Friday September 10

Akaroa Tour.

Today we go on another trip, this time we drive down to Akaroa, 80 minutes away from Christchurch for a harbor cruise on the Canterbury catamaran.  See the link.  Should be another fantastic trip: "This cruise explores the volcanic harbour and sightings may be made of the world's smallest dolphin - the Hectors Dolphin, NZ Fur Seals and numerous seabirds."  If time allows, stroll through the village and along the waterfront, taking in the quaint French charm which is unique to Akaroa. 

Hi Everybody!  (Hi, Dr. Nick!)  You probably have read the entries for the last few days, and read about some of the bus tours we have been on.  If I sounded let down at all, it's probably just because I've been sick and they have been some long days, your butt stuck to a seat in another 44-seat coach, getting on, getting off, getting on again.  After a while they all kind of run together and some of the excitement of the adventure gets lost in the monotony of riding along with 20 to 40 Asian tourists.

Today we had a completely different kind of experience. 

Last night after we got into the hotel, we had a note from our tour operator saying he'd pick us up at 8:45 and to bring a warm jacket.  We thought that was a nice touch, confirming the trip and telling us how things should be the next day so that we'll be comfortable.  Things were looking good.

At 8:45 this morning, we were picked up by Brian Lucas, the driver for Canterbury Trails, who told us that we were going to be going on a private tour of Akaroa - that there were no other passengers on this trip.  The motto on the side of the Toyota truck: "Personally Guided Tours".  Things were looking really good.

We headed south out of Christchurch on highway 75, the main road.  It even had stop lights for a while.  Along the way we saw some more of the local residents:

Brian was nice and even let us stop to view some of the new lambs.  We didn't get out of the car because they would run away, but they pranced for a while and then went away with their mum.  "Combined IQ: 3".
NZ Lambs

We got to see more of the water bodies around the Banks Peninsula.  We stopped here, on the banks of Lake Ellesmere, where if you look really carefully, you can see the Southern Alps off in the distance on the right.  They're a several hour drive from here.
Southern Alps from a distance

A bit more driving, and we stop to see these 50 sheep on this guy's front lawn.  I'm suspecting he doesn't pay a high school kid to mow the lawn...

Once we got to the village of Little River, Brian took us off the main highway onto a smaller road which led up into the mountains.  "Gain a little altitude here".  Our goal was to take the road that went along the ridge of the mountain, leading to Akaroa crater.  Akaroa is the remains of a couple of volcanos which have been extinct for several million years.  Over this time, the sea has eroded the mountain, and the ocean has broken through, creating the harbor in the village of Akaroa.  From up on top, we expected the views to be amazing.  We had no idea...

We progressed nicely up the mountain, and stopped to take this shot of where we had come from. 

Now by this time Mom is wondering whether this was such a good idea.  You see, the road we're on is, by American standards, a barely improved cowpath in the mountains.  It was paved for a while, with gritty rocks laid down because of the recent snow and ice storms.  It's also at about a 10 percent grade in parts.  In addition, while it's described as a "two-lane road", you would want to see what it would look like if two vehicles actually had to meet, because the drop off is far and deep, and there are no guard rails.  Just a post from time to time.  Maybe an orange cone to indicate the road is giving way. 

So you can imagine how Mom was doing in the back  Holding on for dear life, and gritting her teeth as Brian teased her with comments like "Maybe I'll start watching the road now."  I thought this was great.

We progressed further, getting higher and higher, along this increasingly unimproved and narrow road.  This picture shows some of the road we went along as we got nearer the top of Akaroa Crater. 

Now the paving and grit is gone, and we're on an ungraded gravel road, about 2000 feet up.  We stop at the edge of an overlook to get this shot that shows how far we have come, and how far we can see - the Southern Alps are to the left, the valley and the road we have been taking is in the foreground.

A bit more up the mountain, in first gear for traction, and we can see the South Pacific and one of the many bays that dot this area.

Finally, after several more white-knuckle experiences, we reached the summit of the crater, and we stop.  I captured this amazing picture of the basin of Akaroa, including the village where we will meet the catamaran later in the day for our cruise.  See how it is roughly circular?  This is a volcanic crater.

And in celebration of our victory over fear, gravel, tiny roads, wind, cold, and the occasional lorry hauling rocks, we stop for that consummate English pasttime - morning tea.  On top of a volcano.  Here Mom enjoys the view with Brian, our driver (and who also turns out to run or own the company).

It's all downhill from here, though it's a very long way down.  We still have many switchbacks and twisty turns all alike to go through, but as we proceed, here's another view of the harbor from way up.  Some of the local red tussock is in the foreground.

As we get lower, and the road more paved, we come across some non-sheep domestic animals.  This cow thought we were interesting for a bit before heading off.

The mountain still continues to change, and water continues to flow and erode the rock, creating some permanent waterfalls.  Here is one, along with some of the local fern plants. 

Finally Mom can relax - we're at sea level again, and on our way back to highway 75 to get to Akaroa for lunch.

Once we get to the village we stop to see some of the sights.  Here's the Catholic church.

After a nice lunch of fish & chips at L'Hotel, we board the Canterbury Catamaran for a trip out to the mouth of Akaroa Harbor which empties into the South Pacific.  Here is the lighthouse inside the harbor.

Some of the volcanic rock formations along the side

Here is the mouth of the harbor, with high volcanic walls on each side.  We're still a couple of kilometers away.

The side of the volcano has been worn away in many places, creating caves and gullies where birds nest, seals sleep, penguins swim, and dolphins frolick.  Here is one example of some of the rocks - see the various levels in the rock?  Each level is roughly 60 feet high.

Here some of the local birds are nesting.  I don't recall what they're called at this moment, but they may be cormorants.

The colors in the rock are not all uniform, they range from a dark brown, to a whitish color, reds, blues.  Some of the shots are a little overexposed because the light was so different.  Sorry.  But here some birds are nesting on the top ledge within this cavern.

Looking back at this cavern, where the walls are 90 meters high - or almost 300 feet above the sea. 

Now we're on to the South Pacific, but first a quick look back at Akaroa Harbor.

This is Land's End, the eastern rock formation at the mouth of the harbor.  The next land formation after this is Santiago Chile.

We were out on the harbor for about two hours, during which time we DID see several Hector's Dolphins, which are the smallest ocean-going dolphin.  They are only about four feet long, and they don't swim as fast as other dolphins because it would expend too much energy.  But they did swim over to the boat and jump in the air.  We also saw a few varieties of penguins, in the ocean and up on a hill.  Because they were too far away, I took pictures with my 300mm lens on my film camera, which is why I'm not showing them here at this time.  Once I get the film developed I'll add those shots here.

Now we're out in the ocean, and the wind has picked up.  Good thing we brought a couple of layers, or Mom might freeze solid:

It was an absolutely amazing cruise, after a totally incredible drive to the harbor. 

On the way back, Brian stopped in another location to capture this shot of all of Akaroa Harbor, looking South.

On the way back highway 75, a further view showing the mountain terrain formed as part of the volcanic area. 

On the way back we also stopped at the local cheese factory, the only remaining place in the area that still makes its own cheese. It was excellent, but because we didn't have any way to refrigerate it we didn't bring any back, but we did pick up some postcards and maps of the area.

We had a fantastic trip, and Brian was a wonderful tour guide.  He knows the area extremely well, is really friendly and funny, and even during the scary times, made us feel comfortable in his ability to get us where we were going.  We'd go on a trip with him anytime.  And going on an individual tour with someone who really knows the area, by yourselves, is a wonderful way to see a place as wonderfully beautiful as New Zealand.  Thanks Brian!

Since it was only about 5:15 and still light we hoped to see some of the downtown area, so Brian dropped us off in the Cathedral Square area, next to the Anglican cathedral for which Christchurch was named.  Mom was hoping to get a New Zealand prayer book at their bookstore, which appeared to be open since the doors were open and people were going in.  We followed, and found a wine and cheese tasting going on, with many senior citizens sitting on little chairs.  Not bothered by this, we managed to worm our way across the store to the back where the bibles, prayer books and musical recordings were kept.  After poking through for a few minutes, a staffer came over and told us this was a private function and, essentially, would we please leave. 

So therefore, the only souvenir we have of Christ Church Cathedral is the below photo, since we were ejected from the church.  Next to the cathedral is an artwork commemorating the new millenium.

One thing I really like is that the Australians and New Zealanders (the ANZAC countries) really know how to commemorate those who fought in WW I and WW II.  Here is a huge memorial next to the cathedral commemorating the WW I dead.  When we were in Sydney and Melbourne before, they also have huge memorials to those who died in defense of these countries.  It would be nice if the Americans today had even a little bit as much honor for those who died to keep us free.

Here's a shot of downtown Christchurch, as seen from Cathedral Square.

We had dinner at a nice restaurant called Coyote.  From there I got a picture of their Bridge of Remembrance, another war memorial, only a block or two from the memorial I showed before.

That ended our day.  We started the day with one expectation, and by the end of the day had exceeded expectations by a huge amount.  It was great.  We have had a terrific time in New Zealand, and in the morning (the very early morning) we're off to Cairns via Sydney.  See you from Oz!


As you may discern this was an amazing trip for both of us, and I took some extra photos with my Olympus SLR with the 300mm lens.  Here are some of those pictures after being scanned.

Here's the road we went up along the rim of the volcano.  It may look wide to you, and maybe two very good friends can pass each other, but there are no guard rails and the edge is pretty close to the road.  Fortunately Brian knows the way and knew how to make Mom comfortable by teasing her.  In the distance is one of the bays along the peninsula.
A Bay on Banks' Peninsula

The lighthouse in Akaroa Harbor
Lighthouse in Akaroa Harbor

A better picture of those birds.  What are they again?
Better picture of the birds

One side of the mouth of Akaroa leading to the South Pacific.  There is a little tiny lighthouse on top.  Can you see it?
Lands End

The other side of the mouth.  Look at the volcanic layers.
Volcanic Rock

A Hector's Dolphin, the smallest salt-water dolphin, only about 3 feet long.  A few of them played alongside the boat but they stayed under most of the time so I only got this shot of this one.
Hector's Dolphin

A rare site - a kind of penguin that isn't seen often in this area, living wild up on the hillside.  You'll need to click to see the larger picture to see the penguin in any decent detail.
Wild Penguin  More Penguin

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