You know how some mornings when you’re expecting the sky to be grey, but when you open the curtains and it’s a clear blue sky, your heart picks up its pace? Well this morning was one of those mornings, so the boys and I abandoned our plans and decided to head over the hills onto Banks Peninsula to one of our very favourite day trip spots, Akaroa.
Here in New Zealand it’s Waitangi Day which is our national day of celebration, except that more often than not it’s clouded with controversy and protest. We try to enjoy a day off in the middle of the first week back at school, and leave it at that.
Christchurch is a hop, skip and a jump to Banks Peninsula. It’s just over an hour from our home to Akaroa. The drive there is either a joy, or an experience in intense frustration; today was both. It’s a windy road, round the bottom of the peninsula, up Lake Forsyth, stopping of course for ice-creams in Little River, then up and over the hill, and admiring the view of Akaroa Harbour we drive down to Barrys Bay, past Duvauchelles Bay, Robinsons Bay and Takamatua before coming over the hill to Akaroa village itself.
Akaroa is a historic French and British settlement nestled in an ancient volcano. The French settled here in 1840, though the Maori had a settlement east of the current village prior to this. It’s the only French settlement in New Zealand, a fact which is embraced wholeheartedly by everyone from the petrol station to the police who sport French signs before their English ones. The streets have charming French names, and the cafes theme even their flowers with red, white and blue. It’s quite quaint really, and not cheesy at all. Interestingly for me, I have an ancestor who in 1880 was a Counsellor on the local Borough Council. More recently though, our family have visited Akaroa with very good friends who have a family holiday house just up from the beach. There’s an infamous story when the two youngest boys were just two years old, and having been sent outside to play in the garden, they took themselves off down the very long drive, across the road, through the War Memorial, across another road to the playground, where we found them after a frantic search. Little tikes…
Back to our trip – we set off late morning and stopped in tiny Little River for an ice-cream. Little River is a popular spot for cyclists doing the Rail Trail from Christchurch to Little River, and road cyclists who relish the winding road and steep hills. Arriving in Akaroa we were deluged with people as there were two HUGE cruise ships moored in the harbour. The village was bursting with grey haired, wealthy Americans who were, by the looks of things, having a really good time. The boys were intrigued as we sat picnicking, watching some of the guests come in by jet ski, and others by launch. The boys were sure jet ski was the best mode of transport for that journey. It’s a great beach for kids as it’s small, shallow and there’s a raft to swim out to. No waves to speak of so no surfing, but much nicer for me to sit back and watch them at play. There’s a good little playground nearby, toilets, shade, an ice-cream shop and we always manage to get a park.
I was keen for a wander around the streets and a browse through the shops as despite a population of just over 550 people, Akaroa has some great boutiques to explore and some very nice restaurants and relaxing cafes. The boys were having none of it so we only stopped for photos. When the kids were still in prams my friend and I would wander the little streets and lanes admiring the tiny cottages with their beautiful gardens. Not so today.
We farewelled Akaroa having had a great Waitangi Day, unexpectedly pleasant weather, and happily tired.