The Banks Penninsula, New Zealand
These thoughts often come to me when I feel the globe of the Earth beneath my feet, in my mind's eye can see exactly where I am on a map and realize I am just tucked away in this tiny place on this awesomely huge planet. The next thought that follows is usually: "If I'm ever on the run from the law, this is where I will come."
New Zealand is full of these places and sadly if I ever do rob a bank (to pay off my fashion debt, no doubt), I guess I won't be hard to find since I am posting this.
Anyway, I digress. The Banks Penninsula on New Zealand's South Island is one of those places.
The Banks Penninsula sticks out like a spiral from the nearby city of Christchurch, formed eons ago by two volcanic outbursts. It is a gorgeous, stunning and hilly place, accesible by winding roads amidst farms, forests and flowing fields of velvet tussock grass. Punctuating these undulating mounds are many vibrantly blue bays, creating the perfect marriage of land and sea.
The main town in the area is Akaroa, which is a little bit of France squeezed into the volcanic bay. The French had their eye on New Zealand and hope to colonize it like they did to many South Pacific islands but the British beat them to it first. For this I am grateful... part of New Zealand's charm is it's affable British culture and linguistic ease. However, the French still managed to walk away - sorta - with Akaroa. The town was settled by the French and to this day still bears street names in the language, such as Rue Brittan and Rue Jolie. The town is speckled with wonderful historic buildings and many cafes dot the blindingly azure waters of Akaroa Harbour.
Where to stay:
I stayed at the glorious Le Bons Bay Backpackers. This splendid jewel is perched on the spine of a volcanic finger and overlooks the remote and scenic Le Bons Bay.
Views of the valley aside, this place is well worth the effort to get to (they will pick you up when you arrange ahead of time but the local taxi is also a lot of fun). You can choose to stay in the gorgeous farmhouse or you can have your own quaint cabin to yourself.
My cabin at Le Bons Bay Backpackers
Every night for a minimal fee, you can take part in the home-cooked meal that the hostel provides - this is wholly recommended as it is fresh, organic and so damn tasty. You all sit around the table too, like a family and it's the perfect way to get to know your fellow travellers. Make sure to bring wine too, though generosity also flows at this place.
Because you are in a very remote area with no access to town, you are (wonderfully) limited with activities. Take advantage of this and read all the books in the library or hang out among the wild grounds.
Reading in one of their many special places
Or go for a walk up nearby roads and soak up the pastoral goodness around you.
Fields of Gold
One of the best things to do, however, is to sign up for their daily wildlife tour. It costs a mere $35 and the owner takes a handful of people down to Le Bons Bay for a boat tour - putting the boat in the water by tractor, the true Kiwi way.
The trip is amazing...you glide past high craggy cliffs filled with nesting/resting birds and sea lions and then go out to the mouth of the harbour where the wild waves from the South Pacific rush up against the boat. Admist all this turmoil, more times than not, you will see pods of hectors dolphins playing amongst you. Hector's dolphins are endemic to the coastal regions of New Zealand and among the world's smallest. Too cute! Some places in Akaroa actually take you out to swim with these playful pals.
Tractor + Boat
Sea lion resting
Can you see it?
I have found memories of being out in the boat and feeling the power of the swells coming in, thinking: "There is nothing but ocean between here and Chile" - it was a very profound feeling, punctuated later that night when I saw the lights from a deep-sea shrimp boat bobbing out at sea, a muted shine in the inky blackness of the night sea and sky. I've never felt so remote, like I was literally *this* close to falling off the face of the planet.
How to get there:
Whether you take a car or a bus from Christchurch (www.akaroashuttle.co.nz), the drive along Summit Rd, the lip of the orginal volanic crater, will be one of the highlights of your trip!