Birthday Bubbles and the Banks Peninsula

Last Wednesday was Sandie’s
birthday.  As Weds evenings are sacred to
her dance group and watching Lost, we
decided to celebrate on the Tuesday.  We
went to a restaurant that was new to us for dinner: it advertises itself as ‘Mediterranean’
and is a mix of southern Spanish, Greek and Moroccan food and drink. Ian was
delighted to be able to sample favourites (chilled sherry, Rioja and gazpacho)
which are not common in New Zealand, while Sandie really enjoyed her cheese flambéed
in Ouzo!  From there we went to St James
Theatre and saw a production of Miss
, which we hadn’t managed to see while in London. Needless to say,
there were ‘bubbles’ (kiwispeak for sparkling wine) in the interval, and we finished
off the evening at a smart cocktail bar. Wednesday was an ‘ordinary’ working
day, but Sandie got a delightful surprise when a bouquet of flowers was
delivered to the office – sent by our children in England.   


At the weekend we were off again,
back to the South Island.  The Banks
Peninsula is close to Christchurch, and is a rugged area of hills, valleys and
harbour formed by volcanic eruptions six million years ago. It’s the last place
in New Zealand that we had never visited and wanted to see, so at the weekend
we took the opportunity to go there. We flew to Christchurch very early on
Saturday morning, picked up a hire car, and set off. It’s about 50 miles from
the airport to the main town, Akaroa, which is on the shore of the long inlet
of Akaroa Harbour. From the volcanic crater rim we got great views down on to
the harbour, and reached the town itself in time to catch the 11 o’clock


This took us up the harbour past
the towering cliffs of volcanic rock and out into the ocean. We were looking
for wildlife, and got a glimpse of rare white-flippered penguins and Hector’s
dolphins, which are the smallest in the world and only found here. We were also
followed by a friendly albatross, swooping and gliding along the crests of the
waves. After two hours we returned to the jetty, by which time the sun had
broken through and the rest of the day turned out to be warm and sunny.


We explored the town a bit. It
was one of the earliest settlements, with both French and English colonists,
and still has some French heritage. It is also a holiday resort, and there were
lots of bars and restaurants catering for visitors, even though it was out of
the main season. We went for a walk out of the town and up the hill behind,
where we got some further spectacular views of the harbour and surrounding area.
We returned in time to watch the sunset from a waterfront bar. Later we went to
the tiny cinema (two screens – ours had 17 seats!), which is run by an enthusiast
from Edinburgh.  We saw ‘Nowhere Boy’
(based on the early life of John Lennon).


On Sunday we headed over the
hills and visited two of the bays on the outer rim of the peninsula. One was
Long Bay, where we followed a stream down to the beach, and were mobbed by a
tiny bird called a fantail. Apparently (we were told by a farmer) they are
after the insects that people disturb when they walk about. The road down to
this bay was the most exciting part, being steep, winding and unsealed.


From there we drove along the
Summit Road, which runs the length of the peninsula, following the rim of the
crater, and down to Pigeon Bay. The road was easier, and at the end we did a
5-mile walk along the side of the bay to the headland (Wakaroa Point). The walk
itself was interesting, with lots of good views and unusual rock formations,
but at the end we were able to see the incredible sea cliffs formed from the
multilayered and multicoloured volcanic rock. We had the entire walk to
ourselves, and it was certainly a great experience.


Then it was time to head back to the airport, stopping
to take photos of the sun setting behind low clouds on the crater rim and to
slake our thirsts at a quirky Kiwi pub on the way. We were glad we had seen the
Banks Peninsula, and regretted that we hadn’t visited it earlier.

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