© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Sailing in Akaroa’s Wildlife-Filled Volcanic Crater

© NZPocketGuide.com

220 Days on the Road

We’ve been in Akaroa long enough to have heard the story of the French settlers of Akaroa. (And yes, two days is long enough to hear the stories). Evidence of it is all around the town, from the French flags hung from every shop to the French street names. Today, we are going to sail the seas just like those early explorers and settlers! (With the exception that we’re probably a lot cleaner and instead of sailing for months, we’ll sail for a couple of hours with the affordable Akaroa Sailing Cruises).

Finally, Robin’s personal favourite activity has come!

We park up the Jucy car – our saviour for this trip in Akaroa since our campervan has broken down – at the Akaroa Wharf and can spot the sailing yacht straight away, it’s mast sticking up alongside the wharf impossible to miss. Robin, who spent his first years living on a sailing boat and grew up sailing in competitions, is power walking to the yacht in eagerness leaving Laura in a cloud of dust. 220 days out of our 365 Days: 365 Activities he has been waiting to do this activity. Finally, his time has come!

Welcome aboard the SV Manutara

The skipper, Ray, greets us at the wharf and takes us onto the SV Manutara, a 14.4m sailing vessel with a bit of a history of its own. Before sailing off into the harbour, Ray that all-essential safety briefing. (We don’t want to get hit overboard by the boom!) Then we’re on our way.

Taking the helm

To get away from the wharf and slowly away from all the other boats docked in the area, an engine is used to power the boat and slowly move away. Then, once the open harbour is before us, Captain Ray is handing over the helm to Cabin Boy Robin, so the he can hoist the sails! To the inexperienced onlooker, like Matey Laura, there’s a lot of ropes being tightened/loosened in this complicated process, whereas Robin is simply enjoying being at the helm while we’re just getting started with the simplest maneuver of the yacht.

Sailing in an ancient volcano

The engine is turned off and it’s all about how we utilise nature now. Without the noise and the fumes you would usually get from a boating experience, there is something quite peaceful about sailing, especially when you have such stunning scenery to compliment that. Ray explains how the harbour we are currently sailing is actually the crater of an ancient volcano. The dark rugged cliff edges topped with green grass put there by European settlers is indented with various caves. The caves we are heading to right now are called “Penguin Cave”, where we do spot a little blue penguin calmly bobbing on top of the water, not caring at all that we are sailing right past it.

Tacking, jibing and being master sailors

Before we get too close to Penguin Cave, we are now turning the yacht (jibe) to head toward the other side of the harbour. This is a two-man job of Cabin Boy Robin turning the helm, Captain Ray moving the sails, and Laura staying down to watch the show and make sure the boom doesn’t hit her head.

Not a bad day or place for sailing, don’t you think?

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Elephant rock and Cathedral Cave

Our turning point to head back into the harbour comes when we reach the most magnificent formations of Akaroa Harbour, Elephant Rock. However, it’s not a place we want to get too close to with the large swell that brings waves crashing through the archway representing a gap between the elephant’s trunk and legs. Around the other side, Cathedral Cave is exposed, a towering cave that we can only assume is named after its grand size.

Akaroa’s wild side

Not only is Akaroa Harbour famous for it’s stunning volcanic-formed coastline, but it kind of has some amazing wildlife. Already, we have seen a hangout of shags flying closely over the water and diving at the opportunity of fish, above them circled a ternery of terns (see, we’re learning all the collective nouns today) waiting to snag the fish from the shags, and of course, we can’t forget our little blue penguin friends! Now, Ray shouts: “Dolphins!” from the helm. We rush to the bow to get a closer look!

Dolphin encounter

So close we could touch them, Hector’s dolphins swim with the boat, catching enough speed to pop up and dive back down again. It looks like a lot of fun for these dolphins, one of the world’s smallest species. (The Maui’s dolphin in the North Island is the smallest, and the most endangered). At around only 1.5m with a black rounded fin, they are pretty unusual but we can’t deny that they’re super cute. There’s nothing more rewarding than watching them in their natural environment.

After about 5-10 minutes, they obviously get bored of us and swim away, but we are left stoked at how closely we got to see them!

Tacking back to shore

Now it’s time to tack our way back to Akaroa. This time, Laura is helping Ray with the helm while we aim from side to side of the harbour, using the wind to push us. We can get some serious lean-ons with the wind wanting to push the sail over and the weight of the boat keeping us counter balanced. Ray tells us more about the MV Manutara, built in 1946 and completely built out of timber including native kauri – New Zealand’s largest tree that we learned a lot about in the North Island at the beginning of our adventure.

Trying to drag Robin off the boat…

After an afternoon of a rollercoaster of feelings: relaxed feeling of cruising, excitement at the sight of wildlife, awe at the landscape, and gaining heaps of insights about Akaroa, we finally come back to the wharf. It takes a lot to get Robin off the boat, but the promise of doing something productive like work seems to do the trick. (He’s a bit weird like that).

We head back to the Pohatu Penguins team’s sleep-out, as they have been so kind to help us out since our home on wheels decided to give up, work and wait eagerly for tomorrow’s activity. We got a taster for seeing the Hector’s dolphins today. Well tomorrow, we’re going to be swimming with them. Join us then!

The crew became a bit nervous when Laura took the helm

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