Sunday, February 14, 2016

NZ Roadtrip Akaroa: cat, dog and dolphin (not)

There was a 5.7 earthquake in Christchurch today, at lunchtime. It collapsed, fairly dramatically, part of the cliffs at Sumner, and no doubt opened up a lot of cracks around the city. Did we feel it? No, to the Poms' disappointment: we were in the car, and never noticed - though they did at Akaroa, where things fell off shelves. I was just quite glad we weren't in the gondola hanging off the Port Hills - or facing a tsunami along the Avon, in our punt.

Akaroa, on the other side of Banks Peninsula, was founded by Captain Jean Langlois, who missed out claiming the rest of the country for France by a matter of months. Ever since then, the settlement has clung to its Frenchness, which is now of course a wonderful tourism advantage, on top of its prime position alongside a sheltered harbour in a drowned volcanic crater. It's a pretty place, the streets all named Rue this and that, the buildings cute, the Tricouleur flying on the seafront, and an eager Town Crier in a tricorn hat called Steve Leli
èvre, who genuinely is of French descent - and whose ancestor, François, was the man who planted the cutting that Christchurch's willows are descended from.
As you would expect, food is of great importance, and our lunchtime cheese platter on the pavement in the sun was beautifully presented (by a French waiter), with pork belly, potato salad and toasted sunflower bread. We couldn't linger too long though: we had dolphins to find. Akaroa is home to the world's smallest and rarest dolphin, Hector's dolphin, which is cute and easily identified by its Mickey Mouse-shaped dorsal fin. 
We set off in Akaroa Dolphin's little catamaran, with dolphin-spotting dog Hector on board, togged up in his life-jacket (with its spoilsport Do Not Feed label). Apparently he is the real deal, and we were looking forward to seeing him do his thing - but, sadly, the dolphins were a no-show today, possibly because of the earthquake, since they had been seen that morning. (So, don't tell the others, it was just as well I've been up close to them in the Catlins.) But it wasn't a disaster: it was a lovely day, we saw fur seals and fairy penguins instead, impressive cliffs and salmon farms, went outside the heads, heard history and geology, and had a glass of wine. And afterwards, I even persuaded the Poms to eat fish and chips by the sea as the sun began to set: so, win!

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