Pohatu Penguins at Akaroa, Mount Sunday, and Christchurch

Posted by Patrick Lam on Friday, July 24, 2020

Table Of Contents

Our South Island trip had three distinct components, so it makes sense to post about them separately. This is part 2. Part 1: Heaphy Track. Part 3: Arthur’s Pass and the TranzAlpine. Part 3b: BreakFree on Cashel.

Full galleries at https://gallery.patricklam.ca/index.php?/category/1227.

July 10: French-themed day in Canterbury

More pictures from July 10

After a big day on July 9th, finishing the Heaphy Track and getting to the suburbs of Christchurch, we were scheduled to go see penguins in Akaroa with Pohatu Penguins. MP signed us up for their maximal experience, including getting driven up to the crater rim and enjoying the scenery of Akaroa Harbour, followed by walking down the last bit of the first day of the Banks Track, an evening penguin tour, and sea kayaking the next morning. Well, the maximal experience didn’t include food, but that was good for us. It’s nice to self-cater on trips.

I’d done a bit of homework and located the best croissant place in Christchurch: Le Panier (French ex-chef and chief baker). Fortunately it was close to where we were staying and made sense to visit on the way out. It did, indeed, have among the best croissants I’ve ever had. The staff looked tired. Getting up at 4am to make croissants is hard work and we should probably pay more for them.

The views would perhaps have been sweeter if we had walked from Onuku up to the rim of the volcano, but having just done the Heaphy Track, I was fine with Kevin (another French expat) of Pohatu Penguins driving us up there in a van and enjoying the views. While driving around we also learned of a local brouhaha about a tech millionaire wanting to do Akaroa promotion in a somewhat loose-cannon way, from a chat between Kevin and a neighbour. We saw seals in the water and giant petrels as well.

The Banks Track is really slippery at this time of year and there was a downed tree in the middle of it but we got down to the bottom without any wipeouts. There were good waterfalls again (exceeded expectations), as well as an underwhelming Mamaku Tree Fern. (Zealandia’s picture is better). We spotted sheep (white and black), a goldfinch, and a bog.

Then, French expat Ben came to give us an evening penguin tour and to tell us all about little blue penguins. The farm has both natural and artificial penguin nests. Natural nests have gotten harder to dig because the ground has been compacted by the sheep, I understood. The thing about the artificial nests is that the lid is removable and we can look at the penguins. There was a lighter-coloured Australian penguin who had swum over to join the fun. Also less shy than the natives. (Like Australians?)

We spotted an oystercatcher catching an oyster. Then there was a real-life nature show where the endangered giant petrel was trying to eat endangered penguins. (There’s not really any winners there.) Diving maneuvers! It didn’t get any.

Later on, while making dinner in the lodge (more comfortable than even a DOC Great Walk hut!), we heard a cat. Apparently the owners have an outdoor cat who is known to not eat penguins. They are quite aware of which penguins come by and of the stoats that kill, but don’t eat, the penguins. We were unsure about what to do with the cat so we kept it inside for a while as MP went to check up with the owners. “Nah, the cat is fine.” We went for a walk after dark and there were penguins out, which we heard and saw.

July 11: Sea Kayaking and Mount Sunday/Mount Somers

More pictures from July 11

The last part of doing all of the penguin things was a sea kayaking tour again with Kevin where we got to see penguins on the cliffs as well as geese, seals, and spotted shags. Taking pictures from (moving) kayaks is a bit tricky but MP got some. At least that is one advantage of a double kayak. We saw a couple of penguins who had not bothered to go out for a swim. It’s a different perspective to see them from the water as they hang out on land, and in larger groups.

Back in Akaroa, we took a quick look inside St. Peter’s Anglican Church (totara interior, says the Internet), and enjoyed a pie before heading on.

We had planned Mount Sunday (Edoras) for the next day (actually a Sunday) but the weather was forecast to be marginal so we drove straight from Akaroa to Mount Sunday and got the full experience there too. Just packing the things together. Next trip (to Rakiura/Stewart Island) will be more relaxed and has a bunch of rest days built in.

Mount Sunday was a meeting point for boundary riders (cowboys, I guess, who patrolled the edges of properties). They would meet up on the summit on Sundays. Fittingly, we got there on a Sunday as well, and in time for the good weather. Mount Sunday is not very high but gets an excellent perspective on the surrounding higher foothills and mountains. Great place to film as Edoras, although I wonder about being cut off from supply chains in an actual conflict. The summit was super windy! Excellent effort-to-reward ratio on this hike. The “no commercial tours” sign is odd since there are relatively-well-advertised tours. I imagine they have a side deal.

We’d planned to stay in Mount Somers just outside the foothills and go to Mount Sunday early the next day. Our revised itinerary took us to Mount Sunday first, but then Mount Somers was still located as close as possible to Mount Sunday without being exorbitantly luxe. Indeed, a cabin cost NZ$55, though the bed comfort level was commensurate with the price. Mount Somers is another tiny village. Bigger than Arthur’s Pass but not much. Everyone was at the Mount Somers Tavern and we had a fried seafood basket there. Maybe there was another food option 300m down the street but the staff at the Holiday Park didn’t tell us about it and I only saw it afterwards.

July 12: Mount Sunday to Christchurch

More pictures from July 12

While driving back to Mount Sunday, I noticed that there were heaps of baches at Lake Camp and Lake Clearwater, and some documentation mentioned crested grebes. There is actually a winter bird count in the area but we weren’t dressed for standing around in the cold so we just admired the pink clouds, took pictures at Lake Clearwater, and hurried back towards Christchurch. Grebes are apparently findable if you know where to look.

Along the way there was a scene: we saw two cows being herded across the highway. We waited patiently for them to clear the road while I scrambled to take pictures. After a brunch stop at Rakaia we finally made it to Christchurch, for real this time, rather than just a stop in the suburbs on the way to Akaroa.

Christchurch, a city in the plains, gave me the impression of being wide open. (“Christchurch’s new-look city-centre” in advertising materials.) That’s not necessarily a good thing. There is a lot of park space, as is the case in many NZ cities. But there also are a lot of parking lots on the periphery, which maybe were buildings that haven’t been rebuilt? The streets are wide and there are still noticeably many boarded-up buildings or even rubble (e.g. the Cathedral). My pictures don’t really show this, but consider the Google Maps photo, which will hopefully get updated as the world changes. I was pleased to see that NZ just now got rid of minimum parking requirements.

I get the impression that a lot of the action is in the shopping arcades/open-air malls. For instance the BNZ Centre doesn’t feel as closed-off as a typical mall, or even an open-air mall like the travesty that is Toronto Premium Outlets. It doesn’t have parking lots just outside of it. But neither does the Eaton Centre in Montreal. I think it’s a combination of being open (sometimes open-air) and integrated into the street fabric. The Riverside Market reminded me a bit of the Kitchener Market (e.g. in terms of having the upper floor) but more fancy, so perhaps between Kitchener and Montreal’s Time Out Market.

There were a couple of buildings still standing in the Victorian Gothic Revival style, e.g. the School of Art building by Thomas Cane.

There is a tram, but like the TranzAlpine, it’s a tourist tram, not transportation. Especially at the $25 fare. More like a hop-on hop-off bus.

We had decent kaiten sushi at KUMO in Addington (a neighbourhood with a number of restaurants but also a too-wide arterial running through it). Well, most of the sushi was legit. The McD roll was a bit weird, in the same way the double cheeseburger pie I’d had a few days ago was also weird. Then I walked back to our enjoyable room at Tower Junction Motor Lodge, which is just 800m from the train station. Well, I ran back, because it had started raining (which was why we had bumped up Mount Sunday).

I also decided that I didn’t want to be at the mercies of Arthur’s Pass provisions so I ran out to buy some food and found a Chinatown in Riccarton and also a Pak’n’Save.