Day 17 – Geraldine to Akaroa, Banks Peninsula

I’m currently sitting in an idyllic setting up a hill with my back doors wide open and a distant view of Akaroa harbour twinkling in azure splendour down the hill, the houses and shops mere dots. Of course, there are a few obstructions to my view, like a large caravan with the prime spot, but I can see around it. Here it is:

Akaroa from van

Back to the start of the day – a foggy morning in Geraldine, and the promise of rain according to the forecast, so my hopes weren’t high. I set off from an almost empty campsite, picked up some items from the supermarket, got diesel, and pointed Alfie north and then west. I decided, since it wasn’t that far to Christchurch, to do the inland scenic route that took in the mountains of the Southern Alps over to the west, even if there were long straights most of the way. It was better than the main route north with all the trucks and traffic. It was actually quite scenic and I was heartened to see the snow-capped peaks again. I passed Mount Hutt somewhere amongst it all.

Still the sun shone and there was no sign of rain. . . Or cloud. I was still undecided about whether to go above Christchurch to a small campsite on the beach, or go south and east out on the Banks Peninsula – another 1 hour drive on tight bends to get to Akaroa. So I let Apple Maps guide me north anyway, and thought I’d make my mind up gradually. Those luscious mountains got closer and the signage for Mt Hutt grew more regular, until I rounded a curve and found I was heading into a gully: the Rakaia Gorge! A sweeping vista opened up, a deep plunge into the gorge where a brilliantly blue river flowed in rivulets and then broad expanse down through the gap. Of course, being a driver, I had nowhere to stop except a brief and desperate moment when I held my iphone and clicked and hoped.

Rakaia Gorge

Getting back in the van (again!) I drove down the hill to a viewpoint and took more shots, and then down in to the valley itself and over the bridge. One of the noticeboards explained that the colour of the water is so blue because ‘fine particles of rock ground down by glaciers remain suspended in the water, instead of settling as the river flows down from the southern alps. This ‘rock flour’ reflects the sunlight giving the river its spectacular turquoise blue colour’. In a picnic area just beyond the bridge, I stopped and made myself coffee and lunch. A real treat in a camper van.

After that thrill the van had to be pointed towards Christchurch, and so I watched the mountains receded in my rearview mirror again. At one point I stopped for a final round of photos: blossoms, a cenotaph, the distant hills.

Now I made my decision – the day was so good that I could not go past Akaroa without staying there. It meant that I would be slightly doubling back as I crossed country eastwards, but it was only an hour away. Long straights and many stop signs as I crossed major thoroughfares heading in to the third largest city. At last I was in the rural lanes of Banks Peninsula, and enjoying the blossom trees and nearness of the sea. Then there were about 10 kms of tight hairpin bends up and over the top, facing down in to a magnificent harbour, glistening in rich colours from where I gazed. This is all I could get from the top through my windscreen.

Further down there was a brief siding I pulled in to and took more. It proved so worth it to come out here.

More winding road down to sea level and suddenly I was there, and hugging the coastline around to Akaroa, another 10kms away. Before I got to the township, I saw the Top 10 Holiday Park signage, and turned in to the office to get my site booked. Then I continued on down to the township and parked the van. Talk about a wee touch of the continental in this part of New Zealand – it was balmy and sunny with a palm tree or three, and a really holiday feel to the atmosphere. I did a brief bit of shopping and browsing, visited the rest rooms, walked out along the pier, and then wandered in to the fish and chip shop and ordered an early dinner of blue cod and chips and salad.

The seagulls were lining up as I sat down on a park bench, so I folded things up and went back to the van. I drove to another part of town by the water and in the comfort of my own ‘dining room’ ate my early dinner in peace.

I was disappointed that the Giant’s Garden was not open – it is a cornucopia of tile marvels made by an artist who has lived here for decades. I saw it years ago when I first came. Sadly, it has a limited opening hours of 11am to 2pm, so I missed out today. I took photos of some of this small French Settlement’s old villas with their blossom trees in full bloom as I rolled down the hill again.

I am now settled at my powered site, with my back facing out over the distant view, and still enjoying the atmosphere up here as well. Lots of other people around who are here for a longer haul than me. I’ve had my cuppa, chatted to my brother, who is a great advisor for my ongoing trip, and planned my day tomorrow and the next. What will they hold?

Evening over Akaroa from holiday park

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