Do you like maps? I love to pore over them, firing my imagination to a journey of discovery. I’m sure that’s how Dr Livingstone felt when he peered at early maps of darkest Africa dreaming of what he would find. The first time I saw the Banks Peninsular on a map I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, for all intents and purposes you would swear you were looking at a giant wood fungus. So mesmerised by its appearance was that I couldn’t get the image out of my mind for weeks.
Where is the Banks Peninsular you might ask and directly east of Christchurch would be the answer? The northern face is easily accessible to the city but that wasn’t always the case. A tunnel dug by the sweat and tears of hardworking men, with out the benefit of modern engineering equipment changed that, bringing you out to the harbour and the town of Lyttleton. It was built by the English in their very English brick and mortar style that was exported to so many lands whether suitable or not. This fact almost lead to Lyttleton’s down fall in the earthquake of 2011, sitting precariously on the hills that tower over the aqua blue water of the harbour the whole town nearly tumbled into the water. In spite of this, however, Lyttleton is well worth a visit with the imaginative use of containers, as in other parts of Christchurch, helping to open the town to locals and visitors very soon after the quake.
Having seen the Northern side of the peninsular on my first visit, I was drawn to explore the southern side, purely because of the intriguing shape on the map. The Road to Akaroa follows the circumference of the southern edge of my giant fungus. This beautiful little town started life as a French colony, notable established as far away from the English on the other side as possible.
What you see when you drive around the base of the peninsula heading for matches exactly to the topography displayed on that map that I had been so obsessed with. You might think “isn’t that always the case”? Well know not really, sometimes the urban environment obscures the natural or sometimes the feature just doesn’t stand out. This absolutely not the case with the banks peninsular. Remembering that this is earthquake territory may help when I say that the sides of the peninsular look as if a giant has picked it up with two hands and flicked it, the way an ordinary human might pick up a floor rug, with the resulting waves of Fabric settling back down in a series of folds. This is seriously amazing countryside and the fact that under the peninsular actually lay two volcanoes made it even more so.
Driving over the last hill, which I will warn you is actually more of a mountain, the decent into Akaroa is mind blowing. Words do not adequately describe the vista and the town itself no less so. Tourists have definitely discovered Akaroa and now due to problems in the Lyttleton Harbour it is also the destination for cruise ships. However an afternoon of wandering around the town, not just the shops is great. I will go back to Akaroa, but stay longer and take the opportunity to go kayaking around the bay.
Our accommodation at Halfmoon Cottage sits snuggly at the Head of Barry’s Bay, one of the many little bays formed by the unusual geology. The old house draws you with its warmth and nestles into a rambling, verdant garden seemly producing every vegetable or fruit that grows in New Zealand. We enjoyed the late afternoon sun in the secluded garden and early evening in conversation with other like minded travellers who also appreciated the peace of our location.
Tips and Extras
* Make sure you stay more than 1 night, so much to explore