High Country Exploring – Akaroa to the Southern Alps

Akaroa was the first South Island settlement established by the French and British settlers in 1840.  Located on the fertile Banks Peninsula between Canterbury Bight and Pegasus Bay, this area is known for some of the country’s finest grazing land.  We had arrived at a new port with another wonderland of wildlife and natural beauty!

At Akaroa, Holland America’s New Zealand Discovery Cruise offers an incredible shore excursion – High Country Exploring that takes you off the beaten path.  From this quaint town, our chartered bus ascended the hills of the Banks Peninsula that provided jaw dropping views of the rugged eastern coastline.  HAL provides a perfect description of this excursion as follows “This adventure tour explores one of New Zealand’s least-visited areas – the rugged hill country of the southern Alps which stands in dramatic contrast to the flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch.  This off-the-beaten-track excursion will take you into pristine high country that even New Zealanders seldom see.  From Akaroa drive across the fertile Canterbury Plains, before crossing the Waimakariri River at the Gorge Bridge.  Travel on through the Oxford area before entering the 10,000-acre property of Woodstock Station, the largest farm in the Oxford area, located along the northern boundary of the Waimakariri River Gorge.  At the secluded Riverside Lodge on the edge of the gorge, enjoy morning tea while viewing the fast flowing river below.  Then, board your next mode of transportation – the Hamilton jet boat – which will take you on a thrilling and spectacular scenic ride deep into the heart of the Waimakariri Gorge.  Along the way, your knowledgeable captain wioll stop at historic river locations and secluded fishing pools.”

The Flock Hill Lodge, www.flockhill.co.nz , off of State Highway 73 in the Craigieburn Valley, Cass is a perfect rest stop to have lunch and take in the views of the high country.  After a full day of exploring by jet boat, 4WD, and some “tramping” (New Zealanders term for walking), we had ventured deep into the heart of the South Island and felt like we were had been on a Lord of the Rings set.  Turns out, our guide said we were on the land where some of the scenes were filmed.

Again, when we returned to the ship, we heard about others amazing excursion stories.  Some took the “Fresh from the Wharf” cooking class in Akaroa and created a number of dishes using locally caught fish right outside the door from local fisherman who bring the catch of the day and sell it right on the wharf.  Others walked the eclectic French and Victorian charm-filled town, and some visited nearby sheep farms to see sheep-shearing demonstrations,  and went into woolsheds to learn about the farm’s history and how farming has changed since 1837.  We heard from others who went into Christchurch and told us that it was devastating to see the destruction from the recent earthquakes.

We already want to return to Akaroa, and walk the Banks Peninsula track which is one of the most popular regional attractions.  The trail traverses through the inner slopes of the ancient crater across more than 20 miles of coastal farmland, and sometimes you can see penguin colonies from the trail and dolphins just offshore in the bay.

But after a wonderful day in the High Country, we were ready for a delicious gourmet meal at the Pinnacle Grill on MS Volendam, and excited to cruise to the next Port Wellington.