Thursday, May 05, 2005

A day trip to France

Akaroa Harbour backed by mist-shrouded hills

About an hour south-east of Christchurch is the small town of Akaroa (pop. 900). Sitting at the bottom of a massive volcanic crater long-since filled with water, it used to be a small fishing village. It now caters mostly for tourists, as there are views, cafes, walks etc...and something more interesting - Akaroa has a secret. In the rush for land during the 1800's, most of the Australasian continent went to the British - but it nearly didn't go all their (or our) way. A boatload of French pioneers arrived in Akaroa harbour, and cheekily claimed the area for themselves. After agreeing terms with the local maori group, they all lived peacefully together and started to build the town. Yes, Akaroa is a tiny part of France in New Zealand.

Well, that's what they say. The streets aren't exactly full of French-speakers - when I was there the streets were hardly full of anything (although they do have French names, Rue Lavaud and Rue Jolie are the two main arteries). There was a torn tricolore fluttering outside a cafe by the water, a plaque to the original settlers...and that was about it. Still, it was a nice enough place - not really that French, but the Brits kept most of them down after the maori signed NZ over to them. They allowed the locals to keep the street names though, which was frightfully nice. And it makes an interesting day trip from Christchurch - but could really do with a bit more French atmosphere to liven things up a bit...