Akaroa, a walk around a submerged volcano.

(19th Feb)

Akaroa is a picturesque seaside settlement, southwest of Christchurch. It is situated on a spectacular peninsular made from two extinct volcanoes whose craters were flooded by the sea over time. The small settlement has a French flavour as it was settled originally by French whalers during the time of the Waitangi Treaty but wisely chose to live under British rule. Today the town survives mainly on tourism with some fishing. Lyttleton is the usual port of call for cruise ships to this part of the South Island but the earthquake that devastated Christchurch a few years ago also badly damaged the harbour and Akaroa is now the default stop.

Our journey to the peninsular was marked by the largest number of dolphins that Sue and I have ever seen at one time. On the day before our arrival, we were playing scrabble in the observation lounge high up on deck 14 and noticed a pod of some 10 or so dolphins swimming and leaping in front of the bow of the Columbus, we then saw numerous more pods of leaping dolphins racing from all points of the compass, desperate to leap in front of our bow. There had to be over 100, all intent on passing beneath the Columbus. A spectacular sight to see so many. Sue was concerned that they would be minced by the ship’s propellors, but we learnt during our evening meal that they continued to provide entertainment for those sunbathing at the stern of the ship.

Waiting for our tender transfer to the small port of Akaroa I amused myself by watching Hector’s dolphins swim around the ship. They are the smallest and rarest of dolphins.

The transfer took around 15 minutes through a placid bay, protected from the ocean by the surrounding volcanic geography. A very pretty way to visit the settlement. The Columbus seemed tiny in comparison to the backdrop of mountains and volcanic plugs.

After disembarking we left the pier and walked into the town, first visiting the small wooden Methodist church to enjoy the cool interior and admire the stained glass windows. A little later we entered the Catholic church, though didn’t investigate further as the priest was getting ready for a noon mass and we left him to his preparation.

The Akaroa Museum was our next stop and what a gem it proved to be. After watching a very informative video on the history of the settlement we spent time considering the many artefacts and displays. A must-visit to anyone new to the area.

We had decided to do two walks on this port stop, so on exiting the museum we set off through the town to the shore and then followed the path that took us to Children’s Bay. A sandy strip of sand that was rather spoilt due to swathes of dark brown washed-up seaweed. Not suitable at all for children’s bathing and probably why there was only a woman with her dog making use of it. Our path began here and wound its way upwards into the hills. It was midday and hot, Sue gave up after a few hundred metres and retired back to sea level and the shade of some trees while I pressed on to the top, hoping to take a good panoramic photo of the bay, but was disappointed that the summit was covered in forest and I couldn’t see anything but trees. Returning to Sue we retraced our steps back into the town.

Finding a restaurant with a pretty garden we stopped for refreshments. I had a beer called ‘Red’, I was so impressed with it that I ordered a second one and Sue took the opportunity to peruse the shops along the main street. Knowing she would be a while I took my time people-watching and sipping Akaroa’s finest craft ale.

Working our way along the retail establishments on the main street we passed the pier where our tenders were regularly ferrying fellow cruisers to and fro, before continuing on towards the lighthouse situated on the outskirts of the settlement. It had been moved to this location some decades prior when it was replaced by a much more modern version. From here we visited the nearby Garden of Tane, which was mainly woodland with steep paths leading up into the hillside. As the heat of the day was getting to Sue she returned to the pier while I further investigated the garden and viewpoint. I also made a brief visit to the associated Catholic cemetery, thinking how thoughtful the designers had been by cutting away part of the forest, affording the residents of the graves a good view of the bay below. Now that is attention to detail!

Finding Sue munching on a huge ice cream we caught the next tender back to the ship and a double beef burger and cheese. Now that is becoming a bit of a bad habit, and will have to stop when we get home! Perhaps.

Akaroa is a sleepy town set in beautiful soft volcanic scenery, with no harsh lines or bubbling cauldrons here, thermal activity has long since subsided and nature has smoothed out the aggressive nature of the earth’s core, just the odd earthquake. However, seismologists predict that they are due for a big one, any year now. Access via road from other parts of NZ doesn’t appear straightforward, long winding roads with few settlements on the way. The car park did contain quite a few RVs and we did see a couple of small but dated hotels, there have been plans in the past to bring the railway here, but until they do I think the cruisers are keeping the place viable. It is a lovely place to relax as long as the ground below your feet behaves itself.

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