...... previous day next day ......
Christchurch Craigieburn Forest Park

4th January 2012

A Tour of Banks Peninsula and Visiting an Almost French Colony

Sumner Beach
    What a beautiful blue morning, and no shivers. I had breakfast in the communal kitchen, while next door in the TV lounge, young kids watched Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder; the marvels of a common language.
    The plan today was to explore Lyttelton and Banks Peninsula. I chose a route via Sumner and over the tops to drop down to Lyttelton.
    Once I was driving through the east side of the city, nearer to the epicentre of the earthquake, the roads were buckled and distorted. It paid one to keep one's eyes glued to the bumps and holes, and be aware of cyclists suddenly swerving as they tried to avoid the obstacles. Lampposts leaned at crazy angles. Bridges with their support pillars firmly rooted into bedrock still stood proud, but the roads leading to them had dropped, so for those that did not have steel ramps onto them, it was a case of bumping up onto a bridge and dropping off the other end. I'm sure that did the wagon's suspension a world of good.
    A beautiful wide sweep of sandy beach graced Sumner, with the blue sea gently breaking onto the shore, circling the sandcastles kids had made to defend their "territory". The illusion was shattered when I turned round on myself and stared in land. Half the road was taken up by several hundred metres of ship containers stacked two high. These had been installed after the quake to prevent further rubble from the crumbling cliffs smashing into passing vehicles. High up on the cliffs stood halves of houses, the other halves were strewn down the cliffs and smashed to pieces at the base. It was a sorry sight.
Downtown Lyttelton
Houses Collapsed Down the Cliffs at Sumner
    I reached the far end of Sumner, ready to tackle the drive over the Port Hills, only to discover that the road was closed. It was a long drive back towards Christchurch to pick up the route that led me through a tunnel under the mountains.
    Southeast of Christchurch, the Port Hills tumbled down to the city's and the South Island's largest port at Lyttelton. The small town was actually perched on the slopes of a drowned volcano crater which now formed Lyttelton Harbour. Being a major disembarkation point, the town was the first introduction to New Zealand for countless European migrants. The town was surrounded by turn-of-the-century weatherboard cottages and, before the quake, stone buildings that nestled in the hillside. Lyttelton's streets still catered to the local lifestyle; busy with commercial outlets, boutique shops, restaurants and caf�s proudly serving home roasted coffee and fresh produce with eclectic global influences. Sadly only a portion of its premises were operating, others had fallen victim to the earthquake. The town also had some containers revamped into new premises. It seemed containers were the new universal building block since the quake. Plastic hoses snaked along pavements providing the only source of fresh water to some hard hit premises.
The 1880 Police Station Cracked Up
The Tin Palace Survived Because it was
Made Out of Tin
     The port also served as a base during the Antarctic expeditions of explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton. The link with Antarctica is still maintained, with supply ships still using the port. Indeed, the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch formed part of a much larger complex built for the administration of the NZ, US and Italian Antarctic program.
    On a corner of a piece of wasteland, a silver birch tree stood alone, adorned with bright silvery decorations. Tied on to a barrier below it was a bunch of flowers. Some poor soul(s) must have perished inside what once had been a building.
    I left the quaint town and weaved my way around the head of Lyttelton Harbour to Diamond Harbour, almost opposite Lyttelton. Once parked up, I walked down a path through tall pine trees. My that was bliss, I always enjoy the resinous vapours given off by such trees.
View Across Lyttelton Harbour from Diamond Harbour      (please use scroll bar)

Port Levy from Port Levy Saddle
    I was now on the Banks Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean from Christchurch like a giant thumb. The peninsula and its hills came about through two enormous volcanic eruptions. Several bays radiated out from the centre of the peninsula, all scenic gems. When Captain Cook sailed past on his first visit, he mistook it for an island, and named it after his botanist, Joseph Banks. In 1835, the French whaling captain, Jean Langlois, established a whaling station at French Bay, and seeing its potential for settlement, negotiated the purchase of the peninsula with the local Ngai Tahu Maori. He returned to France to form a trading company, and with French government backing, returned in 1840 to the peninsula with 63 settlers. However, he arrived 13 days after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, and New Zealand was by then under British sovereignty. The French were obliged to sell their claim and integrate.
Akaroa Harbour
    I was greeted at the end of the path by a stunning view across the harbour to Lyttelton and the Port Hills. The sea was turquoise, and in the cove to my left, emerald green waters supported a flotilla of moored yachts. Granddads sat on the small jetty showing their grandsons how to fish. Families picnicked on the grassy banks. The sun shone brightly. What an idyllic place I thought.
    I pushed on to Port Levy, and then took the 17km Western Valley gravel track over the top of the peninsula, gaining an absolutely gorgeous view of the Port Levy cove form the dizzy heights of Port Levy Saddle. Going down the other side was a bit disconcerting; too much speed and then a hard brake would have me sliding sideways over the edge.
Buildings Around Akaroa
French Signs
Akaroa Lighthouse
    On the lower slopes, I passed a car with a trailer that seemed to be half in a ditch. I ground to a halt, stuck my head out of the window, and caught sight of a huge fellow with a bush of ginger hair falling below a hat. "Do you need any help?" I shouted. He ambled over to me, and beamed a smile of a size to match his frame. "If I do enough slides down here, I'll soon clear away those trees on the side of the road," he laughed. "I'm Tim," he said, holding out a dustbin lid sized hand, so big I could have shaken my hand with one of his fingers. "Dave," I replied. "No worries Dave, but it was kind of you to stop," he grinned again. "No sweat," I replied, and we parted the best of friends. I heard a thunderous, "Have a good day," as I sped away smothering him in a white cloud of dust.
    I followed another convoluted road up mountains and down valleys to Akaroa, nestled half way up the Akaroa Harbour. As part of the integration process after their failed colonisation attempt in 1840, the French settled in Akaroa, and in 1850 almost 800 British settlers arrived. The peninsula at the time was heavily forested with totara, matai and kahikatea trees. That was soon cleared to allow farming to become established on the peninsula, and today the peninsula was almost bald. A network of narrow, twisting roads traced their way along the crater rims and down to bays that were once crawling with whalers, sealers and shipbuilders.
     I soon found myself descending into Akaroa, a charming village cradled in the arms of an ancient volcano, still clinging to its French roots, and some of the French street names have stuck. The Gallic links are weak, but the colonial architecture still makes for a picturesque village. Today, visitors flock here to soak up its European history and relax at seaside cafes watching fishing and pleasure boats dance at their moorings, while sampling fresh catch of the day and local Akaroa wine. Akaroa sat on a pretty cove, and the surrounding hills rose more gently than the Port Hills around Lyttelton. I could see why the French were attracted to the area.
Akaroa Transport
    The village was a favoured destination for cruise ships, being more accessible, scenic and photogenic than Lyttelton. I walked the full length of the village and more, before settling down to a ginger beer at one of the cafes and a session of people watching. This was one chilled out place to be, indeed I was so chilled out I didn't bother visiting the numerous galleries and craft outlets.
    A couple joined me at my table. They were from the cruise ship on a tour around New Zealand, and had been ashore and taken a bus trip to Christchurch. The chap was now enjoying a cool beer before getting the last tender back to the ship. The wife wanted to make a few last minute purchases before they had to leave, the chap was trying to calculate whether she would be at the shops long enough for him to sink another beer. The woman went off, and it gave me a chance to chat with the fellow. They lived in Melbourne, which is where the cruise started and finished, but were New Zealanders. "Why did you leave New Zealand?" I asked out of curiosity. "We have been in Melbourne for 15 months now, my wife's parents now live there. My father-in-law has had a second triple bypass, and his prospects don't look too good. He weighs 145Kg, he eats like there is no tomorrow, and he never exercises. He is also very partial to whiskey. The guy doesn't help himself. My wife had an $80k per year job as a legal executive, but she packed that in to go look after her father. She is a good family girl. Me, I let my family go. I was the youngest of seven kids. When my father died, we couldn't even find one of my brothers and one of my sisters." His wife returned with more bags. Anxious not to miss the tender, she cajoled her husband who drained his beer. We exchanged farewells, and they were gone.
    Despite the idyllic setting, it was time for me to go too. I was sitting towards the end of a very long cul-de-sac (a nice pun considering I was in a "French" village) and had a 90km journey back to Christchurch over tortuous roads.
    The route back was partly in convoy. An accident on one of the summits had created a long tailback, which clung together as it proceeded to the city. It gave me time to reflect on the beauty of the compact peninsula, an ideal idyllic retreat for many at weekends.

...... previous day next day ......
Christchurch Craigieburn Forest Park

Uploaded from Amber Park Campsite, Blenheim Road, Christchurch on 5th January at 09:15

Last updated 5.1.2012