Akaroa. This was far and away our favorite port in New Zealand!! Elliott had gone to the port lecture without me and had learned all about this place, and had even filled me in on what he learned, but he left out the fact that it is even the port lecturer’s favorite port on the cruise. What an endorsement! Perhaps it was better I didn’t know, because I was able to decide for myself.
We caught the very first tender, and we both liked Akaroa immediately. Even as we were taking the tender in, Elliott was comparing it to our memories of Scotland with all the rolling hills and green grass and sheep. Akaroa is small, quiet, quaint, very green, and surrounded by mountains. We booked a tour for the afternoon, and decided to use our morning to visit the main street in town, take some walking trails, and visit the lighthouse.
The lighthouse had been closed since the 2011 earthquake that caused so much damage in Christchurch, and our port lecturer told us it was still closed. Not only was it open; there was a sweet older volunteer couple in there who gave us tons of information and a very personalized tour! They showed us photos, told us about the town (made up of mostly retirees, which I had surmised), the history of the lighthouse, and the people who lobbied and volunteered to move the lighthouse. They didn’t want the lighthouse to be pushed into the sea when it was deemed no longer useful. It was actually cut into three pieces for the move, and transported by truck, one piece at a time! All by volunteers who loved it.
We climbed up and the man told us all the details of how it works, and showed Elliott how to “wind it up.” We went up top and took in all the gorgeous views of the town and the water. On our way down the woman said something about *us* winding it, so we went back up, and sure enough the man let us each have a turn winding it up. Awesome! I never wound a lighthouse before.
We continued walking up hill to the HMS Britomart Monument. It’s where the British landed and beat the French to a claim on Zealand, by only six days! We looked up in the hills all around us, and smiled when we saw they were dotted with sheep.
We kept walking, following our map, and came to a cemetery. We spent lots of time there, checking out the gravestones, reading the many messages written on them. So many said things like, “Sadly missed.” I noted how it’s kind of odd that I don’t feel particularly close to my own loved ones when I’m in the places where they are buried, yet I enjoy visiting other cemeteries. We agreed we like to do so because we like to think the people buried there aren’t being forgotten, but remembered and acknowledged, even if by strangers.
We continued our walk along a back road paralleling the bay, and came to the Garden of Tane. There was a kid swing and an adult swing, so of course we had to take turns playing on the adult swing. I couldn’t fit in the kid swing 😉 We kept hiking back through the garden, and wanted to keep going on the trails, but we ran into a couple coming the other way who warned of a very muddy path ahead. We tried it anyway, and soon found that they were correct in their assessment, so we turned around.
The afternoon tour was awesome. First they drove us up, up up, stopping every so often to let us take photographs from the viewpoints. Oh my god it was so beautiful up there! And the girl who led the tour, Avril, was great about taking photos with us in them wherever and whenever we wanted. Once we climbed to the highest point in the area, we were able to see the not only the island around us, but all the way to the Southern Alps! The Alps were far away and we could see in the distance they had snow on them, but what surprised me was the little bit of melting snow on the tip of the mountain we were on!
We got back in the car and climbed down the other side of the mountain, into beautiful valleys. At one point we saw a seal. We headed to the sheep farm, where they let us hold and even feed the baby sheep. How freakin’ adorable! I wanted to hold and cuddle that sheep all day. And what is that stupid saying about the black sheep of the family? The black sheep was so darned cute, I’d want to be him any day! We then walked around the farm and checked out some penguins. Penguin preservation is very important in Akaroa, so conservationists there create artificial habitats for the penguins to live and nest in, and the penguins like it. Avril was very respectful to the penguins, only opening their box lids for five seconds at a time to let us peak in and take non-flash photos. Before we knew it, our tour was ending and we were headed back to the pier.