Crater Rim and Quail Island

Yesterday I hooked up with two lovely folks from Britain — Anna and Dan, who are going around the world (!) and are currently in New Zealand for two months. They’ve already been through Russia, China, Thailand, Nepal etc — they’ve been on the road for over a year. We met at the hostel in Lyttleton, as we took advantage of the fantastic kitchen facilities to cook up lovely food for ourselves. I’d spent the whole day hiking up the Port Hills, taking various tracks to walk out to Godley Head and down to Sumner, and was famished. I bought some groceries and returned to the hostel to make dinner.

Nothing brings strangers together better than a nice meal — we had a great time, talking and discussing things that we hope to see. Turned out we all wanted to head from Lyttleton to Akaroa. I was figuring out bus options, but they had just bought a car, so I went with them. We left via the rim of an ancient volcano that created the Port Hills about 12 million years ago. The Lyttleton Harbor itself is the ancient “center” of the crator, open to the sea. As we packed the car, I watched the Nathaniel B. Palmer pump black smoke from her stacks, then it started moving: within moments it had reversed engines and was turning to leave the dock yard. A few minutes later, driving up to the Summit Road, we stopped and I got some lovely photographs of the NBP as it headed through the neck of the harbor, heading for the open sea and, eventually, Antarctica.

In the center of the Lyttleton harbor, visible from every direction, was Quail Island, where Shackleton and Scott quarantined dogs and trained ponies while they outfitted their ships for Antarctica. The island is historic now, and parts of the ruined buildings are still visible.

After a terrific drive along the rim of the Lyttleton volcanic formation, we dipped briefly into the plains, detoured south around some hills, and popped back into the volcanic remains of the larger Akaroa volcano, which overflowed above part of the Lyttleton formation. The Summit Road continues here, wrapping around sheer S-curves and unprotected hairpins with scenic drops in all directions! Glad there was an opportunity to see it with Anna and Dan (the bus does not take the scenic highway, but hugs the valley instead).


The crator of Akaroa is long gone – it blew itself away, and the sea rushed in. Now the water is impossibly blue, the color of that blue-green crayon in the box that never seemed quite right for colouring anything, unreal. Suddenly I know what that color was for: a long sea-green harbor full of dolphins.

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Akaroa Hiking Banks Peninsula

We are staying at an eclectic hostel near Akaroa, which is perched high up on a tangle of tropically vegetated ridges, which drop down sheer ridges to the sea. The hostel is located on a goat farm, and was built, over the last several decades, by the father of the current owner. One brother runs the sheep farm, and one runs the hostel. The hostel buildings include outdoor showers cobbled together from scraps of old wood and corrugated tin, with old showers installed inside, and artsy combinations of old sinks, old mirrors, etc. There are outdoor and indoor kitchens, on a breezy patio, with lots of travelers to chat with (if one speaks German). The hostel main building is the old farm house; there are also cheaper bunks in strange huts built on the hill behind the hostel — unheated bunkhouses shared by multiple folks, with their own shared kitchen building, and sites carved out of the hill for tents. Because Dan and Anna already had a place reserved, I am lucky enough to be sharing it with them — we have a brick cottage, built approx 1850, very rustic and tidy. Onuki Farm Hostel also rents out “skygazer” shelters, tentlike spaces with roofs of corrugated plexi. Remarkably, given the strange hodge-podge of buildings, the whole thing is neat as a pin. The vines grow in under the roof of our cottage, and I feel I am sleeping outdoors!

Onuki Farm Hostel:  Brick Cottage

I went for a long hike today, along a ridge overlooking the harbor, and sketched from a stone with a terrific lookout view of the length of the harbor, an historic lookout which was used by Maori and then by the French settlers of Akaroa. The hills are deforested here… but there are great weathered stumps.


Weathered wood

Tomorrow we are going to go kayaking in the morning with dolphins (I saw them from the lookout today) — then I am heading north. Actually, Dan and Anna are also heading north, so we may travel together for a couple more days. I will let them decide. Otherwise, my plan was to catch the TranScenic train up the East Coast. Serendipity will toss a coin!

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