226 Days on the Road
Guess what? We’re back in Akaroa! We know, we know, we have already spent a week here seeing the smallest species of penguins, jet boating, swimming with dolphins… Yadda, yadda… But after having quite the setback from our campervan braking down, our plans our super messed up! Nevertheless, we loved our time in Akaroa, New Zealand’s little French and Wildlife Capital, so much that to hell with it! Why not spend more time here while we re-plan our next 139 days? That’s a beauty of a gap year in New Zealand, you have plenty of time to see the country at your own pace – even when doing 365 Days doing 365 Activities. And the activities don’t stop! The sun is blasting down on the Akaroa Harbour today, perfect for a sailing trip on the boat with the red sails, Fox II.
Riding the Red Sails
With our sexy new wheels, (Ok, a Toyota Alphard people-mover ain’t exactly “sexy” but at least there’s enough room to sleep in it), we head down to Daly’s Wharf in Akaroa – a wharf that we are about to find out is pretty significant here in the French town. We meet our captain for today, Roy, along with crew as they welcome us onto the historic sailing boat. It’s a boat that we have seen cruising around the Akaroa last time we were in town as we have watched envious of the people sitting under its grand red sails. All in all, the boat looks completely badass.
Getting to know Akaroa
The crew start attaching those very same red sails to a complicated-looking system of ropes while Roy is putting on the engine just to power us slowly away from the wharf and other boats. From the get-go Roy is sharing his wealth of knowledge about Akaroa starting with how Dalys Wharf, the oldest surviving wharf in Akaroa, was built by the French who settled here after attempting to colonise the South Island (only to be beaten by those pesky British). From the wharf to the random lighthouse in the middle of town to a Maori marae surrounded by forest, Roy doesn’t let a thing go by without telling us something interesting about it!
Oh my god, Dolphins!
Once safely away from Akaroa, those red sails are going up! Oh yeah! The sensational views of coastal cliffs actually formed by an ancient volcano, coupled with the calm waters of the harbour, it feels pretty darn peaceful out here right now. Roy puts on some soothing easy-listening tunes, not to make this experience any more atmosphere, but he says it’s his “little trick” for attracting some dolphins. Sure enough, two dolphins, joined by a third one, joined by a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh… until the nineteenth(!) start slowly drifting along with the the bow of the boat. These Hector’s dolphins are the smallest species of dolphins in the world and we are so close we can almost touch them! (But we wouldn’t actually do that – that’s really bad for them).
The awkward moment when the dolphins won’t leave…
We watch the Hector’s dolphins spinning in the water, trying to pinch each other’s swimming spot, teasing each other… This sort of behaviour goes on for ages – so long, in fact, that Roy is now moving on with the rest of the tour giving us more commentary. He switched on the engines for a little bit of speed, which the dolphins get a little excited about challenging each other to leaps and jumps, albeit small jumps. (They are the world’s smallest dolphins, Ok?! Give them a break!)
Every moment is a dolphin show at the bow of the Fox II
A story in layers
So the dolphins join us for the majority of the trip, probably learning as much as we are from Roy who is now showing us a part of the towering sea cliffs with distinct layers running through it.
“The layers tell the history of the Akaroa Harbour,” Roy explains, “Each layer is from a eruption in the volcano.” A type of seabird known as “shags” in New Zealand have called these cliffs home, but it is when spotted on the water that they are most entertaining. The black and white (and sometimes grey) seabirds with a relatively long neck use the water’s surface as a runway to catch enough speed to take flight.
At the bottom of these magnificent cliffs, we spot a small group of seal pups clambering up the rocks following a much more agile adult. Seriously, how much wildlife is out here?!
And then there were penguins…
Just like when you are hiking in New Zealand’s forests where the slower you go, the more you see, the Fox II goes steady enough to attract yet more dolphins and give us the opportunity to spot at least five little blue penguins swimming either alone or in pairs on the water. We’ve seen the world’s smallest dolphins and the smallest penguins all in one day!
Volcanic cliffs and caves
The theme might be tiny marine animals and birds, but the landscape is far from tiny! The Fox II follows a magnificent part of the coastline with a nikau palm forest nestled in a valley with its own micro-climate – the southernmost palm trees you’ll find. This valley abruptly stops with a sheer cliff and a waterfall flowing into the sea. Sounds more like a landscape of fantasy doesn’t it?
Next, we arrive (and go into) a place called Cathedral Cave. Roy shows us exactly how it got its name by putting on some powerful music. Indeed, the acoustics are magical! We swear even the seagulls occupying the cave stopped what they were doing for a listen… (Or that’s what we like to believe).
No place we’d rather be
We make our way back to Dalys Wharf a little behind schedule since we had such an amazing dolphin viewing, and finally, FINALLY, Roy tells us the story of Fox II! (And what the hell happened to Fox I?!) Spoiler alert: there was no Fox I…
It’s back to Akaroa, a town we know so much more about now, where we say goodbye to the Fox II crew and drive to our accommodation in Wainui absolutely buzzing about our day. We look at each other and totally know that we have made the decision staying in Akaroa and the Bank Peninsula a little while longer. Admit it! It’s not a bad place to be.
Join us tomorrow for…
Look at the dolphins swimming below!
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See you tomorrow!