March 19, 2016, Top 10 Holiday Park, Akorora, New Zealand
Early morning at the campground in Akaroa, New Zealand, so lovely. First the stars: still myriads visible at 6 am when only a faint glimmer of light in the east announces in a whisper the sunrise, still a long ways off. Not only was my good friend the Southern Cross directly above, but it stood in a dense, dim field of distant galaxies that looked like a cloud, (It’s got to be a cloud, one says to oneself) but in a clear sky like this one you know it’s truly stars. Then as the sun begins to rise an hour later, a few fluffy clouds in the west hovering over the rolling grassy hilly fields turned a painted bright pink, a stark contrast to the piercing blue sky. Finally, as if on cue, the sunlight crept down the hills, gradually enlightening the brush, the few scattered houses perched here and there, and finally the lake, the ancient volcanic crater that is the focal point for this quaint New Zealand village.
This unfolding show’s soundtrack is birds singing, sweet gentle songs, not at all like the raucous cockatoos or laughing magpies around our home in Canberra, Australia. Yesterday we drove along the coast from Kaikoura, a miniature Ocean City of a town with good seafood, about three hours to Christchurch where we drove through heavy late afternoon suburban traffic on our quest to find a Starbucks, one of six we would visit in this country on average as wide as Indiana or Ohio and as long as the U.S. eastern seaboard from the middle of New York State to the southern border of Georgia.
The drive from Christchurch to Akoroa was picturesque, breathtaking, as we wound ’round tightly curved roads that hugged the hillside with no guardrails between us and sheer drops down beautiful hills. The campground, like almost everything else around here except for the village on the lake, is perched on a ridge which in turn is perched on slopes surrounding the ancient volcanic bay. We have staked our claim at the top of the campground which gives us a lovely view, marred only by a dirty white boat with the word “Pegasus” in red printed over a red horse with wings.
Today is a bicycle race, 100 km from Christchurch to here, a world class event. The roads are closed but we’re close enough to town to be able to walk there. The village is cute, a little gem set by the lake. The last town, though on the seaside, was not pretty, with rows of shops, souvenirs, cafes and pizza places, a pub or two, and signs blaring helicopter rides available and whale watching and on and on. How can this be? Why aren’t all seaside towns quaint and lovely? We humans squeeze every drop of money-making potential out of a place leaving it profitable but graceless. Akaroa is not so. It boasts an old lighthouse, many historic (1860-1890) buildings and a French (i.e. pretty, cultured, culinary; graceful) influence. The French were going to claim this place back in 1840, but while the fellow who discovered it was back in Paris recruiting colonists, the British signed a treaty with the locals and the whole shebang, all of New Zealand, was enfolded into the ample bosom of Brittania. Still, thankfully, French culture lives on, here.
And now for some more wondrous seafood, like what we’ve enjoyed on our whole trip. New Zealand scallops are a rare treat: sweet, tender, and cooked with savory orange roe, a cherry on top missing from any scallops I’ve eaten anywhere else. And how can yet more fresh fish lightly battered still be such a treat we’ve not tired of yet?