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".
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!