We'd enjoyed Christchurch and were a bit reluctant to leave, but we had to because there is so much ahead of us to see. We'd had a glimpse of the Banks Peninsula from the top of the Gondola and it did look enticing. Our drive there was over narrow, steep climbing roads with lots of intrepid cyclists and wonderful views over land and sea. From the top of the saddle overlooking Akaroa harbour - very like a Scottish sea loch but actually a flooded volcanic crater (and an enormous one at that) - the views were magnificent. The road to Akaroa took us through some pretty little villages on the coast with some interesting signs leading to tempting high level country routes and coastal bays. Akaroa was absolutley charming. It's French history is reflected in it's street names and style of some of its buildings, which adds to its charm and character.
Although it's nearing the end of the summer the tourist season is still in full swing and everywhere is very busy and everything is horrendously expensive. So we'd booked ahead to stay in the Akaroa Criterion Motel, but as it was full all we could get was a B&B room in the owners' (Gabrielle and David) house - and very hospitable and comfortable it was too (and great breakfasts too). They had a very 'ferocious' guard dog called Mister - who was never without his big fluffy squeaky toy in his mouth, and who cried with joy every time a stranger entered the house - never seen such a waggy tail! They also had the fluffiest cat you can imagine - Jasmine was very friendly but perhaps a better 'guard dog' than Mister! The village is also renowned for the quality of its food so naturally we took advantage - even to the extent of fish and chips at the local waterfront chippie.
Our first day there turned out to be excellent. On the way in the previous day we'd stopped off at the local golf club and made arrangements for a game. We had to make sure that our casual attire was acceptanle and, as we no longer have clubs at our disposal, ensure that we could hire clubs. Well, the locals couldn't have been more helpful because, although all the available sets of clubs had been pre-booked, local members agreed to let us use their spare sets. We'd a magical game considering we hadn't played for a while and with strange clubs. The course was superb - and probably overall in terms of course qualityand views, the best we've played on our travels. The general scenery reminded us so much of the best of Perthshire and, like Scotland, the sun shone constantly. We managed 18 holes and M only lost two balls - very unusual for her. But even more unusual, E didn't lose one ball - typical when they weren't even his!!
With the weather continuing to be fine we drove up one of the inland roads to the summit of the ridge and stopped for a hike through the native forest to a point where there were excellent 360 degree views. Legs were a wee bit tired that night. Next day was a chance to take to the water. M had wanted to swim with dolphins and this was an opportunity to swim with the unique Hector's dolphins which are found only in this area. Luckily the weather was fine and warm although a cold southerly was expected. After getting kitted out in wetsuits and rubber shoes to keep us warm and buoyant, we set off in the catamaran with great hopes of finding some dolphins to swim with. The first pod we came across weren't very interested in playing with us (probably more interested in feeding), but then we were lucky enough to come across a large pod of about a dozen dolphins who were up for a game or two - a really fantastic experience!! With a good chunk of the afternoon left we put on our walking shoes and headed up the hill to Purple Peak. Pechin' our way up the steep track were pleased to hear a Scottish accent approaching. Happy to stop for a breather we got talking. Turned out that the Scottish chap, David Ley, had been research his ancestry and found it came from Angus and the Montose area. However even more interestingly, because M's paternal grannie was a Ley (according to the family) also from the Montrose area, David and M thought they were related. David had some interesting stories from his genealogy research and we're hoping to follow these up. Amazing who you meet in out of the way places. Refreshed, we headed up the unrelenting hill path to enjoy the sounds and smells of wildlife and wonderful views of the hills and water.
E M xxx