After a sunny drive down the east coast of the South Island, my partner and I had arrived in New Zealand’s Garden city – Christchurch. On our first full day here, we actually left the city for Akaroa. With the hire car for an extra 24 hours, we wanted to make the most of being able to explore surrounding areas and save our walking feet for the next day.
Akaroa is about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch and famous for being “that French town”. It reminded me of Hahndorf, a tourist spot in South Australia famous for its German vibe. Akaroa sits on a picturesque harbour where you can apparently see dolphins, and definitely lots of small boats sitting in the water. Walking down the main street, we could see plenty of French flags and French inspiration in the street names and cafés. The reason for this testament is that a group of French colonists arrived in Akaroa in 1840. Though New Zealand had already been declared a British colony, the French colonists still made a life for themselves and participated in respective trade. Today, the town remembers this history in its local museum and some paraphernalia.
We took a short stroll around the town and enjoyed being by the water. There were lots of small gift shops to enjoy, and I purchased a nice pair of earrings. The older I get, the less I want to buy postcards, t-shirts and magnets when I travel. Jewellery is small, practical and still invokes some nostalgia. After a sandwich for lunch and a quick run into the local fudge store, my partner and I drove back to Christchurch.
While we didn’t feel like we’d been whisked away to Paris, Akaroa was a cute place and worth the drive if you want to learn about some unique New Zealand history.
On our second day in Christchurch, we decided to have a lazy morning and recharge. While being on your feet and exploring new places is the good bit about travel, there’s certainly good reason to have a ‘rest day’ every now and then.
Once we felt adequately rested and craving some sunshine, we walked into town to check it all out. Our first stop was C1 Espresso for lunch, a retro cafe which delivers some of its menu items via a pneumatic tube. We opted for items brought out by wait staff and had a giggle at the satirical horoscopes in the back of the menu.
Walking around the city, one of the first things I noticed was the colourful street art. My favourite was one called Kaitaki, which translates to ‘The Guardian’. Painted by an artist call Fin Dac, this guardian woman is meant to watch over Christchurch while holding a kingfisher, local to the region, and an owl, synonymous with Maori culture.
After lunch, we went to the Canterbury Museum which had the most eclectic mix of exhibitions we’ve seen in a museum. It had your expected ones like the history of Christchurch, New Zealand geography and local wildlife, and it also had exhibits on a mummy from Ancient Egypt, dogs that worked in Antarctica (our favourite, we love doggos), ancient Chinese artefacts, motorbikes used by professional riders, and 19th century fashion and furniture. It was clear by reading the plaques the museum was displaying what had been generously donated. We spent more time in here that we anticipated, a sign we certainly enjoyed it.
As the afternoon sun crept around, we took a stroll through the botanic gardens and along the river back to our accommodation. The autumn colours were in full swing and it was a relaxing way to get our steps up. I took photos galore, and even got to hug a giant eucalyptus tree.
One of the main things I enjoyed about Christchurch was spotting all the similarities it shared with my home town of Adelaide, Australia’s city of churches.
Adelaide famously provided inspiration for Christchurch’s town planning and this was evident with both cities having parklands, ‘squares’ in the city (a small park used to break up city streets), trams and plenty of churches. I’m sure there are more detailed idiosyncrasies, and they were what I noticed first. Similarities aside, on this occasion Christchurch was sombre given recent events, though all the same a peaceful place to enjoy a day out.
After a drink at a local pub and Indian down the road for dinner, we were now packed and ready for our next adventure, four nights in a campervan.