There are three routes across the mountains between the west coast of New Zealand and the central/eastern country. We did the southernmost one of them, the Haast Pass, on our way down to Te Anau and Milford Sound. The other two are the famed Arthur’s Pass, one of Francine’s hit list items, and Lewis Pass slightly north of it. Francine’s original idea for our final week was to go back to the west over one pass and return to the east and Christchurch via the remaining pass.
Enter: Meteorology (an unpredictable sprite).
Arthur’s Pass is forecast to have a 90% chance of rain with thunderstorms, some of which could be “severe”, for the next two days. Hail was mentioned, to boot. It sounded delightful. There seemed little point in burning two tanks of diesel travelling a pass that we couldn’t see even if it is iconic. We decided to head east for Akaroa instead, which is at least supposed to remain dry. It’s less than 200kms so not a testing drive. Akaroa is supposed to have a French influence and is on the usual tourist track.
The journey shouldn’t have been testing but turned out to be so. What made it testing was trying and failing to find a couple of sights en route [just practising for the French bit]. The first was some fishing huts, marked on the map. Leaving the main road, we followed yellow signs to Rakaia Huts. To our surprise, Raika Huts turned out to be a small village. Of the fishing huts shown on our map there was no sign. Rakaia Huts was, at least, sunny and, if you wanted to do nothing but relax, there was a relatively normal-looking (by our European standards) campsite – sort of like a French camping municipal. We moved on and tried a second road which rapidly deteriorated into a gravel track. Still no sign of any fishing huts, just a pebble land spit, sea and sky. We admitted defeat.
Our second failure was trying to find a wetland reserve, also shown on our road map. Not only did we lose that but we lost the sun as well. Any sun really was just hugging the coast. We returned, via a complicated satnav route, to the main road to continue towards Akaroa. The final approach became a sinuous mountain road the like of which we had not driven since our first days on the Coromandel Peninsular on North Island. We checked-in to the Top 10 site at Akaroa because it is conveniently situated to visit the town, despite its having several negative reviews. Hmmm?
After a beer, we descended the steep walking track into Akaroa itself. Akaroa seemed pleasant enough with a picturesque harbour but the New Zealand Tourist Board has definitely been at it again. In my view, demonstrating a French influence demands rather more than flying the Tricolour, calling your hardware store a quincaillerie and painting Gendarmerie across the police station. The butcher was called simply a butcher – refreshingly honest – but was, at least, selling boudin noir, though I didn’t think I could do that justice in Busby. A bijou restaurant selling moules would have been appealing but, of course, they’d be those humongous green-lipped mussels here, rather than the delicious, tender, moules de buchot of France proper.
We rebelled and dined on spaghetti carbonara.
Being a popular destination, this campsite is again something of a sardine packing factory. To add to the pressure, there are several chalets, one of which is treating us to a bass line, and a group of school children is camping in four or five tents quite close by; they are trying their best to drown out the aforementioned bass line, bless them. The campsite facilities are tired, to say the least, and Francine had to paddle in dirty water to leave her shower. For dinner, she filled a pan with boiling water and tried to bring it back to the boil on an electric ring, finally giving up after 20 minutes.
In the face of some stiff competition, this campsite is the worst yet. We can’t leave soon enough.