Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Have Camper Van, must Travel, Portobello to Akorora, Banks Peninsula

The next morning we took time to explore the Otago Peninsula, driving to Taiaroa Head to see the Albatross Colony fortifications at the extreme tip of the peninsula.

The road ended at Penguin Beach on farmland owned by the Reid family who manage and run a conservation effort called Nature's Wonders. Here, the world's rarest penguins, yellow-eyed or Hoiho penguins, (Maori for “Noise-Shouter”) and little blue penguins live in harmony with New Zealand fur seals, sea lions and a vast variety of birds.

“Fur seals look like old Russian men in big hats” I said to Graham.

“Well,” Graham replied, “better not mess with these old Russian men, take a look at their rows of sharp teeth!”

I laughed, “Better not try drinking their vodka, or eating their smoked fish, I guess.”

On our return to the main land, we stopped at one of the many artist's craft studios, “Happy Hens” to see Yvonne Sutherland's ceramic hens. Absolutely delightful, they are based on traditional poultry breeds once kept by the pioneering women on the island. They are a well established part of New Zealand folk art and are exported all over the world.

I wanted to buy one so badly, but was reminded by Graham that I would have to carry it all the way back to South Africa, so I left with a brochure and a promise to myself that one day I'd return, live in South Island and have a house full of the bright chooks!

On the side of the road we saw “Fletcher House”, a restored Victorian villa from around 1909. As we are fortunate to have a number of similar houses in Cape Town, we did not bother to stop, but turned down Castelwood Road to take a look at Lanarch Castle.

This is New Zealand's only castle, built in 1871, standing regally in its well manicured gardens. It's walls holding the secrets of tragic and scandalous tales from long ago.

As we discovered there was an entrance fee into the Castle and the grounds, we moved on towards Port Chalmers on Route 1, heading up the east coast.

The views over Otago's harbour and the landscape were amazing and Port Chalmer's appeared to boast many artist's studios, boutiques and galleries. Many of them housed in the port's original buildings.

“We'll earmark this place, and come back sometime,” Graham promised.

He knew I was longing to stop and mooch around, but was also aware if I had my way, we would never reach our evening destination, Akorora.

“Did you know that this was the birthplace of New Zealand's modern export trade?” I asked, “In 1882, the Island's first cargo of frozen meat left and arrived 98 days later in Great Britain, still frozen. Since then the Kiwi's have been known as very good frozen meat exporters.”

Graham looked across at me, “Good old New Zealand lamb!”

We travelled through Palmerston, Hampden, Herbert, and Maheno, before reaching Oamaru where we parked and had a cup of coffee before setting off to walk on the beach and have a look at the unusual round rocks on the shore.

Known as the Moeraki Boulders, they look as if giants have been playing a game of bowls on the smooth white sands of the beach. A few of them are shattered and the molten centres are exposed.

“Perhaps aliens arrived here, laid eggs and their offspring hatched?” I suggested to Graham.

Actually...they are a collection of fifty round concretions scattered along Koekohe Beach and are among the world's largest concretions at a whopping 7 tons and 8 feet in diameter.”

He explained as he stroked the surface of one of them.

These lumps of sediment took 4 million years to grow and are bound together by a mineral cement. They started forming in a mud stone about 60 million years ago and were later lifted out of the sea and became part of the cliff line. Centuries of coastline erosion released them from the cliffs and then they rolled down to the beach.”

Smarty-pants,” I said, thinking my version was far more romantic...

As we had spent more time than we had planned on the beach, we decided to drive through Timaru, Ashburton and on to Rolleston where we tuned off on to Route 75, past Lake Ellesmere and over the steep, windy roads of Banks Peninsular, arriving late evening to the sun setting over Akaroa Harbour where we found Duvauchelle Holiday park which is beautifully situated on the water's edge on Seafield Road at the head of the harbour.

Much to our surprise the camp manager and his wife were originally from South Africa, so we spent extra time chatting to him about the surrounds and what to see.

We learnt that Captain Cook arrived in Akaroa Harbour in the 1770's, but before him, the Ngai Tahu tribe well before he and his crew ever set site on the place and that it was one of the only places colonised by French speaking natives.

More time to look around tomorrow,” Graham said, “right now, lets start the fire and have a barb-q, I'm starving!”

Don't forget the wine,” I suggested as I took the New Zealand lamb chops out of the marinade they had been soaking in.

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