Dec 27

Akaroa and Hector’s dolphin

by in Drawing & Writing

Akoroa and Hector’s Dolphin

The bus-ride out of Christchurch was sight-seeing + nostalgia + a heavy scoop of melancholy. The driver spoke in the tone of someone showing the exact spot where his house burned down.

“Do you see that building right there? That one’s got to come down. The one on the corner comes down, the next one’s gotta come down, and all of those because of the February earthquake.” He turned right at the fenced-in sector. “We’re about to go past the old arts center–but at the moment, that building, there with the crane, that’s coming down. Those were the south island’s most expensive apartments, and now they have to come down.” We passed a beautiful stone building. “On your right-hand side is the arts center, and this was one of our iconic buildings, and we don’t know whether it’s going to be rebuilt or not, because it would be a $300 million job to do it.”

Outside of Christchurch, he commented on something that, for professional drivers, is probably akin to a wineries for sommeliers. “It used to be a fine road, good and straight. Now it’s a bit bumpy… and there’s a few more bumps in here after yesterday.” The subject turned to liquefaction. “One of my friends has a house in the eastern suburb, and he cannot use his house, because in February there was a lot of liquefaction, and this went right through his house and was about 300mm, or 30cm, deep, in some places through his house. So he had to move out, and his house has been demolished. This just happened again yesterday, not as much as before, but significant.”

At a pit-stop, the Asian-Kiwi owner of an astonishingly beautiful hillside café–one that took in the entirety of the Akaroa bay we were about to visit–walked over to our table and leaned over the bold, red, NZ Herald headline that was to dominate the entire weekend, without containing a word: “1:58 – 5.8, 2:06 – 5.3, 3:18 – 6.0, 4:50 – 5.0″. It seemed like the guy wanted to talk, so I said, “Exciting, huh?” He shook his head. “You can’t get earthquake insurance anymore. Any damage, we have to pay for.” When Antje ordered a bagel with pesto, the rastafarian-haired waitress informed her that it wasn’t available. “It got smashed yesterday, so sorry!” Another earthquake casualty.

Akaroa, our bus-driver informed us, was France’s best effort at colonizing New Zealand.
At some point France decided that Akaroa–a thumb to the south island’s body–would be a good place to set up a colony. So they got together a group of 65 people, some French, some German, and set sail in early 1840. From there it was storms, storms, storms. They went to the north island as soon as possible to re-stock, at Waitangi, where they found the British signing a treaty with the Maoris, “The treaty of Waitinge.” It caused “no end of problems”, according to our bus driver, “because there’s an English version, and there’s Maori version, and the two do not say the same thing.” When the British found out that the French were intending to come out to Akaroa, one of the British captains decided he would slip out under the cover of darkness and beat them to it. 11 days later the French sailed up the harbor, ready to disembark. The British flag had been raised, and the British, kind as they are, let them stay, which is sort of like offering a second-place-finisher your stool to sit upon. And thus the French-feeling city of Akaroa.

Here, the women wear hats. Here, there are organic goods. Here there are rue-de-whatevers. And here there is Tree Crop Farms.

I can’t actually describe this place. It’s so idyllic, so utterly Eden-like, that to describe it in human language would be to remove a piece of that Eden, word-by-paltry-word. The photographs are a grave injustice. You have to physically experience it with all five senses in tune, and I can only say, “Good work, Lynne. You’re doing it right.”

Most tourists go to Akaroa–if they go at all–to swim with the world’s smallest dolphin, the Hector’s Dolphin, the world’s rarest. That’s what we were doing, and with the stupid good luck of the happy tourist, I asked one of our captains, a Scotsman, who this ‘Hector’ was. “Well,” he piped up, puffing out his chest, “you must be referring to Sir James Hector, the SCOTSMAN who did so much for New Zealand.” He went on to describe one of those 19th-century renaissance men who captured every field of science in a single lifetime, and then gave it all back at the end to whichever country he chose to love. In this case it was New Zealand, and the Te Papa Museum, New Zealand’s Louvre of the Natural Sciences, whose first floor we manage to appreciate… in three full hours. Our Scotsman/dolphin-guide actually swelled up in the telling–he believed in the man, in his mission, and because of that, we did too–and all of this in spite of the fact that this dolphin-guide had been a class clown five minutes earlier, telling each and every tourist, “This seat is the best, that seat is the best, that seat’s also the best seat,” etc. etc. etc.

In the harbor, fish were not dropped off the side of the boat. Nothing was done to attract the dolphins. Absolutely nothing. As our guides explained, they simply stop the boats where the dolphins are seen, and if the dolphins choose to swim around (“friendly”), we all hop in, and if not (“unfriendly”), we don’t hop in. Simple as that.

They’re as friendly as little children. For 45 minutes, in very cold water, the dolphins buzzed us dozens of time. At one point they encircled Antje for a full minute, and my own best moment was singing into an inverted snorkel (recommended by the guides for dolphin attraction), and hearing the “Puh!” of the blowhole behind me. [song: Flight of the Navigator theme]

Good work, Blackcat Cruises.



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