Akaroa New Zealand and the Banks Peninsula

12 02 2013

IMG_0097With the balance of the warm sunny day before us, and with no set schedule, we decided to visit New Zealand’s South Island’s Banks Peninsula and the picturesque seaside harbor of Akaroa! Angelique, Yurira, Elwin, myself, and Oscar piled in to the Camry and headed southeast. Oscar and Yurira, even though this is their third season here, had never been there and wanted to check it out.IMG_0094

Having everyone there was unparalleled for me! I’d met Elwin and Angelique in Patagonia. Yurira and Oscar in Oregon, and here we were in New Zealand!

The road passes through beautiful valleys filled with cow and sheep, before climbing, winding up and over the peninsula. While Christchurch is relatively flat, the peninsula is mountainous. In places you are hundreds of feet above the ocean and one can see forever! I caught a glimpse of a sailboat race outside Akaroa. I would see sailboat races all over New Zealand.

IMG_0096If you are in Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula is definitely worth visiting. It sticks out like a grape southeast of town. It has “spokes” of inlets, flanked by mountains, radiating out from the center – so one can find incredible seclusion there. The drive is ridiculously scenic. It is a 1,150 sq km volcanic feature, formed by two eruptive volcanoes. Waters are sapphire blue, and palms are common.IMG_0095

Sun splashed Akaroa was dry, warm, with a gentle breeze blowing through the palms by the harbor. A nice place to window browse, walk the pier, admire the comings and goings of boats, stroll the avenues, and take in a 20-oz British pint of ale under umbrella by the water.

I would be remiss if I glossed over Akaroa’s rich French heritage! Not only is it a beautiful palm studded town on a warm bay, but it is rich in French architecture, heritage and cuisine. The fact is, the South Island narrowly missed becoming a French colony right here. In 1838 French whalers bought the peninsula from the Maori and went to France with the news. They returned with French settlers, but just two days earlier English pounced with their flag, proclaiming it for the English Crown. Nevertheless, nearly 70 French citizens started the settlement, and to this day French heritage is celebrated.


We had a terrific day with Oscar and Yurira! They had much advice for us on our journey ahead. I’m grateful and hope to maybe join them in Alaska next summer!



Christchurch New Zealand

11 02 2013

IMG_0088Today we were in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we were to meet with Oscar Manguy and Yurira Hernandez, two Mexican kayak guides I had met during the Loco Roundup Kayak Symposium in 2011. I’ve been Facebooking with them ever since. They work with National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), guiding in Alaska during the northern summer and New Zealand in the southern summer. Not a bad life! When in New Zealand, they live in Christchurch.

When I decided to head to New Zealand, I contacted Yurira and then, when I had definite dates, we were able to coordinate a visit! It was GREAT to see them on the other side of the world!

I hoped to paddle with them, but it seems the kayak facilities they use are not in Christchurch. So we’d spend time visiting in Christchurch and then figure out what to to. Elwin and I were curious about a city called Akaroa, which is on the Banks Peninsula, south of town. But Elwin, Angelique and myself really didn’t know much about Christchurch itself. So we would spend part of the day in downtown Christchurch.

Christchurch, founded in 1850, with about 345,000 people, is the 2nd largest city in New Zealand, and the biggest on the South Island. You wouldn’t know it by looking out from the central city – because the area is pretty flat and the buildings are not so tall. The fact is, Christchurch spreads out a lot. It’s got a wealth of cultural attractions, fine beaches, ample city parks and gardens, and heartbreakingly beautiful churches, which were devastated by two 2011 earthquakes.  It suffered a devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake in February 2011 and a major aftershock six months later. I talked with some locals – they said one earthquake caused sideways shifting, while the other seemed to jolt upwards.

We first met for lunch, and then took a stroll around. The central business district was simply devastated. And much remains rubble, as building codes are to be updated before reconstruction can begin in earnest. Much of the old downtown was built on ground that was subject to liquefaction. Worse, many older classic buildings and churches were built of brick or stone. All around Christchurch once lovely churches lie in varying states of rebuilding process.


Seats still inside this theater!


We checked out a central business district shopping mall made of shipping containers. This was an interesting way to try to drum up some economic activity!

IMG_0091We passed a theater and what must have been a lively restaurant / bar district. Today, these buildings lay in various states of ruin.

Still, the city is vibrant and moving on. There are lovely walkways and gardens everywhere. If only I had pictures of all the lovely parts of Christchurch!

We’d reached about 2:00 in the afternoon…what would we like to do next? Let’s head to the Banks Peninsula and check out Akaroa. We’d heard it’s a beautiful, warm, with a French flair. So we piled into the Camry and headed over there! More next blog post!