We arrived to our hilltop cottage, and enjoyed the excitement of arriving, unpacking and getting to know our surroundings. The view as astonishing. The house is down a shingle road, off the summit road - which is very high and concerning for those who suffer vertigo. Lots of sheep and deer in the paddocks that surrounded us.
Directly below us was Barry's Bay, and Duvauchelle (which I nicknamed Douche-bag-ville coz I had trouble with the pronunciation). Through the binoculars we found at the cottage, you can see Robinsons Bay but not Takamatua. And as for viewing Akaroa - our retreat could only see the lighthouse end of town, which in essence was bait for us to 'just go there'.
We headed down the steep gravel road, onto the main road into Akaroa. Checked the place out. I had not been before, whereas Lara had. Yes, Akaroa was a French settlement in 1840, known then as Port Louis-Philipe - but the English proclaimed British sovereignty over the South Island at Akaroa that same year, and 'long harbour' Akaroa was established.
The french influence still remains today, as I noted the names of shops, and street signs. Rue Lavaud is the main road through Akaroa, and Rue Jolie a parallel street closer to the water. Interestingly, as one moves further through Akaroa, Rue Lavaud becomes the coast road for a bit, then veers off to the left and becomes Rue Jolie. Rue Lavaud just ceases to exist. The French worked in straight lines when designing these streets, and if you were to consider connecting each part of Rue Jolie, the road would run underwater.
We wandered the streets, picked up flyers and admired the small retirement town (which is home to around 600 people - 31% are over 65 years). Despite this, the summer period blows the population to around 7000, and the cafes and restaurants come to life.
Upon visiting the little township, we quickly found the info centre, and everything pointed to us taking a tour on the water and seeing rare Hector Dolphins. ~ side thought - its a bit odd to promote the rarity of it, when there are chartered tours that visit them everyday!? ~
We decided not to take the tour - in order to give us something to do next time we visit Akaroa. Instead we opted to drive and cycle around the township, checking out some of the walkways up the back of Akaroa. Some of these are quite steep, but worth the effort. We had lunch and a lovely Monteith's Beer at one of the waterfront bars afterward.
We also took the time to drive around the Summit Road, and visit some of the greater Banks Peninsula beaches, starting with Little Akaloa. It was quite tucked away and looked like a perfect place to take the family - especially if you really want a quiet, secluded and fairly rugged retreat.
Further around, we found Okains Bay, which is divine! The very large sandy beach is tucked inside the geography, resembling giant cat paws. Perfect for jetskiing, swimming and there are walks and even a cave to explore! There are campsites, a historic Maori Museum, and very small gas station which services the year round population of about 1100, most of whom are in fisheries or agriculture.
We left off a visit to Paua Bay, and Le Bons Bay. I toyed in my head wondering if there would be any locals in Le Bons Bay who owned a yacht, called it "Drum" and every new years eve, puts on a white suit, takes the boat out and anchors, puts on a record of Duran Duran's "Rio", pours a glass of champers, singing "Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand, just like that river twists across a dusty land" glamming their way into a new year, in a bay that time forgot.
The only other place we visited was Barry's Bay, and Wainui. On our way there, we stopped into French Farm. It's a restaurant and winery. We sampled a few of their wines, and walked away with a $22 bottle of Akaroa Harbour Merlot 2004. It was very happy to sit on our lips, and was a divine bottle. Its now one of my favourite wines, on Facebook.
Wainui was PACKED! I have no idea why, but perhaps its the rebel beach. It is directly across the water from that "fancy French settlement". Looking around, the place was packed with petrolheads on jetskis, people swimming, others on the beach with music blasting. It was packed and really felt like Whangamata in summer. We promptly left after seeing a car pacing up and down the road, with two young chaps in the front, and another few getting towed on the back with drinks in hand. That, and noticing an ambulance parked waiting for a disaster to happen.
We dropped into Barry's Bay Cheese - a local delight. There are cheesemaking demonstrations, tastings, and you can purchase the locally made cheese... which we did. We headed to the Duvauchelle store to pick up some breads and other things, and noticed bottles of the same Akaroa Harbour Merlot 2004, $10 cheaper than at the winery! Bugger!
We enjoyed some time in the Akaroa cinema as well. We caught a fabulous Irish film called "Once". Misfits and music... just wonderful.