After a visit to the “i” site in Gremouth it wasn’t a hard decision to change our schedule and head back towards the East Coast. It would be socked in and rainy for the next several days and even if we made our way down to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers we wouldn’t be able to see a thing. So, we made a call and lined up a host in the Banks Peninsula at Akaroa and headed towards the fair weather. It took us about 3+ hours to drive up and over Arthur’s Pass and into Christchurch. It seems unbelievable that we crossed the entire country in only several hours! The visability over Arthur’s Pass wasn’t great and the fog hung in the folds of the mountains but this made for special views as well and the rain produced some spectacular waterfalls. I would quickly roll down the window and snap my photo then bring the camera in for a wipe down as Mike navigated the two-lane mountain roads. At one point we came to a semi-truck that was broken down in the left lane (remember Kiwis drive on the left) and had another passing around it on the right just in front of us. That was a bit hairy with the narrow slick roads and steep drop offs to the right. At the top of the pass we stopped to use the toilet (not the bathroom as we say in America because the Kiwis separate the toilet room and the bathroom, used for bathing, which is quite nice until you need to wash your hands and have to go over to the bathroom for that) and we came upon backpackers waiting out the rain in the facilities block while their drenched wee tent was pitched outside looking quite forlorn. We were happy to be able to get in our Bluebird and find the sun just over the pass. This area reminded me a bit of California in the summer months with the dry grasslands scattered with patches of greenery and the scattered rock formations that look as if a volcano had thrown them across the land.
After a brief stop in Christchurch we made our way to Akaroa and were greeted by breathtaking views of the bay that was formed by volcanic activity. Our SERVAS hostess Val was kind enough to give us accommodation in her bed and breakfast since she was having a visit with her sister Bet (Elisabeth). What stimulating conversations we had with these ladies! We talked of everything from crop circles (saw a video) to health and religion and the future of our planet. Val is 81 (Bet is 92) and is a testimony to a healthy lifestyle. She is vegan and has had a health shop (one of the first in New Zealand) and a health food restaurant (The Sunflower Centre in Fairlie) and is a health practitioner and does massage. She prepared us some of the most delicious meals I’ve eaten since we’ve been in New Zealand and they were entirely vegan (no meat or dairy). Somehow I felt that we were meant to cross paths with Val to refocus on the importance of diet and feeding the mind as well. The saying goes that if you haven’t got your health you haven’t got anything. We bought her cookbook at the shop in town and I plan to try out her recipes.
After a good sleep Val sent us on a steep hike up the hills of Akaroa for outstanding panoramic views of the long harbour with its volcanic origins. When Gregory started grumbling about the hike we said if Val can do this at 81 you can make it surely! We made our way into town, watched a bit of cricket in the park, went out along the pier and back to the Akaroa Museum where we learned about the early whalers, French and German immigrants from 1840 and the settlers. There was an interesting exhibit that told the story of Frank Worsley who was born in Akaroa and is famous for the role he played in Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition.
Once again we had a lovely tea with Val and Bet and stayed up until all hours visiting. In the morning she took the time, with Gregory, to toast some pumpkin seeds, in Tamari (good soy sauce), and sent them with us to snack on and she also gave us some of her delicious salad dressing. We feel blessed to have met this inspirational lady. I hope I am holding up as well as she is when I’m 81! She is still busy in her health practice and still does massage. She is quite a dynamo.