Thursday, 3 November 2011

Our first Goodbye

We took our time waking up this morning, knowing we won’t have the privilege of sleeping in a bed for at least 30 hours time. And, of course, the prospect of leaving the land we love is drawing ever near. Yesterday was blissfully perfect and I felt very blue as it drew to a close.

Akaroa seemed like the most beautiful place in the world to me. And only an hour and a half from the city centre! It didn’t seem to take any time at all to get there. The drive was incredible. Akaroa was formed when two volcanoes erupted and the harbour has been formed in the crater, as the lava burned and ate its way to the sea. Therefore, the drive down is literally on the rim of the volcano, looking down at the crystal blue waters and the doorway to the Pacific. I knew a little of the history from guide books and was aware of its French history, but the full story of the Frenchie’s settlement was yet to be told.

Once we’d parked up and eaten our giant tomatoes on a bench between two palm trees (!), we strolled down the harbour to book ourselves onto a Black Cat Nature Cruise. For $69 each (roughly £35), you get a two hour cruise around the harbour and out to the ocean, taking in the history of the shore: from the massacres of the Akaroa Maori tribe by the Maoris of the North island (apparently tribe leaders made taking offence a pastime), to the arrival of the French and English. The story goes that a French mariner exploring New Zealand took a fancy to the Banks Peninsula and, after handing over several muskets, food and other valuables to the local Maoris, thought he had managed to buy the place. He returned to France and began to prepare for the move down under, taking half his village with him. After two years of preparations and voyaging, he arrived back in the harbour, where the first site that met their eyes was a Union Jack flying high over the town....the English had arrived 4 days earlier and signed a Treaty with the Maori entitling them to the land. Gutted. The French were allowed to stay there on two conditions. 1 = that they abided by English law and 2 = that they didn’t fly any French flags. Take that Froggies.

The main highlight of the cruise was the possibility of sighting the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin, the Hector’s Dolphin. We were told to keep an eye out for their dorsal fin breaking the water (which looked a bit like Micky Mouse’s ear), but the skipper told us that sometimes they go out and don’t encounter any at all. As we broke out from the harbour and met the Ocean, we started to hear small puffs of air in the water around the boat. The dolphins had come to play. There were about 5 at first, which the skipper told us was still a fairly large group, as they usually expect to see about 2-5 in a pod. Then...a second pod joined the first....and then a third...and a fourth. Suddenly, we were surrounded by at least 20 dolphins, the largest group the skipper had ever seen on a cruise. We thought perhaps he was exaggerating, but we spoke to Roger back at the Motel who has been on the cruise twice and never seen ANY dolphins! So it truly was special. The best way to spend an anniversary.

We moved on, the dolphins trying to keep pace with the boat whilst showing off their skills, and were told if we looked towards the bottom of the cliff, we would see the world’s smallest species of penguin, the white flippered Blue. They really were tiny....we couldn’t see them at all!

After a quick U-turn, we rounded the corner back into the bay, straining to spot the group of grey fur seals, camouflaged amongst the equally grey rocks. We had a couple of sightings of them ambling rather inelegantly towards the water, but as soon as I put my eye to the view finder, all I could see where rocks.

After a complimentary hot drink below deck, we set foot back on shore. We had quick peek at the wonderful array of independent art and craft shops that Akaroa (and the rest of New Zealand!) has to offer. Martin started to feel queasy and light-headed – a feeling usually brought on whenever he is required to stand in a shop and look interested by things – so we headed back to the car and back to the city.

After a lovely steak of NZ lamb (incredible), we started to pack our things ready to leave at 10am the next morning. Martin has just left to go on a tour around some of the sites he will be working on in a couple of months and I’m about to do one last check around the apartment for anything we might have left.

I think the flight will be harder this time around. Last Saturday, we were fuelled by excitement. Now the journey will be tinged with saddest and the thought of returning to work. I am looking forward to seeing our families and sharing our experiences with them. I just hope all the things we have to busy ourselves with now (packing, visa’s, renting the house ect) will be enough to carry us through to January.

Perhaps we will find a nice tree to chain ourselves around.

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