Monday, January 14, 2013

Akaroa - Second Attempt 1/13/2012

On a sunny day, with calm water we were able to tender ashore. After having to skip Akaroa on the first part of our trip, we now had a second chance to visit the only French settlement in New Zealand. This presented us with a difficult decision. Because we were originally going to have two stops here, we had planned for two of the highly recommended tours. We could now only go on one.

Akaroa, which means, long harbor, is home to the Hector's dolphins, the world’s smallest and rarest. Sighting them while on the “Fox II”, New Zealand’s oldest gaff rigged ketch is considered a privilege.  

A trip on the TansAlpine is considered one of the world’s top rail journeys, described in our tour book as, “taking passengers through the heart of the South Island, viewing the vast Canterbury Plains as well as the snow-mantled mountains, native rainforest, alpine meadows and deep river gorges”.

Another option was a ninety- minute drive to the Antarctica Museum in Christchurch. The neo-gothic buildings and charm of this city have attracted tourists for years. Two years ago an earthquake devastated the city resulting in unstable land and a docking area for ships that no longer exists. Residents have moved away; much of the city is still fenced off and it will take years to rebuild what was a beautiful city.

All of our decisions should be this difficult! We opted for the train as this would be our only chance to see the country's interior and view the Southern Alps. This mountain range is often referred to as the country's backbone, running almost the entire length of the South Island.

Our exploration took us through the countryside by two modes of transportation. We travelled by bus through Canterbury Plains, the largest area of flat land and farming in New Zealand. The Plains sit between the Pacific Ocean on the east and the Southern Alps on the west. Organized settlement of the area began in the 1850’s with the introduction of merino sheep and the beginning of intensive farming. This is the location of many dairy farms, where cows are slowly becoming more prevalent than sheep. 

The Cyprus hedges and shelterbelts we were seeing were a distinctive feature of the Plains. They were planted by early settlers who arrived to find a land virtually treeless with no protection from the wind. Our guide said that this is the only place where you will find hedges planted to protect the cattle from the violent winds that can cross these fields.

We stopped at Dean’s Homebush for morning tea, ate delicious carrot cake, watched a woman spinning wool and visited the homestead. As we left our host bid us good-bye with the observation, “You will travel from the sea to the mountains and back in one day. How lovely!”

Before and After: The sheep on the left is in need of a summer haircut, the one on the right is ready for the warm weather.
Continuing on to Arthur’s Pass, our guide explained that for many years the Maori were the only people to cross the mountains we were about to see. They considered jade to be valuable, used it for ornaments and fighting weapons and could only find it in the rivers on the western side of the island.
The above picture is of Castle Rock. It is part of an area that was at one time under water. What is left is limestone.
When we reached Arthur’s Pass Village and found seats on the train, it was unfortunately raining. The highest peaks and most spectacular views were hidden in the fog. Along the way the rain stopped and we were able to see the much of the acclaimed scenery.

At the conclusion of our train ride we were back on the bus returning to Akaroa. We stopped for a spectacular panoramic view of the city and harbor.

Our tour ended as we waited on the dock with the French and New Zealand flags flying side by side. We boarded the ship after a full day that had indeed taken us from the ocean and through the plains, to the mountains and back again.

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