New Zealand's cities are really special.
We've barely left the historic center of Christchurch and the green countryside, whether rural or not, predominates. The notion assailed us that in few territories would the British settlers have felt as much at home as in this one, fallen into the antipodes.
The route has little or nothing urban when we glimpse, through an old garden railing, a group of cricket players dressed in white and polished and refined to perfection, in the good aristocratic manner british.
By itself, the sport was not going well with us or with any Latino on the face of the earth. Still, we wanted to understand and witness what made those young players get up so early on a Saturday morning to surrender to their fight and wickets.
We install ourselves on the near-perfect lawn. As close as possible to the edge of the playing area where a few others socialized with each other and with friends and girlfriends, sitting or lying with their heads on the sports bags, beer in hand, waiting for their turn to enter the scene.
With each grossest mistake, the reserve ones burst out laughing. Lock them up with a series of jokes that go better with the girls in attendance than with the active, competitive, desperate for concentration buddies.
As soon as the latter leave the elongated rectangle in which they play, they refresh themselves, settle in and assume the role of joking bores of their substitutes.
To our chagrin, no matter how many turns that followed, his strong kiwi accent and some technical vocabulary of the sport or New Zealand slang prevented us from noticing much of the satire.
We followed this alternation for almost an hour, but we knew how long a game of cricket. Even though it was an amateur confrontation, we didn't want to take any chances.
We've already witnessed the genuine enjoyment that those prim but laid-back teenagers cool withdrew from sport.
We were still far from understanding how they, their parents, uncles and the bulk of the Anglophone male universe including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the West Indies endured TV matches that dragged on for four or five days.
New Zealand Urban from Christchurch to the Banks Peninsula Field
New Zealand was, all around, more dazzling than ever. With the time counted, we return to the car. We pointed to a certain Banks Peninsula, a place that had been so praised for us in recent days.
On the way, we stop at the top of Port Hills. Then, in Lyttelton, which lies by the sea, at the bottom of a long, steep slope that we descend to the “those”.
It was on that same coast, in a distressing imbalance, that, in 1850, the first European settlers disembarked. There they opened a historic hike up the hills.
They would come to cluster in what has become the largest of the South Island's cities, dubbed Christchurch, in the nostalgic image of the Dorset model who lurks the English Channel.
We skirt the great Lyttelton Estuary to another summit via its name Gebbles Pass Road and the supreme summit of Mount Herbert (920m).
We pull up to a picturesque mountain cafe on the ground floor of a wooden cottage. We buy hot drinks to disguise the frigidity of the wind. As we sip them, we admire the surreal scenery that stretches forward and downward.
From the top of the slope to the southwest, the road clears the surrounding trees. It reveals to us a breathtaking scenery that is simultaneously bucolic and wild.
The Geological Eccentricity of the Banks Peninsula
It extends along a gradual slope, lined with a patchwork lawn of various shades of green and yellow on which they graze. thousands of sheep.
Announcing the Pacific Ocean, the Bay of Akaroa appears, so hidden by the coastal hills that it is disguised as a lake.
At that time, we didn't even have a clue. From the air, the Banks Peninsula appears to have been the victim of a nuclear test. Its irregular and fragmented surface, full of small peaks, bays and geological sections invaded by the sea, resulted from the long erosion of two stratovolcanoes, the Lyttelton and the Akaroa, which reached XNUMX meters in altitude.
If this description raises a rocky and inhospitable imagery, the reality turns out to be quite different. As surreal as we discovered it, the peninsula was both stunning and cozy.
It welcomed almost eight thousand souls attracted by the quality of life of that species of grassy Eden. Our compatriots had already passed through there. They left a legacy that entered our eyes when we reached Akaroa, the only real village on the peninsula.
“Exactly. His name was António Rodrigues. It was Portuguese…” assures the waitress on the other side of the Bar Hotel Madeira counter. The mystery settles.
What was an establishment of Portuguese origin doing there, in that remote corner of the planet? To find out, we went back in time, to the era of New Zealand colonization, when the Maori people it still dominated most of the South Island.
James Cook, Franco-British Rivalry and the Native Maori
We learn that Akaroa was sighted by navigator James Cook in 1770.
As he passed, Cook thought it was an island. He named it after the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. In 1831, the resident Maori tribe Ngai Tahu was attacked by the rival Ngati Toa.
This conflict caused a drastic decrease in the native population. It facilitated the life and intentions of a French whaling captain named Jean Francois L'Anglois. Nine years later, L'Anglois bought the peninsula from the natives he found.
With the support of the government of the metropolis, he offered boat tickets and managed to encourage another sixty-three French settlers to settle there. Just days before they arrived, British officers sent a warship and hoisted a Union Jack.
They claimed possession of the peninsula and surrounding territory under the auspices of the Treaty of Waitangi, according to which Maori chiefs recognized British sovereignty over New Zealand in general.
The people of Akaroa like to stress to visitors that, had the French settlers landed on the peninsula two days earlier, the entire South Island could be French today.
These same French eventually settled in Akaroa. In 1849, they sold their claim of ownership to the New Zealand Company.
The following year, a large group of British settlers set up camps and began to clear the then densely forested land with the purpose of securing livestock.
The village houses and various street and place names help confirm the authenticity and seriousness of what was once France's only colony in New Zealand. But, as is customary in these novels of discoveries and colonizations, the Portuguese were also involved.
The Unveiling of the Inevitable Portuguese Expatriate in Akaroa
In the early years of the XNUMXth century, whaling was one of the activities that most attracted Europeans to the downunder. During that period, American and French whalers often included Polynesians and Portuguese from the islands in their crews.
Eventually linked to this influx, António Rodrigues arrived from Madeira. He settled in the village where he would build and acquire some buildings, including the Hotel Madeira, now in a classic guest-house style combined with british pub, continues to function detached from the lower houses.
Akaroa (long cove, in the Maori dialect of the area) is today a cosmopolitan village. Appreciated from a few kilometers above the peninsula, it is an immaculate postcard, with its colorful houses at the base of two opposite slopes and invading Akaroa Harbour, an incredible bay hidden from the ocean, with baby blue waters.
Banks Peninsula a la française
Along the coastal street, bars and restaurants, craft and souvenir shops, inns and hotels are repeated, all of them colorful and picturesque, exploring the unique beauty of the place and its French-style atmosphere.
Lilac and pink chalets with names like “Chez La Mer”, “La Belle Villa” or “C'est la Vie” entice backpackers to a few days of stay scented by nature, which includes distinct aromas of the prolific local cattle ranching .
Among the films shown at the local cinema there is an Anglophone replacement of “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis” Dany Boon's comedy that entertains and amuses more than 20 million French viewers – a new record for the nation – to caricature the peculiarities of the people of the far north of France.
Around Akaroa, the Banks Peninsula descends into far more extreme scenarios.
Sheep and the Most Bucolic New Zealand Possible on the Banks Peninsula
As we travel along its cogwheel perimeter, deep and craggy coves succeed one another, hiding streams and deserted beaches. At space, sheep farms surprise us.
The huge herds contribute to New Zealand having eleven times as many sheep as humans.
When not concentrated in them, the sheep dot vast uneven meadows and perch on thin ridges disguised by grass, half-walls with sheer cliffs that plunge into the South Pacific.
As we explore this fascinating volcanic-livestock domain, we pass over countless road grids that prevent cattle from leaving the properties and straying.
On other farms where this solution has proved unreliable, we are forced to leave the car and open and close old solid wood gates.
From time to time, we come across family businesses lost in nothingness and that only seem to activate when they detect the approach of the vehicles of outsiders. In the insignificant village of Okains Bay, a small grocery bar coexists with an auto repair shop.
They are both eponymous. They maintain a telephone booth with the same red-green and architectural profile of the sheep stations at the disposal of locals and outsiders.
Okains Bay's Verdant Retreat
We stop our discovery at the Okains Bay Store to enjoy ice cream and the day's ultimate sun. Perhaps because we approached slowly, after three or four minutes, no one came to meet us.
When, at last, someone hears our calls, two young sisters appear, shy but used to getting away from their parents in their absence. They serve us ice cream from the fridge and do the math without any fear or hindrance.
It even occurred to us that they would be able to give us directions to another deep bay. We were, however, joined by a small group of residents who, despite the almost intelligible kiwi accent, volunteered to help.
Until dark, we simply skirted the Banks Peninsula, delighted with its countless geological whims and the down-to-earth lives they've adapted to.