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Akaroa,

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      Akaroa, New Zealand


Sheep graze almost to the water's edge in the many small bays indenting the coastline of Banks Peninsula, the nub that juts into the Pacific east of Christchurch. On the southern side of the peninsula, in a harbor created when the crater wall of an extinct volcano collapsed into the sea, nestles the fishing village of Akaroa (Māori for "long harbor"). The port is a favouite day trip for Christchurch residents on Sunday drives and on weekends.


Sights


Although Akaroa was chosen as the site for a French colony in 1838, the first French settlers arrived in 1840 only to find that the British had already established sovereignty over New Zealand by the Treaty of Waitangi. Less than 10 years later, the French abandoned their attempt at colonization, but the settlers remained and gradually intermarried with the local English community. Apart from the rue (street) names, a few family surnames, and architectural touches, there is little sign of a French connection anymore, but the village has splendid surroundings.

   

Amble along the narrow streets past old-fashioned little cottages and historic buildings which reflect the area's multicultural background. A free map that outlines the walk and points of interest is available from the information center. You can start this easy two-hour walk at the Akaroa Information Centre at 80 Rue Levaud.

   

Akaroa Museum. Along the waterfront from the Garden of Tlections and displays tell some of the exciting stories of Kai Tahu, the people of the land. The museum complex includes the Old Courthouse and Langlois-Eteveneaux House, the two-room cottage of an early French settler.

   

Along the waterfront from the Garden of Tane to Jubilee Park, the focus of historic interest is the Akaroa Museum, which has a display of Māori pounamu (greenstone) as well as alternating exhibits on the area's multicultural past. The Peninsula supported a significant Māori population and the collections and displays tell some of the exciting stories of Kai Tahu, the people of the land. The museum complex includes the Old Courthouse and Langlois-Eteveneaux House, the two-room cottage of an early French settler. Rue Lavaud at Rue Balguerie. Admission charged.


French Farm Winery. The only winery on Banks Peninsula occupies a stunning site overlooking Akaroa Harbour. The 20-acre vineyard produces pinot gris, chardonnay, and pinot noir. The cellar door also has Akaroa Harbour merlot, riesling, and rosé, so there's something for everyone. The on-site restaurant is hailed for its rack of lamb and Akaroa salmon.

 

Okains Bay. The contrast of the rim of the old volcanic cone and the coves below is striking-and when you drop into one of the coves, you'll probably feel like you've found your own little corner of the world. One of the easiest bays to access is Okains Bay. Take the Summit Road at Hilltop if approaching from Christchurch, or Ngaio Point Road behind Duvauchelle if approaching from Akaroa. It's about 24 km (15 mi) from Akaroa and takes about a half hour to drive. The small settlement lies at the bottom of Okains Bay Road, which ends at a beach sheltered by tall headlands.

     

This collection of buildings contains 20,000 Māori and 19th-century colonial artifacts, including waka (canoes) used in Waitangi Day celebrations and displays such as a smithy and print shop. There are also a wharenui (Māori meetinghouse), colonial homes, including a totara slab cottage, and a saddlery and harness shop. Main Rd. Admission charged.


Pohatu Marine Reserve is a key breeding area for the white-flippered penguin (korora), which are endemic to the Canterbury region. The best time for viewing is during the breeding season, September to January. You may also see the yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho). Options range from day and evening penguin or nature tours. It's a scenic drive to Pohatu with photo stops along the way. (Akaroa Info Centre)

State Highway 75. The highway leads from Christchurch out onto the peninsula, curving along the southern portion past Lake Ellesmere. There are interesting stops on your way out to Akaroa. The small town of used to be the end of the line for a now-defunct railway line from Christchurch; the route is now a walkway and bicycle trail. The old, wooden train station houses a crafts gallery and information office, and a café is next door in the grocery store. Pick up the brochure of the area, which details the Heritage drive from Little River to Akaroa. When you reach pause for your first glimpse of Akaroa Harbour; on a sunny day it's magnificent. (At Hilltop the highway crosses the Summit Road, the other major route through the peninsula.)


The highway leads from Christchurch out onto the peninsula, curving along the southern portion past Lake Ellesmere. There are interesting stops on your way out to Akaroa. The small town of Little River used to be the end of the line for a now-defunct railway line from Christchurch; the route is now a walkway and bicycle trail. The old, wooden train station houses a crafts gallery and information office, and a café is next door in the grocery store. Pick up the Peninsula Pioneers brochure of the area, which details the Heritage drive from Little River to Akaroa. When you reach Hilltop, pause for your first glimpse of Akaroa Harbour; on a sunny day it's magnificent. (At Hilltop the highway crosses the Summit Road, the other major route through the peninsula.)


Activities


Harbor Cruises. You'll pull in beside huge volcanic cliffs and caves and bob around in the harbor entrance while tiny Hector's dolphins-an endangered and adorable species of dolphin with rounded dorsal fins that look like Mickey Mouse ears stuck on their backs-play in the wake of the boat. On some cruises you can swim with them, the only place in the world you can do so. Bring your swimsuit. Wet suits are provided in summer and dry suits in winter.


The Akaroa Harbour Scenic Mail Run travels over 100 km (60 mi) through some of the most breathtaking Banks Peninsula scenery, visiting the Māori Marae of Onuku, Robinsons Bay sawmill, Onawe Peninsula (historic site), Duvauchelle Hotel, and Barry's Bay Cheese factory (with the promise of tastings and purchases), as well as delivering the mail. This trip stays closer to town than the Eastern Bays run.


To see nearly a dozen hideaway bays, sign up to ride with the mailman while he delivers the rural mail on the remote Eastern Bays Scenic Mail Run. This highly scenic trip covers the more remote areas and starts from Akaroa at 9, finishing its circuit around 2. The van stops for a tasty, homemade morning tea by the beach. Reservations are essential, and it's not suitable for young children.