Akaroa is a township and little harbour on the Banks Peninsula. When you look at a map of New Zealand’s South Island it’s a little nib jutting out into an otherwise straight-edged coast. The name Akaroa means ‘Long Harbour’. The peninsula, first thought to be an island by Captain Cook, is named after the famous botanist Joseph Banks who sailed with Cook on the Endeavour.

Banks Peninsula

Banks Peninsula

The village is an easy day trip from Christchurch, just over an hour if my memory serves. I went on an organised tour from Christchurch and had a pleasant and relaxing day The coach journey was through the winding roads but the scenery was so good I barely noticed. We visited a famous beachcomber who has collected the flotsam of the entire southern hemisphere by the looks of it, there was also a stop at a famous cheese manufacturer. The most impressive thing the tour guide told us was about the Manuka Honey, this truly is a wonder food of unbelievable power. You can find Manuka Honey in various strengths in most health food shops; it’s expensive for a reason! I befriended a Japanese girl at the coffee stop. After photographing nearly everything I jokingly said that she forgot to take a picture of her cappuccino. She couldn’t believe her error. After a quick snap she showed me all the photos of coffees throughout New Zealand. I have since learnt that this is by no means eccentric behaviour in the Far East. I feel that with the Japanese and Koreans I met, memories aren’t real unless they have been documented by camera. I wish I could take more pictures sometimes, but not as many as some people.

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As we descended down into the protected harbour I was taken back by how pleasant the place was. It seems like a film set devised to lure people from the British Isles to emigrate. I think this is the place people have in their minds when they think of the new life on the other side of the World. The air is crisp and clear in that antipodean way, the only thing to interrupt the serenity is an occasional icy breeze from the Antarctic. Once you have seen the blues of the sky and ocean and the greens of the fields, it’s as if the rest of the world is seen through a veil. Nearly all the buildings of Akaroa are of the colonial wooden panelled variety. This type of architecture can sometimes look a bit tacky and temporary. However, the wooden clap-board houses of Akaroa are impossibly quaint and full of wholesome charm. Like an entire neighbourhood of the Walton family relocated to the South Pacific.

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There is something distinct about Akaroa, it’s not immediately clear but it adds a slightly different hue to the surroundings and makes the place unique. The distinction is one of those fascinating ‘what if?’ stories. Akaroa has been influenced by the French and was very nearly the first step into a possible French colonization of New Zealand. Captain Jean François L’Anglois made a provisional purchase of land in this area. After returning to France he advertised for settlers and ceded his interest in the land to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company. On 9 March 1840, 63 emigrants left from Rochefort, the maritime town in the South West of France. Unfortunately, the Banks Peninsula had already been claimed by the British. Despite this, the French did arrive here, and there is a distinct French influence. The French settlement was known as Port Louis-Philippe, named after the French King. Whether it’s just my mind filling in the gaps I don’t know, but Akaroa has an undertone of a pleasant fishing village in Normandy or on the Atlantic seaboard. This slightly unusual claim to fame makes Akaroa very popular for tourists and I imagine many residents of the Canterbury area have second homes here for summer months.

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Comments
  1. Thanks for a very interesting—and timely—post. I am actually in the middle of reading James Cook’s biography and had just finished reading a section on Joseph Banks.

    • Miike Green says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Can you tell me the biography details? I would be interested in reading it.

      • The book is titled “Farther Than Any Man” by Martin Dugard. Dugard is a fascinating storyteller and I’m sure you’ll find the biography interesting (there are some rather gory facts included in the book).

        By the way I’m finding your blog most fascinating. The photos are a great plus!

      • Miike Green says:

        Thanks for the information. If you’re into naval literature I recommend: Batavia’s Graveyard: The True Story Of The Mad Heretic Who Led History’s Bloodiest Mutiny. It’s about a Dutch vessel that got wrecked on the west coast of Australia. It happened before Australia was properly charted by the Dutch and British.

      • I’ve heard of this book but never got around to reading it. Will have to pick it up sometime when I’m at the library.

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