turns. Since we were on the only highway on the east side of the South Island, we had plenty of large trucks for company. The truck drivers are generally very good about using the occasional wide shoulder to let us tiny vehicles pass. However, they do try to drive at maximum allowable speeds and it is a good idea to let them pass if you are driving slowly hunting seals.

We passed through the Waiparu wine region without slowing down and threaded our way through Christchurch traffic and headed towards the Banks Peninsula. Captain Cook named the peninsula after his 25 year old traveling botanist, Joseph Banks. We were driving to the center of the crater where Akaroa sits. We needed to climb over the edge of the volcano and drop down to the charming town. Akaroa Bay is actually a submerged part of the hopefully extinct volcano. Cruise ships use it as the earthquake in Christchurch closed their harbor to the behemoth boats. There was one just off the town dock when we arrived early in the afternoon.

Akaroa itself has been occupied by Maoris for centuries who found life easy on the protected waters teeming with sea life and hills planted with their favorite sweet potato, kumara. After Cook published his charts of these waters, they were soon visited by seal hunters and whalers. Finally in 1838 a Frenchman decided that the bay would make an ideal French colony. By the time he returned from France with 57 settlers, a British flag was flying over the landing. Having come this far, they decided to stay and develop farms and to supply the food needs of visiting whalers. The town prospered and soon the French were outnumbered by Brits, but they seemed to cooperate and there were no big issues in this far off colony.

The village retains the atmosphere of a small French village. Tourism pushes the Franco identity to the max. The small houses in the old part of town contrast with the larger homes on the hills. One thousand permanent citizens host part timers from the hour away Christchurch and the thousands that arrive daily on cruise ships. We walked and explored and were happy to find that our accommodations were on a hill far from the maddening crowds. The place had a wonderful, fully equipped shared kitchen.

We soon met some or our fellow lodgers. There was an elderly (meaning a few years older than us) couple from Denmark with their Maori daughter in law. They visit her and their son and grandchildren every two years. We hit it off after they found that we were not fans of Trump. We found ourselves sharing our steak and cantaloupe with their Thai take away dinner. We enjoyed each other’s wine and conversation. The evening went well into the night and we could easily see the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.

It was a restful day in a charming place. We will continue our visit there tomorrow before heading back to Christchurch.

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