Leaving Kaikoura we continued along State Highway 1 to Christchurch, victim of a devastating earthquake in 2011. Christchurch also hit the news in March 2019 when a gunman went on the rampage and killed 51 muslims in two mosques.
We were not staying in Christchurch but I wanted to see it. Last year I felt quite depressed about how Christchurch was rebuilding. In 2011 it had its heart ripped out and I felt its heart was still missing in the redevelopment. All the shops had relocated to shopping malls away from the city centre. Bland, faceless buildings seemed to be springing up with little or nothing to attract people into the centre of the city.
As we walked around the fenced off cathedral, still in the same state of collapse, we decided to catch the tram, which takes you around the most important parts of the new city centre. Some buildings, mostly wooden, did survive, and a lot of money is being spent in rebuilding and renovating some of the historic buildings. A large, impressive convention and events centre is nearing completion and will bring people in to the city. Restaurants and bars have grown with the rest of the buildings and there seemed to be more life about the city, it was no longer a heartless shell. It was a good decision to take the tram as it gave us a much better picture than walking the streets. We ended up in New Regent Street having a drink while John got his hair cut!
Feeling more optimistic about Christchurch, we headed off to Akaroa, a small town on the Banks Peninsula. The Banks Peninsula is formed from an ancient volcano that rose out of the sea just off the coast of the mainland. In the intervening years, through sedimentation, it has become part of the mainland. Having crossed the flat area around Lake Ellesmere, we began to climb steeply up to the rim of the old crater. From the top you look down into the old crater. At some point, the crater was breached by the sea and now there is an enormous haven of safe water surrounded by steep slopes rising up to the rim of the crater in an arc.
Dropping down into the small waterside town of Akaroa we looked for our house for the next couple of nights. Harbour View House was a short distance out of the centre of town, in an elevated position overlooking the water. The single storey building had a completely glass wall looking out at the view. There was also an extensive deck, allowing you to soak up the view wherever you were in the house. It was stunning! With such a stunning view, we decided to eat in and enjoy it for as long as we could.
There was no rush in the morning. It was Chris’s birthday, so we enjoyed Akaroa at leisure. While Chris and John went for a stroll, the rest remained at the house, enjoying the deck and watching small boats going backwards and forwards . What were they doing?
Akaroa is Canterbury’s oldest town. It, and the whole of the Banks Peninsula has a very French feel to it. This is where French settlers came in 1840, and it is said that French interest in New Zealand speeded up the Whaitangi Treaty and Britain annexing New Zealand. Now the resident population is declining and many of the desirable properties are holiday homes. It has some wonderful old buildings behind the waterfront properties, including the library and theatre shown above.
In the afternoon we were due to go swimming with dolphin. Akaroa is the home for the world’s smallest dolphin, Hector’s Dolphin and this is the only place where you can safely swim with them. As we prepared to go out in a small boat to swim with the dolphins, we were given a warning that there was a strong swell out at the mouth of the inlet where the swimming would take place. It was the same swell that we had encountered at Kaikoura. Black Cat Cruises who were running the trip wanted to know if we were confident swimmers and could cope with climbing back on to the boat in such conditions. I had done this trip before when there was a swell, and while I coped with the conditions, we did not actually manage to swim with any dolphins. We wouldn’t have been able to see them had they not disappeared as soon as we got into the water.
I sensed some apprehension on the faces of Chris and Chrissie, so I made the decision that I didn’t want to do it. Immediately, they decided that they didn’t either, so we left John to experience it alone. We chose to do an alternative cruise around the inlet where we would still see Hector’s Dolphin.
Our cruise was very relaxed. There were very few people on the boat and the late afternoon sun was brilliant. As we pulled further away from Akaroa, we could see a cruise ship anchored. That explained why small boats were going back and forth all morning, ferrying passengers from ship to shore and back. The route took us around the northern edge of the inlet before heading out towards the open sea, some 15km to the south. Every-so-often we would be given snippets of information about the history of the area, all the time looking out for dolphin.
It was not long before we came across a pod of dolphins, riding our bow wave and swimming between the two hulls of the catamaran. They were so fast and sleek.
As we neared the open sea the swell became more noticeable. We hugged the shore where we were able to see lots of seabirds on the cliffs and a blue penguin on the water. We crossed the inlet, across the swell, to the other shore and began to head back to Akaroa. As we did so the cruise liner was leaving.
While our cruise had been relaxed, John’s had been a bit exciting. There had been a five metre swell where they came across the dolphins. He did get into the water with them but he wasn’t really aware of them. He spent most of his time trying not to drink vast quantities of sea water. He wasn’t really feeling on top form when we met up, his body having had a disorientating experience, and he had consumed quite a lot of sea water. While he was still quite pleased to have had the experience, the rest of us were inwardly quite glad that we had opted out.
That evening, we enjoyed some bubbly on the deck to celebrate Chris’s birthday before heading out to Bully Hayes Restaurant and Bar for a celebratory meal.
Akaroa is such a beautiful place and I can fully understand why people want to have holiday homes here. If I lived in the house we rented for two nights, I would never get tired of that view.