We take a coach trip to Akaroa. This place is on the Banks Peninsula , south of Christchurch. The bus picks us up at our holiday home. We’re waiting for quite a while. This is because the driver was waiting at number 150 while we were waiting at number 115. Oh well.
It takes a while to pick everyone else up. There are som Italian, German and American backpackers from different locations, including the ‘Jailhouse’ which was indeed at one time the city jail. There is also an Aussie lady who we seem to have interrupted at her breakfast. She appears, rather flustered, from her hotel with a coffee in her hand. I can’t help thinking of Alice’s half-shod Mad Hatter with his cup of tea and half-eaten sandwich.
Eventually we’re off. It’s a bit of a grey day. The driver is a friendly and helpful kiwi. He keeps up a running commentary all the way which is informative and entertaining. The jokes are, no doubt, oft-rehearsed, but the delivery is droll and well timed. We are amused.

We stop for a break at Little River, a minor tourist trap selling rather overpriced paintings and greetings cards. There are some steampunk models of animals in copper and zinc but you’d need a big place or they’d just be intrusive. Not quite my style anyway. This leaves no time for a coffee so we head back to the bus.
On we go again. Ruggeder and ruggeder. We climb steeply on winding roads through greenery and rocks. Shades of the Forgotten World Highway except I’m not driving this time. Our laid-back driver keeps up the commentary regardless of the terrain. Eventually we go over a final rise and are met by a spectacular view of the bay.
The peninsula is the result of two volcanic eruptions in the distant past. The result is a mound with two enormous craters which became large bays. When we see the size of the bay we are now approaching it is clear that the eruptions must have been immense. They would, I think, have made Krakatoa or Tamboura look like an infants school model of a volcano.

Soon we reach the main settlement of Akaroa. This is the village which, in all the brochures, prides itself on being French. It certainly has a superficially French appearance. The names have a Gallic flavour. There are La thises and Le thats all over the place. There are painted, chalked and etched tricolores here, there and everywhere. Even a gendarmerie instead of a police station.

The truth of the matter is somewhat different and becomes apparent when we visit the Britmart monument. When I heard the name ‘Britmart Monument’ at first I thought it was a memorial to an early pioneer of supermarkets a la WalMart. In fact it was the name of the English corvette which turned up here some time in the eighteenth century and declared this a British colony. A short time later a boat turns up loaded with French wannabe settlers only to find the Union Jack flying high over the bay. Yar boo sucks, Froggie! But in fact the British allowed the French to set up their new homes in the bay in acknowledgement of the privations they’d suffered on their long journey. Pretty bloody decent of our chaps if you ask me.
Anyway within a few years the place had been swamped by Brits and precious little remained of the original French culture anyway. Not that that has stopped generations of locals from using their assumed cultural eccentricity to get their hooks into the tourists’ wallets.

There is a very deep harbour here which means the big cruise liners can anchor here. No doubt this has the locals rubbing their hands in glee in the manner of the Cornish wreckers of yore. So the place is well heeled and, it must be said, well kept and pleasant. There are fine modern dwellings hidden in delightful gardens. There are lovely big trees, some familiar including some splendid pines, some less familiar. There are many small boats in the harbour. There is a lovely wooden lighthouse standing on a pine bluff overlooking the harbour. It is painted in such a jolly red and cream strip that you can imagine it whiling away its lonely hours by playing lively jigs on a concertina. We took our frugal lunch here while watching goldfinches squabbling. We also spotted one of the beefy local kingfishers perched on a wire.

We waited for the bus back to Christchurch in what was by now a distinctly chill breeze. A party of kids boarded a marine mammal-spotting boat trip. A noisy family celebration of some kind was in full swing on the pavement tables of the cafe opposite.
Clouds rolled over the lip of the ancient crater. The weather made the landscape appear rather dark and brooding, but it suited it. The local postcards are, as usual, designed to make the place look trés Jolie and this is certainly the effect aimed at by the twee Frenchification of the local shopkeepers. But it was not the impression I left with.
To me it seemed that the ragged, lowering, tor-strewn skyline of the place was a silent but ever-present echo of its violent birth.


2 thoughts on “Akaroa

    • Yes, they were on huge spikes. We came across a whole bank of them. No idea what they are though.

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