Dumpty and I are sitting on a warm smooth wooden picnic bench. My eyes are constantly squinting from the sun rays peaking through the trees right besides us. I am trying to take in as much as possible of the green blue sea facing me before we drive back to Christchurch. The bay is littered with white sail boats. In fact there are as many boats as there are people on the beach. It’s hard to believe that this moment is more tranquil than the garden coffee shop we just came from. The garden coffee shop was bursting with white, pink and red flowers and sparrows were chirping like crazy, as if they were in a noise competition with cars. We were in Akaroa–a small French town nestled in a peninsula on the eastern border of South Island.
Pics of Akaroa
It took is a little over an hour to get here from Christchurch and well worth it. Christchurch was a depressing city. Upon checking into our hotel, I asked the receptionist about Wi-Fi. She promptly responded that like everything else after the earthquake, nothing worked properly, including the internet. I must have looked at her for a second too long because then she went on to tell us about the devastating aftermath of the earthquake.
More pics of Moeraki Boulders
“You should have come before earthquake. Christchurch was really something back then. You could have seen it at its full glory. Now it just looks like a war zone. I lost six friends. Dear friends. I can’t drive into town with having a tightness in my chest even now,” she said and paused. She looked teary eyed and I dared not ask another question. “Well! Have a great time in Christchurch! Let me know if you need anything”, she said. It sounded rehearsed and weird after seeing her near-meltdown a second before.
Walking around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens , passing the castle-like Christ’s College and the various glass buildings such as the Christchurch Art Gallery (which, BTW, is still closed) painted a beautiful city image, however it was marred with sectioned-off construction sites and bulldozers at every turn. Even though the earthquake was over a year ago, Christchurch had thousands of aftershocks. It was impossible to build new structures when they kept falling down.
Pics of Christchurch
However the coolest part about Christchurch was visiting the container mall . Huge shipping containers were piled on top of each other and expertly remodeled into chic stores. There were coffee shops, electronic stores, gift shops, designer clothes, etc. The container stores in Cashel Mall looked like a success–at least something was going right! Christchurch will not have a sad ending. According to locals we spoke with, people, especially the younger generation, became more generous and compassionate as a result of the earthquake. Everyone was lending a hand to help one another. The city will heal–it just needs time.
So the following day Dumpty and I decided to leave Christchurch behind to do a day trip in Akaroa, which was part of Banks Peninsula. The peninsula was formed by three volcanoes and the craters left by the eruptions created numerous small bays. This area was first inhabited by the Maori of course. In 1838, Jean Lanlois, Captain of the French whaling ship, fell in love with the place. He negotiated with a local Maori chief to buy the Banks Peninsula. After the deal was made, he sailed back to France and organized for 57 emigrants to leave on the Compte de Paris ship to start a new life in New Zealand. Unfortunately by the time he came back, the Banks Peninsula was signed off to the British colony as part of the Treaty of Waitangi. The banks were officially under English rule, however the inhabitants still settled down here and gave Akaroa the French flair. You can see the influences in the name of streets and shops, and in the architecture of the older homes and public monuments.
I can not say enough good things about Akaroa. It’s a fresh cool breeze on a hot summer day. Imagine boutique cafes and restaurants hidden behind fully fragrant rose bushes. People walking barefoot on the streets. Fresh homemade fudge or little art crafts store on every corner. And best of all, the friendly smiles on everyone’s lips. I don’t know if we will ever come back to Akaroa again, but I am taking home the sweet memories with me.
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