New Zealand #07 – Banks Peninsula, Christchurch & Earthquake Part 2

May 21, 2017  •  1 Comment

February 2017

New Zealand #07 – Banks Peninsula, Christchurch & Earthquake (Part II)


Our route

01 2017-02-11 Akaora Cruise Day01 2017-02-11 Akaora Cruise Day


West side of Banks Peninsula

On the west side of the mountainous banks peninsula is a large lake (Lake Ellensmere) separated from the mountains by a relatively flat plain with good water coming down from the mountains making it quite suitable for farming and ranching.  As scenic places go this area is not all that remarkable.  What I found fascinating about it was how similar it is to the mid California coast.  The mountains look the same, the rolling hills look the same, the brown dried out summer grasses covering the hillsides look the same.  In fact the only clue that you were not in California was that the bus was driving along on the wrong side of the road.


Geography of the Banks Peninsula

02 2017-02-11 Banks Peninsula02 2017-02-11 Banks Peninsula


Brown grass covering rolling hills

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This could be Napa Valley if the field were full of grape vines

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Typical ranch land on the west side of the Banks Peninsula

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Banks Peninsula

As you can see on the included maps above, Christchurch sits just north of where the Banks Peninsula meets the rest of South Island.  This peninsula was formed by two volcanoes, the Lyttelton volcano and the Akaroa volcano.  The caldera of the Lyttelton volcano flooded making the harbor which is now Christchurch’s port.  Similarly the Akaroa caldera is now Akaroa harbor and is our destination for today. 

The Akaroa volcano erupted 7 to 8 million years ago for a period of 1 to 1.5 million years.  As it turns out, one of the later eruptions was a sideways blast, much like Mt. St. Helens in the United States.  This blast formed a large canyon all the way to the sea and today that canyon is the Akaroa harbor.  Actually it looks more like a sound or fjord, but they call it a harbor.  It is around 7.5 nautical miles long and gets as much as 100 feet deep near the ocean end.  Akaroa in Maori literally means “long harbor”


European Settling of Akaroa Harbor

This particular harbor has a somewhat interesting history.  In the 1830’s the South Island supported a thriving whaling and sealing industry.  Industry is hardly a accurate term compared to industries today, but let’s just say there were several ships plying the waters along the NZ coast looking for whales and seals to slaughter and sell.  At one point a French whaling ship wandered into what is now Akaroa Harbor, probably for shelter from a storm or to perform some repairs.  A couple of sailors took a shine to the place and decided that it would be a good spot to start up a trading post and start a French colony.  So, they cut a deal with the local Maori and got permission to stay and build a couple of buildings.  They built some shacks to live in and established an immigration company to bring in more settlers.  A ship was acquired from someplace to fetch new settlers.  I’m not sure how they got a ship being in such an isolated location or in what manner they came by the ship, but they did get one - somehow. 

With their own ship they were able to arrange for some French settlers to immigrate to their fledgling little town by Akaroa harbor.  In fact, 64 families paid them for the privilege to be taken on a 27,000 mile trip literally half way around the world on a sailing ship just to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere on an island next door to Antarctica where you will be permitted to build a house for yourself using whatever you can find nearby, if you don’t get eaten by cannibals first.  Sounds like just the sort of thing worth paying a large sum of money to do. But, 64 families felt it was worth doing and signed on.  I guess they didn’t care for their neighbors in France and wanted a change of scenery.  It took the French ship 2 years to sail to France, sell whatever they brought with them from New Zealand, find settlers willing to pay to be taken back, provision the ship and make their way back to Akaroa.

But the world didn’t wait for them.  While they were off getting settlers and unbeknownst to them the British who had colonized Australia, came over to NZ and made their own deal with the Maori for the entire area of both the North and South Islands.  This was the famous treaty of Waitangi we’ve talked about before and will again in later in this posting.  When the French eventually returned with their settlers, they first wanted to do some trading so landed at the top of the North Island where the British had set up a headquarters.  The French told them they were colonizing the Banks Peninsula for the French.  The British said no you’re not as we own the whole thing.  But, the French didn’t care and continued on their way down to their settlement. 

The British thought this was somewhat rude so they too set sail for the Banks peninsula and the race was on.   These two ships, one French and one British, literally raced down the east coast of the South Island.  But fate intervened.  Just before these two ships made it to what is now Akaroa Harbor, a big storm blew in causing the French ship to hole up for two days during which time the British ship kept going and sailed into the harbor ahead of the French ship.  The Brits promptly marched up a hill and planted the British Flag, which was enough to claim the area for the British.  And, the whole thing was over.  Then the French ship arrived and discovered that their French colony was now a British colony, but what the heck – those 64 French settlers stayed anyway and built a little town.


Akaroa harbor from Hilltop Tavern

Duvauchelle-Akaroa HarborDuvauchelle-Akaroa Harbor


Duvachelle mud flats across from the town of Akaroa

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Akaroa and Akaroa Harbor

Even today, the northern half of the town of Akaroa still bears much of its French heritage.  There are French street names like Rue Levaud and Rue Grehan.  In addition the city blocks in this section of town are laid out the same as French towns using the metrics from France.   Many shop names are still French.  In this section of town one can also find a fine collection of 19thy century cottages and homes. 

The resident population of Akaroa is a whopping 624 of which 31% are over the age of 65 – I’d feel right at home here.  However during the big mid summer holiday season at Christmas time, the population swells to over 15,000 when the tourists show up.  Due to this it should be no surprise that 60% of the dwellings in town are “batches”.  A “batch” is shorthand for “bachelor” as in “bachelor pad”.  The meaning of this term has evolved over time in New Zealand and now means a vacation home or someplace you don’t live in all the time but just visit from time to time.

So, start with 624 year round residents, then add another 15,000 vacationers in the summer and then wait for the cruise ships to come in.  Each cruise ship drops anywhere from 5,000 to 5,500 people into town and on many high season days there are 2 and sometimes 3 cruise ships in town at the same time.  So with 2 cruise ships in port, the little town of 624 people now has well over 25,000 people of which at least the 10,000 from the cruise ships are all looking for someplace to have lunch at the same time.  Our guides were quite happy that there were no cruise ships in town on our day there and things were not nearly as hectic.


3 row boats in the harbor

Three BoatsThree Boats


Decommissioned lighthouse moved here from the other end of the harbour.  It never served a nautical purpose at this location

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Church in little town of Onuku near Akaroa

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French Bay by Akaroa

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Everyone’s gotta make a living

The Traveling PianistThe Traveling Pianist


Dock leading out to French Bay

Seagull and dockSeagull and dock

Akaroa Harbor itself is more like a fjord or sound.  It is 7.5 nautical miles long and quite skinny, many times with sheer cliffs coming straight down into the water.  Our tour included a very nice cruise of the entire length of the harbor and then out into the pacific and a bit down the coast.   I’ll talk about wildlife in a minute, but first let’s talk geology.  As mentioned the northern end of this harbor is where the main vent of the Akaroa Volcano was.  The rest of the harbor is where a lateral blast opened a chasm all the way to the ocean which then filled with sea water forming the harbor. 

What remains visible today are many sheer cliffs showing the strata of a million years of volcanic activity as layer upon layer of lava swept over the area.  However at other places grass covered hillsides come more gently down to the water. 


Elephant Head Rock (use your imagination)

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Cathedral Cave

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Sea Cave

Sea CaveSea Cave



Wildlife is a large part of the New Zealand experience and the Akaroa area is no exception.  Before I launch into what we saw on our boat ride, let me bore you with some wildlife statistics about native fauna and flora.

  • 5,800 types of fungi
  • 2,000 types moths & butterfly
  • 1,100 types of spiders (only one is poisonous – jus annoying but not fatal)
  • 1,000 land snails
  • 550 types of moss
  • 170 types of earth worms
  • 85 millipedes
  • 91 land based birds
  • 85 native skinks and geckos
  • 38 fresh water fish varieties
  • 7 frogs
  • 3 bats
  • 5 types of kiwi
  • 0 mammals

Of course we didn’t see most of the items on this list during our trip, but on our Akaroa cruise we did see a few interesting critters.  Pretty much as soon as we left the dock there was a small group of South Island Hector’s dolphins.  Their cousins, the Popoto or Maui dolphins, also a subspecies of Hector’s dolphins are found around the west coast of the North Island and are the world’s rarest and smallest know subspecies of dolphins. 

Along the way we spied a colony of Hooker’s Sea Lion’s hauled up on the rocks.  There are about 10,000 of these left in the world and most are in and around New Zealand’s South and Stewart islands.  Some say that this breed is the rarest as well as most threatened breed of Sea Lion in the world.  As it turns out they are also considered one of the largest animals in New Zealand remembering that New Zealand hosts no native land mammals.  We saw several types of sea birds such as some Little Shag and a few Yellow Eye Penguins. 


Yellow Eyed Penguin, Akaroa Harbor

Yellow eyed PenguinYellow eyed Penguin


South Island Hector’s dolphin, Akaroa Harbor

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Hooker’s Sea Lion, near Akaroa Harbor, New Zealand South Island

Sea Lion Banks Peninsula, NZSea Lion Banks Peninsula, NZ


Little Shag near Akaroa Harbor, New Zealand

You looking at me? said the Little ShagYou looking at me? said the Little Shag


Post Earthquake Christchurch, Part II

After our cruise through the Akaroa harbor, and a wander around the town of Akaroa itself, we headed back to the damaged city of Christchurch and took a walk through the town to hear more about the earthquake and the rebuilding process. 

The downtown area is a mix of several things.  About half of the land is vacant lots, the rest are more or less evenly divided between partially collapsed or uninhabitable buildings, construction sites, and new or repaired buildings that are in use.  It is really an odd mix of things.  For example, they have installed a trolley (street car) system throughout the downtown area and like many tourist cities around the world run antique street cars on the tracks.  However, there really is not much need for public transportation as so little of the area is back in service.  So, instead of using this public transportation system for, well, public transportation they use it for city tours.  As the city gets rebuilt it will eventually be transitioned into a regular commuter-shopper transit system.  At another spot a grand cathedral  - without its soaring bell towers and with one whole side missing – sits in a sea of weeds right next to a public plaza with modern city art sculptures.  The contrast is quite striking.

Down by a small river that flows through town, which is the River Avon, one can find hand crafted flat bottomed boats for hire which are poled along by a punter in late 1800’s attire.  Are we in Christchurch NZ or Cambridge England?  We walked by the university which was severely damaged even though most of the buildings stayed upright and we were told of the raging battle between the “tear it down and start over” folks and the “repair and upgrade to keep the historic look of the place” people.  Most people favor repairing the buildings but the cost is astronomical compared to the cost of tearing it down and putting up modern structures.  So, other than a few buildings it stands mostly empty.

Then there is Re-Start Mall.  This is an area by the Avon River that was a major retail shopping district with department stores and dozens of fancy shops and restaurants all of which had to be torn down.  To get small businesses back up and running – and to encourage people to come into town – they built an entire shopping center out of shipping containers stacked together and on top of each other.  This is the Restart Mall and formed a shopping area very quickly that kept many businesses afloat and gave shoppers a reason to come into town.  The original Restart Mall covered several city blocks where the old City Mall used to be.  But this was only a temporary solution.  Eventually it came time to build real buildings on these sites.  As each section was ready for construction to start the shipping container stores on those spots were moved and sandwiched into other blocks of the mall.  As new buildings are opened some of the container shops move into the new spaces and their old containers become home for the next set of construction refugees.  As of this writing there is basically only one or two blocks of the container mall still standing.  But, right across the street is a major construction project for the new shopping district.


Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.  Both bell towers collapsed, entire front gone

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament falling downCathedral of the Blessed Sacrament falling down


New modern art in Cathedral Square next to severely damaged cathedral. Christchurch, NZ

The ChaliceThe Chalice


New trolley system with historic cars, Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch streetcarChristchurch streetcar


Storefronts just as they were on on earthquake day – complete with merchandise inside

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The Chalice sculpture in new Cathedral Plaza in front of partially collapsed office building

The ChaliceThe Chalice


“Punting on the Avon” in Christchurch, NZ

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Rebuilding the shopping center, downtown Christchurch, NZ

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Restart Mall made of shipping containers, Christchurch, NZ

Re:start Mall  Christchurch NZRe:start Mall Christchurch NZ


Leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi

We talked a before about the Treaty of Waitangi where Britain convinced the native Maori to sign a treaty giving Great Brittan rule over the New Zealand islands.  So, let’s finish this installment with a history of the pre European Christchurch area and events leading up to the signing of the treaty.

As far as anyone can tell, the first people arrived here around 1000 AD.  These were the Moa Hunters.  Moa were large flightless birds – now long gone, sort of like an Ostrich and these first settlers found them to be a source for food.  About 400 years later another Maori tribe called the Waitaha people came down from the north and intermarried with the Moa Hunters and those who put up a fuss were pushed out and they fled down to the south.   However for the most part both of these groups were somewhat peaceful hunter gatherers.

The Maori people retain their history orally, passing stories and information down verbally from generation to generation.  One of the requirements of the society was to be able to trace your ancestry, person by person, all the way back in time.  But, interestingly enough, even though the Moa Hunters and Waitaha intermarried, this tracing of ancestors stops with the Waitaha even though some of them are the product of a Waitaha and a Moa Hunter.  The Moa side of the tree is just left out. 

Then in the early 1500’s, once again a tribe came down from the north and pushed the Waitaha aside.  These were the Mataminari (not sure of the spelling) band of Maori.  These folks ruled the area till the early 1600’s when the Niatarou (spelling?),  yet another tribe, came down from the North island and they beat out the Mataminari.  Boy talk about the need for a boarder wall, these folks really needed better control of attackers coming down from the north.  But, it still wasn’t over.

Around 1828 the Niatarou themselves came under attack, again from the North island by a chief called Te Rauparaha  Who had gotten muskets from the European’s.  This fellow made many raids in the South island and in 1828 he attacked a village in Akaroa harbor.  He knew he’d be spotted if he came down by land so he convinced an English trader – Captain Stewart - to transport his war party to Akaroa on a British merchant ship in exchange for a boat load of flax.

When the ship arrived in Akaroa, as was the custom, the local chief came out to meet the British ship and do some trading.  But as soon as he boarded the ship, the Maori war party who had been hiding below deck came out and captured him along with his wife and daughter.  Just to make sure that there wasn’t a counter attack from the village once they realized their chief was missing, that night some of the war party, aided by some of the ships crew went ashore and laid waste to the village and as was custom at the time had a huge feast eating the slaughtered villagers.  The next morning over 100 baskets of cooked human meat was taken back on board the ship, but no flax for Captain Stewart.  But they sailed away anyway with the chief and his family in chains.

Their next port of call was an island off the west coast of the North Island called   Kapiti Island where they met up with another western ship out of Sydney Australia.  This is where both ships company witnessed the execution and eating of the captured chief along with his wife and daughter. 

As it was somewhat difficult to negotiate with an armed blood thirsty chief, Capt Stewart did not push the point about his promised boat load of flax payment.  After dropping off Te Rauparaha and his merry band, Stewart left with only a small amount of flax.  When Capt Stewart and the other ship got back to Sydney, the people on the other ship ratted out Capt Stewart’s behavior.  As it turns out such behavior by European traders was not all that uncommon in the North island.  However, since it was reported, the British wanted to do something about it but really couldn’t as NZ was not subject to British authority. 

So, they decided to try and get British jurisdiction over NZ through a treaty with the natives.  They really didn’t want to control NZ as they had already had a less than satisfying experience in North America and currently had their hands full with their handling of Australia.  So they really didn’t want to jump into another colonization in another place.  Instead, they just wanted jurisdiction to go after this chief, which in turn meant they needed some official control of the area. 

To do this they crafted the treaty of Waitangi which said that the Maori would maintain ownership of their land, forests and fisheries but under British rule of law.  Only later did they move into colonialism at which time  this idea of Maori ownership was conveniently forgotten.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our New Zealand trip. 

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Or, this whole series at:

These and other Images of this trip can be found here

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Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated – Dan

(Info from Wikipedia, Road Scholar Lectures, and pamphlets gathered at various sites along the way and attraction websites)


Julie Prafke(non-registered)
Thanks, Dan. I always enjoy your blogs. I was really interested in seeing the earthquake damage as we were there in 2006. Loved the downtown area and I was trying to compare my pics with yours. So sad about the beautiful church but nice to see the boaters still poling on the Avon.

Keep traveling.
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