Best estimates say that 14 inches of rain fell in the last three days here at Robinson’s Bay on the Banks Peninsula. We were turned back 2 days ago at the town of Little River by flooding and “slips,” dozens of mudslides and fallen trees that tormented our quest.
We retreated to the relative safety of Addington near Christchurch where we found a motel, did laundry, and comforted ourselves with steaming Chinese food – corn and chicken soup, salt and pepper prawns in shells, and cashew chicken – some things require no cultural translation. We also made a wind-whipped infiltration into desolated Christchurch City Centre and saw the devastation and re-building efforts from the catastrophic earthquake 2 years ago.
The weather lightened just enough the next morning to allow our passage through a waterlogged ribbon of highway that mimics Sonoma-Marin. Our destination was The Olive Grove, a restored farmhouse B&B near the former French colony of Akaroa.
Annette and Chris, who lovingly tend to 1000 olive trees producing award winning oil and fruit, are our hosts. Given our military-level provisioning, Lisa and I broke out parkas, rain pants, and Goretex boots and tested the drenching “sou’ wester.” Let’s just say the unrelenting rain and wind made a fair contest and, at least in my case, soaked my Patagonia “water repellent” shell. Our spirits, however, remain un-dampened.
Annette told us that her great, great grandfather, a whaler from England landed at this Bay in 1840, and was part of the community that thwarted France’s attempt to claim New Zealand. (break out your old DVD of The Piano, if you want the essence of the area).
The pubs and bistros in the postcard town of Akaroa, serve up fresh fish platters, creamy local tap beers, and large cups of foamy “flat white” coffee, that fortify us from winter’s dark chill.
The elements have taken a toll on my photo equipment: one camera “bit the dust” in Tonga, my back-up unit jammed in the wetness here, and I was lucky to find a Nikon point and shoot, at the local chemist – the only camera for sale for 100 km. – dedication to my readers is fathomless.
Before we arrived on this Peninsula, we spent 2 days in Oamaru, a Victorian port about 2.5 hours North of Dunedin. This Scottish inspired town looks transplanted intact from Glasgow. It was here, one stormy night in 1912 that survivors of Scott’s disastrous attempt to reach the South Pole, landed (traveling 2000 miles from Antarctica,) to telegraph the solemn news to the world.
It was here that the weather turned somber for us, enforcing our indoor activities at the 1930’s Oasis on Orwell, a cozy B&B run by 2 warmhearted English expats, Dave and Liz. They have recently retired from their tomato-growing business near Auckland to run this guesthouse. We sipped hot Earl Grey, delighted in Liz’s home-made sweets, and caught up on the Olympic summaries, presented through NZ sensibilities (Gold in Women’s 200m. kayak!)
The thrill of our stay was the beach boulders at Moeraki with the marine perfume of low tide, and catching a black misty glimpse of tiny blue penguins as they squealed and waddled under smashing surf at Oamaru’s breakwaters.
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