Earthquakes, Banks Peninsula, chocolate, penguins, dolphins…

Okay, this is a long post, but our first since we left Karamea in mid-October! And we spent two months, from mid-October, in the Banks Peninsula area (located just south of Christchurch. It’s an area that was hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and while every where we went was stunningly beautiful we also found evidence of the destruction the earthquake had caused and the rebuilding that continues to this day. 

unknown-1Banks Peninsula is an area of mountains, hills and turquoise blue bays approximately 1,150 square kilometres (440 sq mi) where towns are built in old volcanoes and on their eruptions. The closest bay to Christchurch is Lyttleton,  just a 20-minute drive from Christchurch while Wainui and Akaroa are an hour and 20 minutes away. If you’re like us you’ll appreciate the Banks Peninsula for its walks, drives and stunning beauty.

Bay 1. Wainui and our own earthquake experience

You certainly don’t come to Wainui for the nightlife – there are no stores, bars or entertainment. A house/pet sit brought us to this lovely, calm place in the hills with gorgeous views of the bay where we learned to hula hoop, make water and milk kefir, and practiced our focaccia making skills for a month to look after Nina the owners little poodle and their property. Taking care of Nina meant long walks in the hills and down the long road to retrieve the mail or at times all the way down to the beach. One of the highlights of being here was the salmon that would be delivered in a small fishing vessel from the local fish farm just down the main road – we went there at least 3 times to buy whole fish for dinner. Well each of them lasted a whole bunch of dinners, lunches and snacks. Wainui is a warm memory in our hearts and minds.

Wainui is about 100 miles away from Kaikoura where the earthquake hit. We were asleep and I woke up to the ground moving and rumbling. Immediately my mind scanned my surroundings and recognized that we were in a wooden cabin so it’s structure had some flexibility, that there was really nothing above us that could harm us, that the trees around would probably be okay and that the gas was already turned off. In the meantime, Blane woke mumbling saying “It’s only the reindeer” – the earthquake had woken him from a dream about a herd of reindeer! We decided to stay put and spent the rest of the night alternately sleeping and waking up from aftershocks. The rumbling and shaking of the aftershocks went on for about a week. I’ve heard people who have experienced earthquakes say they were humbled by the power of mother nature and power it is. Coming from below, the movement, the sound, the largeness of it all, the smallness of our part in the scheme of things is striking. 

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Bay 2: Robinson Bay

Located on the half-hour ride between Wainui and Akaroa, Robinson Bay is just beautiful.

Bay 3: Diamond Harbour Bay

Diamond Bay is a 10-minute ferry ride across from Lyttelton. It’s name is said to come from the sparkling waters that shine like diamonds. (Click the images below to enlarge)

Bay 4 & 5: Okains Bay & Little Akaloa Bay 

Neither of these bays called us to spend a lot of time in them. Little Akaloa Bay was a small bay and Little Akaloa has a busy campground next to the bay so liking solitude as we do, it wasn’t our favorite, particularly since it was filled with school-age kids camping seemingly on school outings, hanging around in groups, chatting, laughing. That being said, the energy was great and I wished I had been there as a school kid!

However, the drive to get to them on the summit road and then between the two was nothing short of spectacular!

The highlight too is for those interested in Maori culture – the amazing museum just up the road from Okains bay. It consists of a number of buildings tucked into the hills that contain a really extraordinary collection of artifacts. We took so many photos and just chose the ones we felt we just couldn’t keep out in this slide show.

and another slide show of those stunning views across the street from the museum and on that drive.

Bay 6: Le Bons Bay

Le Bons Bay we did on a whole other day and felt a special affinity for it, walking along the shore and the river that fed into it. (Click the images below to enlarge)

Bay 7: Governors Bay & She Universe Chocolate

Just a little ways down the road from Lyttelton is Governors Bay which we didn’t visit for the views but for this place: She Universe is renown for the chocolate they make and sell all over New Zealand. They also have a beautiful deck, gardens with mosaics and a restaurant – all with decor that appeals to our particular taste. The ‘Prayer for Standing Rock‘ sign greeted us at the counter and we were reminded that we’re in a special time in history, when local matters are global, when pain, care and compassion is felt around the world. Being on a budget, we didn’t eat out much in New Zealand but we made an exception and had dinner here. We were glad we did because it was a truly fabulous meal. In the slide show you’ll see our meal including cocoa husk tea (delicious) and the best carrot cake we’ve ever had!

Bay 8: Akaroa

The cruise ships that used to stop at Lyttelton have been coming to this town since it’s dock was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake so every now and then the towns numbers swell. Akaroa was founded by the British and the French so it has a certain french flair, with some signage and road names in french, french flags waving around town and a french bakery.  Akaroa is the only other town other than Lyttelton that has restaurants and is the only bay to have a movie theatre (owned and run by Dave, a cool guy who predicted the 7.5.earthquake that happened the next day in Kaikoura). We spent two weeks in Akaroa at Mt. Vernon Lodge doing a Workaway helping the owners Dave and Amanda make beds, weeding and staining part of their house and fences. We worked between 2.5 and 4 hours a day and in return we had a lovely cabin with it’s own bathroom, kitchen and a deck with gorgeous views, a stipend for food, a barbecue cooked by Dave and tickets to a great harbor tour (Akaroa Dolphins) where we saw dolphins, penguins and seals. 

If you’ve never seen a salmon farm here’s one in Akaroa bay:

Korora, or white-flippered blue penguins at about 30cm tall are amongst the smallest in the world!

Hectors dolphins are endemic to New Zealand, meaning they cannot be found any where else in the world! Akaroa is the only place you can take a trip out to see them and we were lucky enough to have a really good day of sitings. 

Akaroa Dolphin Cruise, a two-hour trip out into the bay. Gorgeous!

Akaroa (Click the images below to enlarge):

slide show from Mt. Vernon Lodge. For video see our Youtube station

9: Lyttelton

After our housesit in Karamea we had booked ourselves into an Airbnb in this town for a few days over my birthday. Lyttelton won our vote for the best farmers market in the bays and the coolest places to hang out in. Our main hangouts were The Shroom Room (great people working there, awesome food including the best nachos and good indoor and outdoor seating), Lyttelton Coffee Company (best breakfast – no decaf coffee), Civil & Naval (open after other hangouts close) and the Oxford Street Art Gallery. You can read an article about the earthquake from the owner of Lyttelton Coffee Company here. It also has a health food store, the Harbour Co-op which actually came into town after the earthquake.

Its easy to understand why this town was more heavily effected by the 2011 earthquake than the other bays – the mountains that surround it are higher, closer and more precarious in structure. At the time of writing, at the end of 2016, the Bell Tower, the dock, a road and numerous buildings are still non-existent or non-functioning and large photographs memorializing the buildings and business that are gone can be seen all around town. The damage was so bad that the cruise ships that docked in Lyttelton switched to Akaroa instead. On the other hand, evidence of rebuilding is everywhere with scaffolding and construction sites on business and houses. This may not sound like it would make for an appealing place to spend a few days but it actually is. We stayed 5 nights spending much of our time with our art journals, kindles and tea in hand.

Farmer’s Market entertainment with random audience member dancing

Lyttelton Town

Earthquake damage

Farmer’s Market

Littleton Coffee Company

The Shroom Room

The view from the hills above Lyttelton

And that’s it! We’re currently in Wellington and will hopefully put out that blog in a couple of weeks.


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Categories: NEW ZEALAND, TRAVEL BLOG

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