6 December – Akaroa

6 Dec – Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula

A day trip with the “French Connection” Akaroa shuttle bus, including door-to-door pick up and drop off.

The bus trundles through Christchurch picking up our fellow trippers, then makes its way round the centre, with a lively commentary from our driver. As the fourth German passenger boards he asks, “is there anyone left at home? I’ve got half of you on here.”
We’re shocked at the extent of the earthquake damage. No one knows what the final fate of the cathedral will be.

There is a lot of demolition still underway, some restoration, and vast amounts of work on the repair of underground pipelines. But he’s lived here all his life and wouldn’t live anywhere else.

We leave the city and pass through suburbs where they’re building new housing – no.longer, he tells us, the quarter acre plot of land that New Zealanders could once count on, but there’s no need for high rise out here.

The first part of the journey is flat, and we get no more than fleeting glimpses of the southern Alps, hidden in cloud today. The Port Hills and the Banks Peninsula Hills are on our left as we drive along a flat road, past lush farmland, though there a plenty of sheep higher up too. The large Lake Ellsmere is on our right, and we pass the smaller Lake Forsyth. The iconic black swans are boycotting the place this morning, so we continue on our way to the village of Little River. “We’ll stop for fifteen minutes – there are toilets, a cafe, and an art gallery, which is well worth a walk through – no obligation to buy.” Just as well, some nice stuff, but a bit pricey. We leave an Italian girl here – she’s working for a week or so as a woofer.

After Little River, which was at one time a railway terminus, the road starts to climb through the volcanic hills of the Banks Peninsula. At the summit of the road – Hilltop, no less, about 500 m high – we have a two minute stop to take photos. A great view of the whole crater with Onawe Peninsula at the core.

The harbour is one of the deepest natural harbours in the world and a regular call for cruise ships. None there today though.
We follow highway 75 downhill, as it winds past Barrys Bay, then the village of Duvacuhelle and Robinson’s Bay, eventually arriving at the very pretty seaside resort of Akaroa.

From Wikipedia

In 1838 Captain Jean François L’Anglois made a provisional purchase of land in “the greater Banks Peninsula” [3] from Tuaanau. A deposit of commodities in the value of ₤6 was paid and a further ₤234 worth of commodities was to be paid at a later period. On his return to France, he advertised for settlers to come to New Zealand and ceded his interest in the land to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, of which he became a part owner. On 9 March 1840, 63 emigrants left from Rochefort. The settlers embarked on the “Comté de Paris” — an old man-of-war ship given to them by the French government — for New Zealand. The “Comté de Paris” and its companion ship the “Aube” captained by Commodore Charles François Lavaud arrived in the Bay of Islands in the North Island on 11 July 1840, where they discovered that the Banks Peninsula had been claimed by the British. The French arrived in Akaroa on 18 August and established a settlement.The area still has a French influence, reflected in many local placenames.[4]

The driver points out the French street signs and shop names, but assures us that the language spoken here is English. Indeed the only time I hear French is when a couple of tourists walk up to the lighthouse, where we’re sitting to eat our packed lunch.
First stop, coffee, what else? We sit inside the Trading Rooms Restaurant. It feels like a colonial outpost with dark, polished wood, and solid tables and chairs. The coffee is very good and strong.
We walk along to the lighthouse, a few hundred yards away along the flat waterfront road. Then on past the (closed) artist studio that was advertised, and out until we were not authorised to walk past the sewage station. We followed signs up to the Britomart monument – the name of a british ship which just beat the French to proclaim sovereignty over the South Island, after the signing of the treaty of Waitangi.

A quick look at our street plan, and we headed uphill to Stanley Place, which headed even more steeply uphill to meet the high level road back to the main village. We turn downhill to walk through a small section of near native bush, and hear the tui. The path continues down via the Anglican cemetery, whose headstones have been shaken about extensively in the earthquakes. We reach the lighthouse again, and decide it’s lunchtime.

Rolls, cheese, garlicky hummus, but then it’s back to the main drag to find a drink. Ginger beer fills the need, and as I bring it back to a seat by the sea, I notice a small bronze bust – Frank Worsley, seaman and navigator with Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition, and largely responsible for the successful rescue of the crew from Elephant Island after the Endurance was crushed by ice.
It looks as though he has a new nose, though!


We walk along the main street, buying a few postcards, looking in the odd gallery. One friendly owner talks at length about the area near Tekapo and doesn’t expect us to buy a thing.
Rain threatens, and we make our way back, a little early, to the bus pick-up point. Then the sun comes out just as we have to leave. We pick up a Polish traveller and set off back to the city. A stop at Barrys Bay to sample the cheese “No obligation to buy”. We buy a small pack of their tasty blue cheese.

Another stop at Little River – comfort stop only this time, then on to Lake Forsyth, where the graceful black swans are now in evidence. Another detour to the bleak settlement of Birdlings Flat. Mainly baches, but with a few permanent residents too, though none of us can imagine why anyone would want to live there. Sure, it has a sort of beach, but it’s too dangerous for swimming, and it’s at the landward end of Kaitorete Spit, a huge shingle bank.

On the way back we hear of the relationship between New Zealand and the USA, warm since World War 2, but a bit,up and down during the Bush years, and we see the memorial to 9/11 as we re-enter Christchurch.

It feels good to be delivered back to our door around 6 pm.

8 December – So long, Christchurch

Farewell Christchurch

We didn’t do much of note on Friday – we had weather that reminded us of the Isle of Mull – eight hours solid rain. We ventured out late in the afternoon to shop – the car park outside the shopping centre was doing a passable imitation of a paddling pool.

Saturday morning involved the usual clean-up, then we wait for the taxi to take us to pick up our hire car from Chch airport. The weather is brighter, though the paving stones are still damp.
The taxi driver tells us of the problems he’s had since he lost a house in the earthquake. Insurers insist on the use of certain builders etc etc.

We collect the car from a very helpful woman who suggests we could take the Inland Scenic Route to Geraldine. We look at the map and ask a few questions – we were bitten by a scenic route on the way to Stratford. This one looks much more driver-friendly, so we take her advice. The route proves scenic, and a good road.

Huge windbreak hedges, wide shies and mountains in the distance.

First stop Darfield for a coffee and a salmon scone. These NZ savoury scones are excellent.

Next stop is at Rakaia Gorge. NZ does a good line in public toilets – there’s almost always a good one when you need one!. The Rakaia river is one of those wide ones with a stony bed, and just beyond the car park a couple of bridges cross the water. We decide not to take a jet boat trip.
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As we drive on the mountains make their presence known in the west. Long snow capped ridges rise up from flat valleys. These peaks are high and rugged. We reach Geraldine, and grab more drinks. I take a short walk by the river, through the rhododendron dell, which is well past it’s best.

Christmas decorations

Westward and upward now until we reach the Farm Barn Cafe, a few kilometres short of Fairlie. It’s at the top of a pass, and has almost a 360 degree view of mountains. Tea and a date scone here. It’s a fine building, and must do a reasonable amount of trade with tourists, though no one else was there when we were.


Down again, and up over Burke Pass. The roads are edged with lupins of all shades, pinks, purples, oranges, and in the background the snow of the southern Alps.

We carry on, and suddenly it’s Lake Tekapo on the sign, and round a bend, there is the lake.

9 December – a walk up Mount John

Our longest walk in N Z so far. About 10 km – up to the hill top Observatory and back the longer gentler way.  We followed instructions from a local leaflet.

The only map we needed on a fine summer day was the one in the picture. The tracks are clear, well signed when they diverge, and easy to walk along. I had the photo on my camera – just in case!

ready for action
not as steep as the Trig Track on Kapiti Island
out of the woods
welcome . . .


Lake Tekapo
Heights above sea level
Lake Tekapo: 710m
Mount John 1043m
Deepest point of Lake  120m

Harry’s blog

10 December Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki Mount Cook

No, we didn’t climb it! But we did see it in its sunlit glory this morning, before it decided to hide its head in the clouds.We drive south west towards but not as far as Twizel. The road is wide and clear, and crosses a wide turquoise canal – part of the complex hydro-electric system which ensures that each drop of water is used eight times to generate electricity before reaching the sea.

After about 30 kilometres we see Lake Pukaki, another blue-green sheet fringed with snowy peaks. Aoraki Mount Cook stands out, its height and shape unmistakeable. We stop along with several others to take photographs. It looks perfect, with the detail of its eastern slopes picked out by the morning sunlight. As we approach the Visitor Centre the views just get better. There’s a shop selling salmon products – and coffee. There’s a varied display of historical information, and natural history, as well as the hydro-electric system.

A passing truck driver calls in to buy a pack of salmon. How odd that he can drive through this scenery almost every day as his job.

We scramble about on the boulders in search of the perfect photo. Harry asks a couple of young Dutch women if they’ll take one of the pair of us, and returns the favour. The view of the mountain holds us there for far longer than the cup of coffee. We turn north along the road to Mt Cook village. 55 kilometres.

There’s a viewpoint before many kilometres – Peter’s Lookout. Another photo op. We stop to look at some pictures for sale from the back of a car. Pat Prendergast worked as an illustrator for several government departments for seventeen years, she tells us. She’s also a climber, a member of the NZ Alpine Club, and was up a mountain near to Cook just yesterday, even though she reckons she’s “a bit long in the tooth”. But the Alpine Club’s motto is “While we can!” We buy a small hand-coloured print, and she signs it. She recommends a walk along the Hooker Valley, if we have time.

IMG_6532When we get to Mount Cook village, the mountain is still visible, high above us. The cornices of snow are sharply sculpted. But the clouds are increasing. At ground level we find only the Visitor Centre and the Old Mountaineers Bar/Restaurant. The Visitor Centre has some excellent exhibitions, and we watch part of a video about Mountain Rescue. We decide to make do with our scant picnic provisions. Then we walk a little further and discover the Edmund Hillary complex with its cafeteria and shop.

Several tracks leave nearby. We choose a short walk to Kea Point, where you can see the moraine from the Mueller glacier. The glacier itself doesn’t extend this far at present. By now Aoraki is completely covered in cloud, though most of the lower mountains are clear. We see no more of him today, though the view at Pukaki car park is still splendid.

Home, with a stop for petrol and a mini food shop.

11 December – Horse trekking

This morning the clouds were low, and the lake was grey. It could have been somewhere in England. As the clouds burned off, a few peaks appeared, and the lake turned blue under the sky.  We were watching carefully, as we’d booked a night visit to the observatory.

Harry had the idea of trying a horse trek, so we took ourselves down to the info centre, in time for a coffee at Run77. This place serves excellent coffee and snacks and meals, and has great free wifi for customers. We had a bit of a binge.

Then we booked an hour on a horse for 4pm, nearly walked out of the tourist info centre without paying for a tee-shirt, and dropped back to the cafe for our lunch. Just the ticket – Harry went carnivore again with chilli con carne, and I had a hot roast veg salad with loads of chick peas.

We turned up a bit early for our trek, but sat in the sunshine watching Charlotte and her friend get the horses saddled up. Several other people arrived, a German brother and sister from Cologne, who were spending a couple of weeks in New Zealand, and three Japanese youngsters . We had brief instructions on basic horse control, though I think the horses could have done the trip blindfolded.

Then we were settled on our horses and ready to roll. The trek took us along a path uphill from the stables, through trees, coming out above the lake. Fascinating to see how horses tackle hills , not to mention the capacity of their bladders, as one demonstrated. The ride was relaxing and absorbing at the same time. The way back followed the lake shore before turning back up through the woods to reach the trekking centre.


12 December – Lake Alexandrina

Very short – probably four to five miles in all.

This lake doesn’t have the turquoise colour of Tekapo or Pukaki
Growing wild
a path with a view

Harry walked from Lake McGregor to the southern end of Alexandrina.  I walked most of the way then back to pick up the car and collect him from the (unsealed gravel) road from the camping area.

here we had a picnic

We saw Southern crested grebes doing a courtship dance, plus mallards, coot and black swans. Canada geese as well, of course.  These guys are everywhere!

12 December – seeing stars

Seeing stars

12 Dec Mount John Observatory visitYesterday our hearts sank as the cloud thickened. Minute by minute the radar watchers at the observatory told different stories. It’ll be clearer tonight. No, tomorrow will be good. No, tonight will be better, tomorrow will be worse.

We looked up. Thickening cloud, a lonely point of light. This did not look promising. We’d wait for the midnight visit. We went down to the office, and said we’d leave it until tomorrow. Another “can’t control the weather” gamble. So back home to our cocoa!

Today, things started off cloudy, but the snowy peaks came through. We distracted ourselves with a horse trek, and couldn’t believe it as the evening sky cleared, until at 10.00 it looked as though we should see plenty of stars.

We checked in, accepted the offer of a thick coat, though we looked as though we were expecting to find ourselves in the English winter.

We squashed into two coaches, plumped by our jackets. The driver gave us a quick talk, then switched on a tape, with a soothing woman’s voice and some music. We stayed awake. The road to the observatory is closed at night, apart from the official buses. Even they have to switch off headlights as they climb up, and proceed on the glow-worm power of side-lights.We pile out of the buses, and divide into an English-speaking group, and a Chinese-speaking group. We make our way carefully out of the car-park, using our solar-powered key ring torches. Our guide points out some of the constellations using a laser pointer. This makes life easy for people like me!

The Southern Cross and the “pointer” stars alpha and beta-Centauri. I could find those myself, thanks to tuition from Harry. The Magellanic Clouds were as clear as I have seen them in my short experience as a stargazer. The Milky Way was glorious.

Then some of the constellations we see in the north – Orion, Canis Major rolling on his back for a tummy tickle, Taurus and Aries. The Pleiades. The planet Jupiter was clear and bright.

They had telescopes set up, so that we could view the Jewel Box cluster, one called the Wishing Well, like spread coins, and through a large telescope the Tarantula Nebula, and later Jupiter.

It was a brilliant end to our stay at Lake Tekapo.

13 December – To Lake Hawea


Hah-wea  (all Maori words have the emphasis on the first syllable).

It was quite a wrench to leave Lake Tekapo. Great house, well situated, with plenty of social facilities nearby.  There are plenty of places that we haven’t explored, but it’s time to go. You should always leave the table before you’re full, they say.


Our first call is Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre, where there’s a wonderful view of Aoraki Mount Cook again.  In the café-shop is a photograph of the mountain reflected in the still lake – not common, but just occasionally in winter. We’ll take what we see today, in the meantime. We buy coffee and sit on the rocks by the lake – awestruck again!


The Australian woman serving in the salmon store cum coffee shop corrects our pronunciation of Hawea. She lives in Wanaka, so she ought to know. She says we have a lovely drive ahead, over Lindis Pass, over 900m high, and to look out for the flowers.


Onward, and we decide we should have a look at the town of Twizel (Twy-zel). This was built to house construction workers for the hydro scheme, but people wanted to stay, and it seems like a proper town, with sports hall and other facilities, as well as a selection of shops. If we can’t live in Lake Tekapo next life, this looks ok.


We head off over the pass, and there are indeed lots of small flowers on the way down, but no settlements until we pass through Tarras, though you have to keep your eyes open – we see just a couple of houses and a cafe. Nowhere inviting for us to sit and lunch. Before we know it we’ve reached Hawea Flat and then Lake Hawea itself. There’s a very decent cafe and general store, where we pick up a local info sheet and directions to the bach we’ve booked here. Out along a couple of miles of unsealed road to Johns Creek, a settlement of holiday homes right on the lake shore.


I walk along to the nearby picnic and swimming spot. The beach is stony, with masses of flat pebbles. I remove my shoes and dip my feet in – a little too cold to tempt me. But the view across the lake to mountain ranges is spectacular, again.

14 Dec Johns Creek to Lake Hawea




The wind has whipped white horses all over the lake, and the waves hit the shore with a crashing sound as stones are rolled back and forth. It sounds like the sea.


We’re going to take the track to Lake Hawea village. It runs just in from the shore, through pines, and along cliffs. Today we’re pushed along by the wind, but the sun shines and there are flowers everywhere – self set feral flowers?

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Lupins, predominantly pink and purple, but with large patches of wild yellow ones too. Californian poppies, with their delicately shaped flowers of rich waxy orange. Wild roses, with their small pink flowers and arching branches. Two different types of yellow flowers, both growing as tall spikes. A blue flower, with pink on it – another spike. Even the birds foot trefoil is bigger and lusher than at home. There’s a rocky slope where deep pink mesembryanthemum are sunbathing. The kete flax is everywhere, and we have pines and eucalyptus too.


kete flax

kete flax

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Map of the walk in one direction is here.