We said goodbye to the west coast on a drizzly gray morning heading straight for the hills covered in clouds. We saw a sign for Otira gorge at which point Paul remembered the forecast he’s seen. That was indeed the location for which heavy rain was forecast. Oh, boy! Another pass through slip prone cliffs, but this time while it’s pouring rain. I can’t say that I thought that sounded like fun. Nervous? Yes. We met car after car after car heading in the opposite direction wondering if they knew something we didn’t. The drizzle became rain which became a steady shower.
This made it difficult to see the scenery though we did pull out at an overlook for where we could see the road where we’d just driven through a wooden tunnel and “waterslide” that channeled the waterfall over the road. I grabbed my rain coat and got out of the car long enough to snap a quick photo.
I was surprised how wet I got in just those few moments. The second stop where it was still raining considerably was at “Death’s corner” to see the impressive Otira viaduct. It was a hop out, snap a quick pic and hop back in the car.
Just after we crossed over Arthur’s Pass, the rain stopped the skies cleared and the landscape changed from lush green covered mountains to dry, sparsely vegetated mountains that resembled piles of sand. Bright blue skies shone through high wispy clouds. Strong wind replaced the rain. Such a dramatic difference in climate and landscape.
We were now descending the eastern side of the pass headed for the Banks Peninsula. This peninsula sits just south of Christchurch and until now in our journey we’ve not spent time in this area. Those we’ve talked to here all exclaim, “Oh, you’ll love Akaroa” when we tell them where we’re headed. As we crossed the Canterbury plains we passed through a couple small towns and on our way through Darfield we couldn’t resist stopping at the cute little café and bakery for a late lunch. We ate enough to call it lunch and dinner and thoroughly enjoyed our sweet treats. The Banks peninsula looks like it’s really close to Christchurch on the map but thankfully we were in contact with our hosts who did tell us it would be wise to get groceries before heading out onto the peninsula. There was only one narrow road in and out and from Christchurch to the house where we were staying was about an hour and a half. So we also made a stop at the supermarket. As we wound our way toward the peninsula, off to one side we could see a huge expanse of water, apparently not the ocean but a lake. Lake Ellesmere stretched from the road to the horizon. In the other direction we could see the layers of hills where we were headed. The road climbed up and up, another rather narrow and winding road. The views were stunning especially along summit road where we could look down either side to the ocean.
The house where we were going to stay sat on the side of a hill looking down the valley to LeBons Bay. It was a downstairs apartment underneath the main house both designed to maximize the view. We could sit on the couch and enjoy the valley through the large double sliding door.
We had the property to ourselves for the first several nights with only email communication with our host which was a different experience for us. It wasn’t difficult to acclimate to the quiet, rural setting though.
Our host let us know we were welcome to roam around the property and mingle with the alpacas and collect eggs. Neither of us knew the first thing about alpacas. The host told us that they would be curious but would not let us pet them though we could feed them treats and they would eat out of our hands. We ventured out exploring through their paddock and at first I was nervous like I get around horses. Sure enough they all came over to us right away and up close they seemed so cuddly and soft. It did not take long for my nervousness to subside and I was hooked. Pretty much every day after that we went out to visit at least once a day and after only a couple days they’d come down to the house in the morning and get excited when I came out with their treats.
By the end of our stay a couple of them did actually let me pet them. Awww! I want some. I’d skipped buying eggs at the supermarket, expecting to have fresh ones but as it turned out the chickens weren’t really laying while we were there. I only found three eggs during our two week stay.
Since we arrived on a weekend, we took one day to get settled and relax in the house and explore the property and then the second to get out and see this little town that so many people thought we’d just love, Akaroa. It was a bright sunny day and the sun very clearly illuminated the sign outside “Fire and Ice” a lovely little corner jewelry store jam packed with sparkly stuff.
Yep, I could not resist the magnetic pull of such a place and it was our first stop in the adorable little town. The French influence was evident from the architecture to the street names which made Akaroa unique. The gentleman in the jewelry shop let us know there was a great little place to get fresh fish out on the pier. It was easy to find even without following the path of little blue “Dory” fish painted on the sidewalk showing the way. The fish was indeed very fresh and they served it grilled. Though I haven’t tried a lot of fish and chips on our journey this lunch was one of my favorites. We carried it to the end of the pier and had lunch overlooking the bay while enjoying some lovely music from a street musician playing the saxophone on the waterfront in town.
As we walked along the waterfront and the edge of town we were enjoying the view of the bay on one side and store fronts on the other keeping an eye out for an ice cream shop. Sure enough we came upon one. We didn’t add up the clues that this was not the best choice. The freezer did not have any tags indicating the ice cream flavors, and there was nothing that resembled “vanilla,” Paul eyed the green colored ice cream and he asked if it was mint chocolate chip. The guy nodded in agreement. We followed through with our order and with Paul’s first taste of the green “bubblegum” flavor ice cream we knew that the guy likely didn’t speak English very well. My flavors were what I expected but the quality was among the worst I’d ever had. It was quite a disappointing finish to our lunch. Hard to beat the view though.
Once we got back in the car, Paul intended to stop for gas, we missed the turn into the station on the first pass, turned around and the entrance was blocked on the second pass. The we turned up another street to try again but as we turned a sign caught my eye for the Giant’s House. Only then did I remember reading about it in the tourist brochure back at the house and that I’d wanted to visit. Just like that we abandoned our walking plans, parked and walked up the steep driveway to the top of the hill where the Giant’s House sat. Before we could even see the house I was enthralled with the artsy mosaic handrail on the stairs. At the top of the hill there it stood, a big old house painted in bright happy colors, mimicking the colorful flowers blooming along the porch that spilled out into the front yard fenced in by an intricate line of colorful mosaic benches and dancing figures surrounding a mosaic grand piano as a centerpiece. I had to pause at the entrance gate just to try and take in that first scene of the garden. We spent the rest of the afternoon meandering through the artist’s garden with delight and awe. After one tour through and taking a few minutes to watch a video of an interview with the artist, Josie Martin, we sat and sipped a refreshing lemon, mint water from the café. Then, we walked through again. I was so amazed at the beauty created by reorganizing broken pieces. This wonderful place that we happened to stumble upon was phenomenal and I’d consider it in my top five things we’ve done in the whole of New Zealand. As we were walking out I recognized the lady in the entrance as the artist. Getting to thank her for her work in person was most definitely a highlight of the visit.
The weather remained fine for the next day as well so we took the short drive down to LeBons bay. We’d been told by a lady in Akaroa as well as by our hosts that it was the favorite bay on the peninsula among locals. When we arrived, it was clear why.
It was fairly small compared to some beaches we’d seen so far. It had wonderfully soft sand scattered with interesting shells. If you walked to one end of the beach you could see up the valley and even walk along the river that flowed into the ocean while listening to the bellbirds singing in the trees across the river and watching the oyster catchers and seagulls feeding at low tide.
The next morning the clouds filled the valley down from the house and we watched as they crawled up, and up and over us. Most of the next three days we stayed inside watching the clouds and rain, skyping family, watching movies, and reading. Our host arrived and stayed through the weekend. We met him briefly and also got to meet Rosie, his adorable new German Shepard puppy. Though it was nice to finally meet him, we quickly noticed that the internet service was not capable of supporting all of us so for that reason we were glad whenever he decided to leave. He was around mostly on the weekends when Paul didn’t need the internet for work so we were able to manage. No blogging of course, but I’ve gotten used to playing catch up so that’s also manageable.
Over Easter weekend we set out to try one of the many walks in the area and went to a lookout over both Okains Bay and LeBons Bay. We were treated to an interesting and unique perspective on top of an ocean of clouds.
After the walk we opted not to visit Okains bay as it was completely covered in clouds. Instead we found ourselves driving into the valley on the opposite side and onto the main highway along with many, many others. Akaroa is a popular holiday destination for people living in Christchurch. We only drove through and decided not to stop in town, deciding that was enough, especially when we knew we could come back another day and enjoy it without the crowds. We hopped over to LeBons Bay and enjoyed a seashell hunt in lieu of an egg hunt.
The following day we basically repeated the day in reverse spending the morning at LeBons Bay before going to Akaroa for an afternoon treat from the “Mr. Whippy” ice cream truck sitting in the free wifi zone listening to the street musician of the day, this time a guitarist.
After Paul finished work the next day we decided to do the “Rhino” walk we’d abandoned our first day in Akaroa in favor of visiting the Giant’s House. The track started at Children’s Bay and was a nice walk with lots of Manuka trees and ToeToe grass and more bellbirds than either of us have ever heard. Their continuous singing rendered us speechless as we stood gazing up into the trees only able to spot them when they fluttered from branch to branch and tree to tree. As we approached the last sharp curve near the top of the track, we couldn’t help but notice the four large giraffe statues placed in the grassy area beneath the curve.
Up the hill, sitting out in the open grassy area of the paddock stood the “Rhino.” This statue is obviously how the track became known as the Rhino walk. We climbed the turnstile over the electric fence and approached the life size statue. It was such an intriguing place for such a masterpiece. As we approached we began noticing the familiar parts that had been used in making the statue. All kinds of mechanical parts welded into an unmistakable “Rhino.”
Much more of the hill remained above the statue and we decided we were up for the challenge. We could see the top but it sure felt steeper than it looked. We were rewarded with some wonderful panoramic views though. Throughout the walk both up and down several different kinds of butterflies visited the flowers along the trail beside us. You just can’t beat the abundance of free entertainment offered by nature.
The following afternoon found us on Summit road gazing at the cruise ships docked near Akaroa, then walking the beach at Okains Bay. The wind and water left some amazing patterns in the sand. This was a larger beach than LeBons Bay and just as crowded. We saw probably five other people in the hour or so we spent walking.
Oyster catchers chirped their warnings as we passed by and at the river several shags were perched on the rocks drying their wings. Every day I am drawn more and more to the ocean and every day I am grateful for the chance to see it from such a variety of beaches.
The weather once again turned cloudy so we enjoyed another day inside. The remaining few days of our stay we made the most of the sunny periods with a couple more visits to LeBons Bay and another afternoon in Akaroa.
The visit to Banks Peninsula has been very relaxing and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the remote location, the alpacas, lots of hacky sack and long walks on the beaches.
The morning we were to check out fog enveloped the house creating some anxiety for both of us, as navigating the roads would be difficult in fog. By the time we left it had dissipated somewhat and was completely gone before we got very far so we were able to get one last look at the dramatic landscape on our exit. It’s now April and we’re beginning to sense the advent of autumn. Up next, a return visit to the Kaikoura Peninsula.