The Secret Diary of Adrian Petford Aged 39¾

Akaroa – parlez-vous Français?

Posted in Akaroa,Christchurch,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 28th, 2009

By Wednesday I was seriously flagging. After almost two weeks of living out of a suitcase and non-stop activity I really felt I just had to have a rest. I considered slobbing around relaxing in the unit but as soon as I saw the brilliant blue sky outside I just knew I had to do something. But what?

Steve and Cherie had recommended the run out to Akaroa as a nice drive and Lynne at the motel had suggested it as a good day trip, but it was only really worth doing in nice weather. As it was such a lovely day I thought this would be a good bet. It was low key, not too taking (it’s about 85km away from Christchurch) and would be good use of the time rather than charging around trying to fit as many different things into the day as possible. I set out just after 10.00am and was soon on the road to Akaroa. I’m getting quite good at navigating around Christchurch now, although it does help that the city is largely laid out in logical blocks.

It was, indeed, a lovely drive, very picturesque. I saw the Port Hills and drove on alternately straight and winding roads out onto Banks Peninsula. It took around an hour and I really enjoyed looking at the awesome scenery from a largely empty road. This area was originally populated by French settlers and that history was evident in a lot of the place names and the French character which comes over, which I suspect is quite intentional and for the benefit of the tourists, at least to some extent.

Akaroa harbour – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa harbour – 19-Aug-2009

There were some stunning views going down over the mountains towards Akaroa. The Hilltop Café sat on the best one and was even heralded with a sign (“The best view of Akaroa. Don’t miss it!”) around the previous corner! Sadly I did miss it, but noted to myself to stop there on the way back!

I reached Akaroa and immediately noticed what a quaint historical town it was, lots of old and very pretty houses and buildings.

The Gaiety Theatre, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1879 – 19-Aug-2009
The Gaiety Theatre, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1879 – 19-Aug-2009
Coronation Library, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1875 – 19-Aug-2009
Coronation Library, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1875 – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009

The signs at the petrol station I stopped at on the way in were bilingual in French and English. I carried on along the road to the picture postcard views of the harbour front.

It was so hot and sunny I took my jumper off and ended up in just my summer jacket and shirtsleeves. Sometimes I can’t quite believe it’s meant to be winter here. The harbour front was unbelievably nice, very quaint, very French and showing itself off very well amidst the spectacular scenery of the bay. I thought before I looked around too much I’d better have lunch, so stopped at the bakery and cafe for refreshment.

While sitting there, I listened in to a conversation between two locals about genealogy which was interesting to hear considering the unique history of settlement in this area. There are Tricoleur flags and blue, white and red bunting flying in many places in Akaroa and a lot of the cafes, restaurants and shops play up the French stereotypes. It’s really strange seeing a French-style cafe in the middle of all the exotic palm trees! There are several monuments to the French settlers and some of the street names are French (Rue Jolie being the one that sticks in my mind!).

Fire and Ice, Church Street. Akaroa was established by French settlers and evidence of French culture is everywhere – 19-Aug-2009
Fire and Ice, Church Street. Akaroa was established by French settlers and evidence of French culture is everywhere – 19-Aug-2009

A shop called “Fire and Ice” had a Tricoleur flying alongside the Southern Cross and a ramshackle bicycle outside proudly displaying its “Open” sign. I was also interested to learn, from a statue in tribute to him, that the captain of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship came from Akaroa.

Once I’d finished my lunch I walked right along the harbour front, looked at the lighthouse and took in anything interesting in the side streets. I also browsed the gift shops. A few were closed until next summer! One owner said that in winter Akaroa’s population is only about 500, but that can swell to 10,000 in summer! There were some very interesting little shops full of unusual souvenirs and bric-a-brac.

Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009

Usually once I’ve had a look around a place, I race off to my next destination but today I actually took the time to spend a few hours just sitting by the harbour front considering my thoughts and it was a great way to relax. I watched children feeding the seagulls and the boats out in the harbour just floating there; occasionally changing position but generally being as lethargic as I was. So I did get my relaxation time, but in a beautiful place that made full use of the day as well.

Childrens Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Childrens Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009

I left about 3.30pm wanting to enjoy the scenery on the way back while it was still light, which I did. I stopped several times for photos, including at the Hilltop Café which was indeed the best view of Akaroa and unmissable!

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