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.
In 1838 Captain Jean François L’Anglois made a provisional purchase of land in “the greater Banks Peninsula”  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.
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.