What a lovely weekend away. As I joked several times, it was nice to have a family get-together that didn’t involve someone in a box! (‘Course that’s even better since I’m getting very close to being next in line!!!) However, to the weekend.
My nephew Scott, a fine young soldier was marrying his long-time partner, Cristin, a lovely young lady from Boston who has trained and qualified as a vet in New Zealand. They have lived in Christchurch for some time and were fortunate enough to have no personal injury and little property damage in the recent earthquake. None of their weird pets seemed to suffer, either! We were, of course on tenderhooks given the festivities were to be on the southern side of Banks Peninsular, but assurances were given that the lodge was unaffected and food and drink was available in abundance (just as well because there are certain members of the whanau that do ‘in abundance’ quite well!) The venue was Mt Vernon Lodge above the delightful seaside village of Akaroa, a French-flavoured settlement established as an outpost to support French whaling operations in the southern oceans. To drive down a street in New Zealand called “Rue Lavaud” or “Rue Benoit” or to pass through another wee village called Duvauchelle is a novel experience. Of course one can get ‘authentic’ French cuisine too at the many cafes and restaurants that are to be found along the beautiful bay front.
I was looking forward particularly to this weekend because it was an opportunity for many in our family to see each other again after several years, and to share the pleasures of the new additions to the family- my grandsons, my niece’s brand new baby boy, my brother’s new partner and her children, and all of the various Dwyers who Cristin brought with her to ‘the clan’. The one sad element was that my son, Campbell would not be with us as he is a month away from ending his 6 months active service in Afghanistan.
Friday was arrival day for most and after we picked up daughter Kimberley from the airport we dodged Christchurch and made our way out to Banks Peninsular. Check in wasn’t until 2pm but as the sun is over the yardarm somewhere in the world at any time of the day, we stopped at the Little River pub for a bit of refreshment. From here there are options as to how to get to Akaroa so we decided see something of the peninsular. The road rises steeply out of Little River until it reaches the summit where it branches to head eastwards to Little Akaloa and the Eastern Bays, or southerly more directly to Akaroa. We headed east. The road winds across the backbone of the peninsular offering spectacular views all around. The peninsular was once a volcano (actually I guess it still is!) and thus the slopes are pretty severe all around, views are extensive and the warnings of ‘Steep Slope- Change Down’ are frequent. We dropped down very quickly from the Summit Rd to Little Akaloa, a tiny settlement nestled in a tight inlet that looks as if must be just crawling with crayfish and awash with cod. We stopped at the delightful little church that perches on a hill looking down the bay to the sea. The interior has maori carving and kowhaiwhai motifs as features- not unique in New Zealand but notable enough for it to be worth the time, as is the graveyard that is part of the church grounds and which has some very old and interesting headstones. Sadly there two brand new mounds of earth that signified some local families had a less than merry Christmas. The next bay, Okains, is so different in nature with an extensive sandy bay with a meandering stream emptying into it. The stream is of importance to the local people as there is a marae and a boat-shed that shelter two Maori waka taua (war canoes). These were handsome craft some 20m in length and carrying intricately carved bows and stern posts. These would probably be paddled by as many as 30-40 warriors and I was told they are, every Waitangi Day and on other special occasions. I have seen waka taua on the the water and it is a very impressive experience with the chanting of the paddlers and rhythmical beat of the paddles catching water and thumping against the boat’s sides. There is also a country museum here but we didn’t have time to do it justice so left it for another day. The road rises steeply out of Okains Bay and heads further down the peninsular past Le Bons Bay and thence drops down quickly to Akaroa. All along the road are continuing spectacular views and my daughter and I mused on what it must have looked like in pre-European days before the clear-felling of native bush to make way for sheep! The entry to Akaroa is quite sudden and the extent of Akaroa Bay hits you as so notably different from the steep hills and ridges of the inland roads.
Obviously one of the first things you notice is the use of French language- street names, signage, restaurant and cafe names. One wonders if there’ll be accents when you speak to locals!!! (No there aren’t- well, not French anyway.)The main street, Rue Lavaud dawdles (you definitely don’t feel like hurrying in Akaroa!) through the ‘CBD’ but then prosaically becomes Beach Rd as it follows the beach around to the ‘other half’ of the settlement that features the pier and beach-side dining and tourist outlets. The buildings are lovely- most, apart from modern accommodations are very colonial by nature and have been maintained to enhance their effect. Wysteria or rambling roses drape many verandahs, picket fences border beautifully tended gardens, and not a parking meter in sight!! We mooched around the place for a wee while but then decided a good way to fill in the while we had before check-in would be lunch! You are spoiled for choice in this wee town, and the range is from footpath or beach-front to casual cafe or full-blown restaurant fine dining. The fish in the ‘fish and chips’ was beautifully light battered fresh cod and home-made chips, the open steak sandwich was ribeye with tangy chutney and aeoli on fresh-toasted home-baked roll with salad and chips, and the ‘bruncher’ a nicely presented oriental seasoned pork dish with salad and chips. (What is it with chips with absolutely everything? I don’t really care how good they are, I think it’s overdone and possibly fills the role of plate-fillers!) Oh, and the sun was definitely over the yardarm locally so Kimberley and I had another beer. Satisfied we drove the short distance from the beach-front, up Rue Bulgarie (which goes past Rue De Mal- wonder of the doctor lives there?) and arrived moments later at the lodge.
And so to meetings, greetings, hugs and hellos (and beer or wine, or wine or beer!). Lots of preparations yet to be finished and then a BBQ tea and socialising to set the scene for the big day tomorrow. I think I’ll do that tomorrow!