Friday, September 24, 2010

To Akaroa.... a hidden diamond

Fortunate as we were, to have good Kiwi friends in Christchurch, we were offered a guided drive to Akaroa. What did this entail? Akaroa is a settlement about one hour's drive from Christchurch, on the stunning Banks peninsula, and as we discovered, decidedly French in origin.

To get there, one passes through the Lyttleton tunnel and harbour, taking if you can the scenic route via Cass and Governor's bay (where glorious views are matched with glorious houses perched on precipitous slopes). We were heading all the way around the peninsula to the other side of the mountains in this photograph. There is a hotel on the top of the mountain in the below photograph, where I believe the coffee is very good.....

Several photo stops were necessary along the way! Each one surpassing the last for quality of nature and pure aesthetic beauty. In a car, it will take you a little over an hour, to traverse the windy hairpin bends and curves to Akaroa, but the time is not felt heavily, as there is so much to enthrall the visitor outside the window.

And then finally we reach Akaroa. Stunning isn't it?

Akaroa is the South Island form of Whangaroa and the generally accepted meaning of both is the literal one, “long harbour”. And what a harbour it had, as you can see here, on a stunning sunny winter's day.

Settled initially by the French, in the 1800's, the soil in the area proved to be extremely fertile, which led to further immigrants arriving from France.

"Today, apart from a few French street names, there remains little to show Akaroa's origin as a French settlement. It is a county town within the Canterbury Provincial District and has a population of 630."

Read more here about the original French settlers who purchased land from the Maoris and the co-operation between French and English colonists in Akaroa, unheard of in the rest of the colonial world here:

Despite what the link above says, You CAN see, and almost smell the French influence here. You can taste it in the menus in the multitude of restaurants and coffee shops, and see it in the shutters and gables in the architecture. This place is wealthy, mind, with small cottages often running to 6 figure sums, so I could cherish no thoughts of one day "pulling up sticks" in Akaroa. I would have to be content to visit or an overnight stay.

Mind you, one does not feel the least bit out of place at the seafood cafe having a feed of fresh Akaroa cod and chips... it seems we were to have a few "Fush n chups" meals whilst in Kiwiland....all delicious!

Just imagine living here... with a view like.....

this at your front door.

The tide was out, when we arrived, but that certainly did not detract from the gob-smacking good views, and the sunshiny, crisp air made for a wonderful day.

Was it cold? nah! This was the sort of winter temperatures that everyone loves. One could see all the colours and contours in the mountains, and peace and tranquility and the good life, exuded from every compass point.

The consumers of our world are not forgotten in this antipodean outpost of the French empire. Quirky tins, souvenirs, the ubiquitous woollen skeins, fabulous fudge, swanky clothes, toys and books and homewares, could all be had for a tidy sum.

Hot tip: Try the fudge!If you are in Akaroa. You won't regret it.

I succumbed to temptation. In addition, I discovered some elegant but 'different' salad servers with my name on them, (not literally), at the Fudge shop and decided this was to be my Akaroa souvenir. For hand crafted items, they were in fact, very reasonably priced. And I was sorely tempted by a pretty apron, being as I am, prone to buying aprons on holidays, but I managed to resist that little treasure.

Even the Ice cream had a French twist! Orgasmic indeed. What a marketing tool!

I really was so lucky to have good friends like this, to show me around as
this hidden gem would remain unknown to me otherwise.

And I really do appreciate their kind generosity to a visitor. Thank you so very much Jan and John for a wonderful introduction to the delights of the Banks peninsula and for sitting and waiting for an hour at the train station when the slightly confused railway official gave you the wrong arrival time for the Tranz scenic train. I doubt that I would have waited so long....

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hotel Accomodation in Christchurch

HOLIDAY on AVON hotel in Christchurch may not be a five star hotel, but it comes pretty close.
It is not new, but the rooms are clean, tidy and very large.
The beds are comfortable and the pillow menu includes a lavender pillow, which was so delightful. The refrigerator WAS new and it was nice not to be wakened by its generator kicking in, like at some establishments.

The room we had opens on to a large courtyard with a garden setting where we had afternoon tea amidst the flowers, the fuchsias were blooming, the conifers and ducks that surround the water feature...

Bathroom was clean, well stocked with free bathroom necessities, a large bath/shower unit and hair dryer.

There is a free shuttle service to take you in to town, which is really just a taxi cab, but hey, what the hell, it is free. Otherwise, in good weather it is a really pleasant 20 minute stroll to the cathedral square.

The walk follows the river itself, and you pass by the tribute to the 9/11 disaster in New York. Plenty of ducks can be seen foraging for snails and other food along the river banks.

The hotel has an indoor heated swimming pool, which was a little cool in winter, although we weren't into heavy training laps, and a well equipped gym and wonderful Sauna... not a steam room, with water dripping on one's head but a traditional Finnish style was wonderful, and but for a few guests, I had it all to myself.

Meals and Food at HOLIDAY on AVON
The breakfasts were included in our room price, but kids are free at breakfast anyhow. But I would recommend this buffest as it was especially generous. It is not necessary to book in advance, and you pay as you go.

A wide selection of fruit, cereals and yoghurt, about 6 choices of hot food, and nicely cooked eggs, loads of crispy bacon, croissants, muffins, pastries, and the best coffee machine. Attentive staff will assist you if you are unsure of the technology, but is really simple to use and makes great cappucinos, lattes and also hot chocolates and babycino. My daughter thought this was the best part.

One can help yourself as many times as you like to the full buffet breakfast or just go continental if you prefer.
The toaster was the only tricky part. It was slow large and cumbersome and only cooked one side at a time. They had a little automatic toaster beside it which turned out to be a lot faster and easier to use, especially for raisin toast.

We rolled out of there with our tummies full and no need for lunch..... I think the cost was around $15.00 per adult. So it was really worthwhile, and there was still adequate portions if you arrived at 8.30 am.

A further comment needs to be made about the staff. They were exceedingly friendly, and helpful, going out of their way to make one stay a pleasant one.

I could not recommend this hotel higher. Comparing it to some of the other Mercure resorts that I stayed in, it outshone them all, for facilities, and customer service. Well Done Holiday on Avon.

Four ticks of approval!!!!
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Arts Centre and Lyttleton Gondola

Tribute to the Twin towers of the World Trade Centre 9/11 in Ch ch ch.

Christchurch has an interesting monument to September 11, so will the Big Apple reciprocate?

Who do you call in Christchurch? Quake busters!!! Sorry bad pun there, but the old fashioned phone box was functional at the time, and not so sure now, as this area is badly hit....

Tram stop outside Arts Centre...

Whilst waiting for our lovely old tram... we checked out some local architectural this....

We visited theArts centre

The style of the College was based on the Oxbridge model of academic buildings surrounding cloistered quadrangle and is such a wonderful example of bluestone gothic revival architecture... and I am afraid that parts are damaged in the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake.... but hopefully it will be restored to its former glory as seen in these photographs.

Little wonder that a tv commercial was being filmed there... .what a wonderful backdrop!

The majority of Arts Centre buildings are brick with an outer stone facing. The grey volcanic basalt rocks were sourced from Banks Peninsula, although the quarries have long since closed. With the assistance of convict labour and wooden scaffolding, rocks were shaped with hand tools and mortared into position.

The cream-white coloured stone around the windows is Oamaru limestone which is easy to carve to great ornamental effect. However, these qualities also make it susceptible to airbourne pollution, and often a dark crust builds up causing rapid deterioration.

With an on-site stonemason and a summer programme of mist cleaning, the stonework to all buildings is being progressively repaired and reinstated to international best practice, ensuring the buildings survive for future generations to enjoy.

Earthquake status reports that the Arts centre has re - opened to the general public except that some areas like the Great Hall, clock tower, and observatory remain off limits due to damage.
The great Hall and is off limits due to earthquake damage...

But back to the pre earthquake days in Christchurch....

What could top our punting experience? Kotane and a kiwi experience perhaps... or

a magnificient 360 degree view.... from snowy mountains that look like white cake icing to the Pacific coast and the harbour at Lyttleton ( which has dropped substantially due to quake damage...)

The iconic Gondola is a must do in Christchurch. A must do.
And if you go there and back within 2 hours, the bus ride back ( about 20 minutes to the city centre) is free.

Catching that #28 bus from the city to Lyttleton, was easy, and after a compulsory photo opportunity form the Gondola staff, and a short queue ( as it was not school holidays), we hopped aboard the Gondola and gradually silently went up and up and up

.... to the summit. And the view........ see for yourself.

Lyttleton harbour from the Gondola summit.

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This is the summit road... very dangerous in high winds.
Heading over to Governors bay and Looking out towards Banks peninsula

There is a restuarant and large souvenir shop at the top plus a tourist attraction Time zone which we did not have time to zone into, but I do want to remark on the quality of the souvenirs in the shop. Many I had not seen anywhere else, and some were very useful. I would skip the rest and just shop here.

BTW, we were sucked into buying the badly photoshoped picture of us in the Gondola, but the view behind without the afternoon haze made it worthwhile.

Subway beckoned us for lunch in the mall, and then we hopped in a taxi to the Holiday on Avon, and spent a short while relaxing in the Garden courtyard.
An Eclectic mix of rainforest plants and northern hemisphere botanicals, like conifers and fuchsias....

Next....To Kotane wildlife reserve. A Moari concert, Pois ( not poise ) and close encounters with a kumu pig and a kiwi....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Food Additives to avoid especially for children

Hyperactivity and skin rashes can be caused by yellow red and blue food colourings.

These are the common culprits that cause most distressing symptoms for children or parents according to Nutritionist and Dietician Karen Fischer...
You CAN find preservative free and artificial colour free alternatives at all major supermarkets and heath food shops. Just check the ingredient label.

If you suspect this may be the case with a child, try avoiding foods with the following:

Tartrazine yellow, (102)
Quinoline yellow (104)
Sunset yellow (110)
Carmoisine (122)
ponceau 4R (124)
Allura red (129)

Avoid also MSG (621)
monosodium glutamate, which is found in flavoured chips, packaged savoury food, cinema popcorn, chicken salt, and some Chinese take away.
MSG can also be listed as hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP) Hydrolysed plant protein (HPP) or natural flavour.
Reactions include:
behaviour problems allergic symptoms, nausea, heart palpitations, and headaches

Avoid additive 635 ribonucleitides
Reactions include those listed for MSG and irritable bowel symptoms, itchy rash and welts.

Avoid bread preservative Calcium propionate (282) Reactions include skin irritations, migraines, disruptive behaviour, irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbances

Avoid preservative sodium benzoate (211) found in many soft drinks, pickles, sauces, and fruit juices. Reactions include hyperactivity and unfocused behaviour.

Something society and food manufacturers should seriously ponder about....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Punting in Christchurch: A time warp to Victorian England

The best way to see Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens and the Avon river in Christchurch.

This is seriously one of THE most relaxing things that I have ever done... I hesitate to say better than a massage but truly that is how I felt. Punting at the Antigua sheds at Christchurch is something, like the city itself, very English to do. And we were blessed with the most beautiful winter's day: fresh cool but sunny and clear.
....... .......

A Punt is a flat bottomed boat that does not have a keel. Typically, a punt is approximately 21 feet (6 metres) long and 3 feet (1 metre) wide. It should be propelled by means of a pole - about 16 foot (5 metres) long. The punt and consequently, the passengers sit very low in the water, although at no time do the passenger feel in any danger and I did not even get my feet or anything else wet.

You can read more about the Punting history here:

The abridged version is "To punt without losing your balance, getting wet, wetting your passengers, while keeping the trip smooth and making sure that the passengers enjoy the ride, is something requires expertise indeed. Punting originated as a means of fishing, dredging, carrying and transporting all kinds of materials.

In other words, the punt was originally a work boat. The punting style consisted of starting at the bow, where the operator dropped the pole to the bottom, leaned on it, and then ran after it, pushing the boat under his feet. It was a method that often left the novice clinging to their pole while the punt drifted away in solitary splendour. Pleasure punts were unknown prior to 1860 and found in Nelson and Christchurch and a couple of places in England.

A time warp would take me back to the days when men were gentlemen, women genteel, men wore Botas, and ladies, hats and gloves, but it was not necessary to build a time machine, instead, take a 30 minutes of the Punt ride: To Victorian splendour.

There are two Punting routes to choose from, one passing through the river as it goes through the main part of the city and the other, which is close to the hop on hop off point of the city trams, just a short stroll past the entrance to the museum and Botanic Gardens. There you will find a small cafe and the quaint and delightful "Antiqua Boat sheds" which is the starting point for the Gardens punt through the gardens and Hagley Park. I only hope the historic Boat sheds, which appear to have changed little since early last century have not been ruined by the recent earthquake.

We were also blessed to have the punt all to ourselves, not having to share with anyone else except Andrew, "Mr Gondolier" or should it be "Mr Punter"?!!!

Christchurch Map

Location of the punts.. at the two green arrows. You can see how close it is to the Tram route.

Along the way, we all had to duck our heads as we went under a very low road bridge, and Andrew maintained the perfect balance whilst undergoing this manoeuvre.

Andrew, a University dropout with a flare for business, and a love of history and stories, has turned this tourist attraction into a successful part of his thriving business empire. He does not have to work, but does so he claims, "because he loves his job" and who wouldn't: even in the rain, the guests are protected with blankets and large football umbrellas from the elements.

Although his name is given as Andrew, the website lists him as:
Wesley Golledge – Managing Director Wesley first started punting in 1989, as a summer job to get him through university. In 1994 he established the Park branch of Punting on the Avon and is happy now to manage a fleet of 10 punts between the two branches.

The ride through the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park, a 50 acre green zone in the middle of the CBD which is never to be built on, the legacy of a pioneer settler, is a dream for those who appreciate and love nature. Also a wonderful area for environmental oxygen carbon dioxide exchange, a green zone in the metropolis, although Christchurch could hardly be called a metropolis. Just a nice sized city, really.

You also pass by the curators house and herb garden. The punts themselves are very comfortable and Andrew has blankets to keep you warm on cooler days.

Other creatures enjoying the Avon will be the endemic ducks, swans, and other aquatic life, the Daffodil garden which is really a lawn, as the daffodils are not mass planted but erupt from beneath the soil anywhere to the point that they mow a path through the daffodils in spring. They would be a bright point in the city's current misery, as I feel sure that they would be in full bloom at this moment. (We were a few week early for the daffodils but a few weeks late for the earthquake and for that I am truly grateful. {But right on time for the Lambing})
A few brave early plants showing their blossoms amongst the grass are seen here, before the mower gets to them.....

The daffodil garden shortly to be cropped by the mower....

Our ride was around 10 in the morning and the punt is silent. No motor pervades this almost spiritual atmosphere, the water is shallow and clear, rocks form the bottom of the river, and the excellent and entertaining commentary given by Andrew, pertinent and interesting.
Near the end of the ride, you get a good view of the Curator's house, and adjacent herb garden, seen on our approach to the Punting on the Park Attraction.

The Ducks, here you will see the Yellow eyed duck, named so for obvious reasons, paddle quite close to the punt, totally unaffected by the punt or the humans, and definitely not camera shy!!

"Some days you are the statue, and some days the pigeon...." one of my favorite sayings, so I had to take a photo of one of the important people in Christchurch history...

This was definitely a day where I was the pigeon, on top of the world as I knew it then, and felt that in finding a new relaxing pastime, in a foreign city, discovered something new about myself. Surely that is something to ponder about..... even on a punt....