The Muffin At The End of The Earth: Akaroa

by Continental Club on April 30, 2009

Christchurch sits on the Pacific edge of the agriculturally-rich Canterbury Plain, although a little inland from the coast. Shipping is handled through nearby Lyttelton Harbour; a birds-eye view over which may be gleaned from the gondola skyride, a 15 minute drive from the city centre.

The city’s seaside resort is New Brighton, about 20 minutes drive East North East of Christchurch. It would be a hugely charitable but ultimately untrustworthy reviewer who could find much positive to reflect on the place. Bluntly, it’s a dump and a place guaranteed only to sap the life from even the most uppered of life-enthusiasts.

If you happen to have a few tens of millions to invest in a complete redevelopment of this sad and sorry relic of a probably still fairly inglorious past then do, I beg of you, head straight to New Brighton and deposit your funds with the biggest demolition company you can find. Those of more modest means would do just as well to avoid it like the plague which, judging by the general level of desolation that pervades the place, most folks do already, despite the superior shopping opportunities.

As with so much in New Zealand, just a little more effort and time rewards the investor with hugely more abundant rewards – and so it is once again for the day-tripper from Christchurch. Instead of heading East and losing all will to maintain a beating heart, the road South to Akaroa will likely make that same heart flutter and soar as breathtaking vistas open amidst mountain passes and ocean inlets.

Leaving the city to the West initially, and then South towards Lake Ellesmere, the scenery is largely flat with cattle and sheep pasture, and the odd vineyard and soft fruit orchard lining the road until the lakeshore is reached. Skirting the banks for a few miles, the road then turns East and heads higher and away from the water again, towards the spine of the Banks Peninsula. The views in the rear view mirror are tantalising as the road twists and turns uphill, before it plunges downhill again towards the Pacific.

It can only be assumed that the awesome scenery somehow exhausted the creativity of whoever named the hamlet of Hilltop, but it’s here that the main road downhill should be temporarily abandoned, and the similarly lamely-named Summit Road taken instead. A more apt title might have been ‘Hairy Wobbler Road’, for the combination of stunning views, hairpin bends and sheer drops from this sheep-track-with-a-crust-of-tarmac do not necessarily make for the most leisurely of traverses. It’s a simply superb route though, before ultimately the altitude must be lost once again to reach journey’s end, the former French whaling station of Akaroa.

Again, with the exception of a whale-watching boat trip, there’s not a great deal to do here, but what a sublime spot to do not very much.

The village is a delightful collection of colonial cottages and commercial premises, many of which have been converted into the cosiest of self-catering accommodations.

The harbour front is lined with interesting shops, restaurants and cafés, park benches and lawns and, from one of those cafés – By Jo’ve – the most amazing warm Raspberry and White Chocolate muffins.

Believe me, they’re almost worth flying Economy to get there for.



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