We had another early start today to watch the sail in to the beautiful harbour of Akaroa, where the ship was anchoring today, alongside another cruise ship. We watched the sun rise gradually over the volcanic hills surrounding us, then had breakfast and went to meet for our tour - Akaroa Nature Cruise. We got our tender boat ashore, which we had been warned would take at least half an hour, but in fact was barely 15 minutes. This took us to Akaroa village, where we found our catamaran for the morning amongst the collection of small boats dotted around the harbour. The boat soon set off and the captain gave us a bit of local history then took us on a tour of the area. We saw the mussel and salmon farms to one side of the harbour, which have the unplanned consequence of attracting larger marine life! One such group of creatures soon appeared - a pod of bottlenose dolphins! There were about 10 of them, including a calf, and we spent a magical 15 minutes with them - they came up close to the ship and swam alongside us, swimming under the boat, and also leapt through the air in amazing patterns. In the end the captain told us we had to move away as they have strict laws governing interacting with wildlife, and we must not be considered to be pestering them. I got the impression that the dolphins would have happily played all day though! Next we headed to the cliffs alongside the harbour, to see the appropriately named Elephant Head rock, the patterns made by ancient lava flow in the cliffs, and the Cathedral Cave which has a spooky echo! There were many cormorants nesting nearby, and small waterfalls trickling down the steep slopes. We saw trees on the cliff top growing at a 45 degree angle due to the strong winds! Soon afterwards we got our one and only glimpse of one of the local Little Blue Penguins, much to my delight! Sadly none of the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguins which are found in this area though. We did see some Hectors Dolphins, another endangered creature, much shyer than the bottlenose so they only stayed for a minute but were lovely to see! :-) We also saw some most unexpected wildlife - sheep! Looking at the steepness of the hills surrounding the bay, you wouldn't think it was possible for a sheep to walk down, but 3 of them had managed it from a hilltop farm, and were now stuck :-( The boat crew told us they were hoping to assist the farmer somehow in rescuing them, but they weren't quite sure how... We also saw a few fur seals jumping and swimming through the water by the low rocks. A wonderful experience! And even better, on the way back to the dock we were offered a complimentary cup of hot chocolate - well needed as it had been distinctly chilly on deck! I was sure I had made the right decision about cancelling the original tour I had been booked on - swimming with dolphins. When I booked it I had imagined tropical waters and bright sunshine, not 18 degrees, cloud and wind and 12 degree water!!
By the time we got back to the village it was 11.00, so we set off to have a wander through Akaroa itself. One place which had been highly recommended in the port talk was called the Giant's House and Mosaic Garden, so we went there first. The short uphill walk there was well worth it as the place was incredible. The gardens reminded us of Gaudi's Parc Güell in Barcelona, as they were full of fantastical mosaic sculptures, set amongst the plants and trees - there were lettuces and tomatoes growing in the middle of some of the decorative areas! The place has to be seen to be believed so you will have to wait to see the many photos I took! The beautiful colourful house is a bed and breakfast, so we were not able to go inside, but just peeking through the windows was fascinating! Apparently one of the rooms has a fishing boat which has been turned into a bed! The artist who lives here and has made the garden from scratch must have the most incredible imagination.
We then made our way back to the waterfront where we wandered the streets, looking at churches, pretty houses, and spotting signs of French influence - this was the only place in New Zealand settled mainly by French people back in 1840. Many of the roads and shops have French names, and the restaurants and cafes have very French menus, much to our delight! After admiring the views for a while, we settled at one which offered a lovely menu plus free wifi! And what did JL end up eating? Fish and chips!!! [yes but the best fish and chips I've ever eaten in my life!,] I then bought a gorgeous raspberry and white chocolate ice cream to eat in the sunshine.
Akaroa was another place we could happily have stayed, but eventually it was time to make our way back to the ship - luckily we picked a time where there was no queue for the tender boats, and were soon safely back on board. We went along to dinner and had a lovely view as we sailed out of the harbour. We then went to see the comedian Jeff Stevenson's second show - he made lots of jokes related to the Captain's announcement that we would be altering our course to try to avoid Cyclone Pamela over the next few days... Eek! I then went to see the second show by the singer Ben Makisi who sang a lovely range of songs from opera to traditional New Zealand and South Pacific tunes. And then to bed ready for our third day in a row ashore - this is exhausting stuff!