Deux Jours à AkaroaChristchurch, Fall 2010
I’m tempted to write this entire post in French. Mais, heureusement pour vous, je vais vous épargner. Je n’a pas le vocabulaire de toute façon.
I spent two days in the lovely little resort village (pop. between 500 and 1000 depending on the source) of Akaroa, smack dab in the middle of Banks Peninsula. Akaroa means “long harbour” in Maori, and is a very apt description. Akaroa sites right in the middle of a long bay that comes out of the Pacific Ocean and heads straight into the heart of the peninsula. This is due to the geography of the land, which, in turn, is a result of three rather large volcanoes that erupted between 11 and 8 million years ago. Therefore the majority of the pictures in this post have to do with geology. But they’re pretty, too, so bear with me!
The town has a fascinating history. The Maori had occupied it for some time, but it was ”discovered” (in the European style) by Captain Cook, who named it for his on-board botanist, Joseph Banks, reportedly as a birthday present (Banks would shortly be 25). He originally called it Banks Island. Between 1769, when Cook sailed by, and 1838 the peninsula and harbour within served as a whaling and sealing port and all sorts of interesting stuff happened. The events are (loosely) chronicled as follows: in 1830 a British brig sailed a group of North Island Maori down to the peninsula, where they attacked and overtook one of the resident Maori groups. There was some wheeling and deeling going on so the British sent down a guy to keep tabs on the sitatuation in 1832. Things quieted down just a little bit and talks of British sovereignty were brewing when one French Captain Langlois had a look around in 1838 and decided that, as the British were mostly camping on the North Island, Akaroa would be a great place to use as a base to colonize the South Island. He made a bit of a dodgy deal with a local Maori chief to purchase the land and then headed back to France for reinforcements and supplies. He arrived again in New Zealand in August of 1840. By this time, the Treaty of Waitangi, the agreement providing English rule over New Zealand, had been signed (6th of February that same year). The English, alerted of Langlois’s approach, sailed a ship quickly up to Akaroa where they hastily planted the Union Jack. Langlois sailed down the harbour four days later to find it occupied.
Despite what seems like endless animosity between the English and French, Langlois and his crew didn’t much feel like sailing back to France, so they settled in Akaroa anyway and lived alongside the English. The settlement grew in this way and retains much of its mixed heritage today, as well as numerous original buildings like Langlois’s house.
I thought I’d share that since it’s some of the most interesting history New Zealand has to offer and it’s a very big part of my reason for going. These days it’s definitely a summer tourist town, but it has lots of good (though expensive) restaurants and cafes, a nice little museum, and plenty to do on the water. I took advantage of all these things but the highlight of the trip was definitely the nature cruise I went on. We went out of the harbour, down the bay, and all the way out to the Pacific, where we saw Hector’s dolphins (the smallest and rarest in the world, I was reminded hundreds of times – they’re very proud of that fact), yellow-eyed penguins, and other wildlife. We also got up close and personal with some of the incredible geology of the peninsula. We went into several caves and into a cove hollowed out by (and still containing the remains of) a dyke and a magma chamber. And, of course, Akaroa sits in the crater of the largest of the three aforementioned volcanoes. Unfortunately I did not have my rock hammer, though we couldn’t really get close enough for me to grab anything anyway.
Anyway, I’ll keep this post a wee bit shorter than the past few have been. Appréciez la photos!
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