'twas the week before Christmas  

The Angelus tramp brought us to within a week of Christmas - the vagueries of New Zealand weather made us unsure of what to do with it. Shorts and T-shirt weather one day, snow down to 600m on the coastal hills the next, warm sunshine filled days alternating with days of gale-force winds, cloud and even hail. We experienced every season in the week before Christmas. New Zealand families were already on holiday and pouring out of urban Christchurch to resort villages, such as Kaikoura, Hanmer Springs and Akaroa. This section briefly describes a few short walks in each area, as we wandered the region in search of a fine day.


The tourist bustle had already started at Kaikoura, as overseas backpackers and kiwi holiday makers filled the streets of this quaint coastal village, reknowned as a whale and dolphin watching spot and home to seal and seabird colonies.

Our first day there was warm and sunny and we did a short walk across the pastures and along the limestone cliffs of the Kaikoura Peninsula, returning along the stony shore line and rock platforms past silver gull rookeries and fur seal haul-out areas.


The Seaward Kaikoura Range from Kaikoura Peninsula

No wonder the cheese tastes so good

This is a place of stark physical beauty and its setting, looking back across the green ocean waters to the magnificent snowy tops of the Seaward Kaikoura Range, is quite unique.

Kaikoura cliffs and rock shelves

New Zealand fur seal

Fur seals basking on the rocks

Silver gull and chick

Silver gull rookery

Looking south from the peninsula

Giant kelp bed off the rock platform

Stony beach at Kaikoura

From the cliffs we watched the tourist boats and even a helicopter out to sea searching for elusive whales; the spouting of a sperm whale triggering a convergence of floating and flying "whale-watchers" to one small spot of the ocean. It was difficult to say which was more interesting, watching whales or watching whale-watchers. Down below another group of tourists were "swimming with seals", well 8 tourists were swimming with one seal - who was amusing who?

The walk gave us a taste of this beautiful and stark coastline, but our original plans for a 3-day walk a bit further south were dashed by two days of gale-force winds, rain and snow - we promised to return and headed inland.

Fyfe House - a 19th century whaler's cottage

Rainbow over Kaikoura

Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs is a great contrast to Kaikoura; set at the edge of a broad flat basin, surrounded by mountains, the thermal springs have been an attraction for New Zealanders for over a century. Hotsprings apart, this is probably the most exotic part of New Zealand that we have seen, exotic in the sense that very little of the vegetation is native. Some are deliberately planted, as this was one of the first areas set aside for forestry and you can wander through a century old forest of introduced conifers - pine, redwood, cypress, fir and larch - with a dash of broadleaves - alder, oak and birch. Many are garden escapees, for the forest understorey and openings are filled with broom, blackberry, and a virtual cottage garden of bugloss, tansy, foxgloves and myriad other exotic herbaceous species.

Hanmer Springs landscape - exotic
trees, exotic flowers, exotic wildlife

A walk in the pines

On a country lane

Foxgloves on display

Completely exotic Dog Trap Stream

View over Hanmer Basin from Conical Hill

A fine, though cool. day followed the two days of stormy weather and we did a short walk up to Conical Hill, providing views over the broad Hanmer Basin, and down through the newer plantation forests and the century old Hanmer Forest.

A soak in the hot springs, now a modern multi-pool thermal complex, seemed in order at the end of the walk, but, with school holidays well underway, the pools were full of holidaying kiwis, old and young. Even the malodorous sulphur pools were packed.

We soaked in the warm sulphurous water for short time, but it all seemed too much like having a bath with a crowd of strangers. After a few lengths of the normal lap pool, we left.


On a beautiful deep harbour in the heart of the rugged volcanic landscape of Banks Peninsula, lies Akaroa, a small village full of charm and, at this time of the year, tourists. Established in 1843 by 57 French settlers, it trades shamelessly on its French origins, though the English soon swamped the locals. Nonetheless, the 19th century weatherboard charm of its architecture and the French street and shop names do give it a unique ambience.

Chez la Mer Backpackers - our Akaroa home

Gallerie Artisane

It was a good place to spend the last few days before Christmas and gave us an opportunity to "suss" out the Banks Peninsula Track, a private walkway that has become very popular, and catch up with an old friend, John, a kiwi who returned home to live here after a working life in Australia. Looking out from the deck of his house over the beautiful clear light of Akaroa Harbour, after a delicious lunch of pan-fried sole, paua and a fine Marlborough riesling, we could understand why.

View of Akaroa Harbour from John's deck

Akaroa Harbour from the Summit Road

Dolphin watching boat in Pigeon Bay

Apart from investigating the town itself, we did a short walk along the shore of Pigeon Bay, a deep volcanic inlet on the north side of the peninsula. Below us a boatload of tourists cruised slowly up and down looking for Hector's dolphins, the world's smallest dolphin species, but Hector and his mates did not want to be found.

We ate lunch at the mouth of the inlet, watching a large thunderhead cloud well up over Christchurch. Behind us the sky had also begun to darken and thunder rolled distantly across the hills - it was definitely time to return. We beat the rain by the a few minutes, and as we drove back across the volcanic hills, water poured down the road past deep mounds of hail. The New Zealand weather was up to its usual tricks.

Banks Peninsula landscape

Storm clouds gather over Pigeon Bay

Christmas in Christchurch

Christmas is a time that should not really be spent alone. We were very fortunate in that, when at Kaikoura, we caught up with some old friends from our time in France, Guy and Genevieve and their two daughters, Lucy and Lorna. We had not seen Guy and Genevieve for 12 years and had not met the girls; it was great to catch up. They invited us to spend Christmas with them in their home near Christchurch; instead of being alone we spent an immensely enjoyable Christmas, with all the festivities and a delicious Christmas dinner of crumbed mussels, eggs mimosa, roasted turkey with orange and pumpkin gravy, followed by chocolate pavlova and strawberries. More than that, they made us feel part of the family - merci beaucoup Guy, Genevieve, Lucy and Lorna!


Joyeux Noël à tout le monde!

View of Lyttelton Harbour from "Chez Forrester"