Saturday 24th Feb, 2018
The Lonely Planet guide tells us that “Banks peninsula was formed by two giant volcanic eruptions about eight million years ago, harbours and bays radiate out from the peninsula’s cone centre giving it an unusual cog-wheel shape”. Akaroa is a pretty little town nestling in a large bay at the end of the road. It was at first settled by the French, but their land was sold to the New Zealand Company in 1849. A year later a large group of British settlers arrived and took over. The town’s people strive to recreate the feel of a French provincial village, down to the names of its streets and houses. Generally it is a sleepy place, but its peace is periodically shattered by hordes of, mainly Japanese and Americans, descending from gargantuan cruise ships which anchor in the bay.
Our billet is a “Boutique Victorian house”, owned by a British ex-pat. It made up for our tedious journey by being wonderfully appointed (over-stuffed?) with Victorian china, glass and furniture and offering delightful hospitality. Our hostess is a pretty Japanese girl called Etsu who is studying English in an Australian University. How international is that? She bows, greets us with a beatific smile and no service, large or small is too much for her. Our breakfast table groans with cut glass, silver napkin rings, bone china, butter curls and, of course, foodstuffs.
Thus fortified we set off to explore Akaroa. Its huge bay is a refuge for marine wild life. The kiwis are very eco-conscious these days and are proud to show visitors their maritime fauna. It is another sunny shirt-sleeve and shorts day, so we join a catamaran boat safari and spend a fascinating couple of hours spotting Hector’s Dolphins, cavorting alongside the boat for our amusement.
David tries to photograph them, but they appear and disappear randomly, seemingly to thwart him. We see fur seals lounging on the rocks at the base of high volcanic cliffs, miniature penguins (which are unique to the Banks peninsula) afloat, as well as rafts of spotted and pied Shags and Terns.
Our craft ventures as far as the bay entrance where the waves are three or four metres high and we hold on for dear life. I have read of the experiences of round-the-world yachtsmen in the wild seas of the Southern Oceans and the couple of our wavey experiences this holiday leave me lost in admiration for their fortitude. Back on dry land we deserve a rest so we lounge in the sun on Akaroa’s pretty little beach and enjoy just being still. Every village we drive through boasts at least one fish and chip shop. Is this NZ’s national dish? We enjoy a blue cod and chip supper on the quay-side in the evening sun. Early to bed.