We'd been feeling a little city-bound, so decided to take a two-day trip to the small town of Akaroa, about 90 minutes southeast of Christchurch on the Banks Peninsula, even though the news outlets were forecasting a possible storm. The Banks Peninsula consists of land around several extinct volcanoes, with an ocean bay coming back into the middle of one of the ancient cones. You have to cross over the rim of the volcano to get down into the Akaroa valley and bay. On Sunday morning we took a bus with Akaroa French Connection - highly recommended for service and friendliness. Gary, our driver, told us much about the people and the land, and his wit kept us entertained too. The fields on the hills have historically been used for sheep, but the market has dropped so the numbers are down. It's actually lambing time right now, and we saw a lot of newborn lambs out in the fields. Gary said some farmers are switching to dairy, but the market for sheep is increasing in Asia which may prove good for New Zealand.
The drive over was sunny and beautiful. The bus stops at several scenic places, including a beach called Birdlings Flats, a small town called Little River, and at Hilltop, the summit of the old volcano rim. We drove down into the Akaroa Bay, went through several smaller communities along the edge of the bay, and arrived in Akaroa.
Unfortunately, the good weather was not to hold. We checked in at our backpackers hostel (Chez La Mer, also highly recommended), but the previously majestic clouds turned dark, the winds picked up and it let loose. We started with rain, then got sleet, and then snow. By later in the afternoon the surrounding hills were white. It cleared for a while, so we walked out on the pier. However, it started sleeting again, and overnight it snowed about 2 inches. We heard that Christchurch got 8 inches of snow. Unfortunately, the storm closed the Hilltop pass which is the only way into the peninsula. So, we were stranded in Akaroa for two extra days. While 4-wheel drive vehicles or vehicles with chains were being allowed through the pass the second morning, the cars owned by the hostel guests and the buses could not get through. We made the best of it - enjoying new friends from France, Germany, Argentina, Hong Kong and China, as well as the owner (Sarah) and her dog Pongo.
After two days, we were able to move up the valley to the cabin of a colleague from the computer science department. Brent and Suki own a cabin on the side of the mountain in an area called Robinson's Bay. It's a beautiful place, with a wonderful wood structure and expansive vegetable and native plant gardens. We ended up staying there for our third day on the peninsula. It sleeted or rained about every 20 minutes, so we weren't able to get out hiking for any distance, but we certainly enjoyed the wonderful views. On the fourth day, we walked down the valley to the main road, and finally caught the bus back to Christchurch.
It's somewhat amazing to us to be able to communicate with people around the world but not to be able to drive 50 miles...