Day 1 – Getting to Akaroa, an eventful experience

Sometimes, the best remedy to jet lag is sightseeing. Not relaxing at the hotel or lazing by the pool, but walking your socks off and going from place to place. That is exactly what we did to get ourselves going, as we decided to take a full day trip to Akaroa on our very first day in NZ. Our plan was to take a shuttle bus in the morning, reach Akaroa and do a Hector Dolphin cruise there before coming back to Christchurch in the evening. We had initially hoped to see penguins on Pohatu Reserve, but the month when we were visiting NZ was moulting season for the penguins. So there was little chance of seeing them in the wild, unless we stayed overnight – which was not our plan. But dolphins are exciting too, so we made our plans for the cruise.

Just to backtrack a bit, on our arrival at Christchurch airport the previous day, we were really tired and wanted to sort out our Akaroa trip bookings as soon as we could. We did not want to leave it to chance for the next day. We basically needed to make two bookings, one for the shuttle from Christchurch and one for the dolphin cruise. We had problems getting a local SIM for our phone at the airport (device compatibility issues), and hence we really needed someone to call the bus and cruise companies on our behalf, and make those bookings. As we were departing the airport, we saw an i-site in the arrival hall. I-sites are places around NZ that make phone calls and help you book transport/activities, besides offering other tourism services. We asked the lady at the i-site to make a booking with French Connection shuttle. I had researched their website before and it was $45 per person return trip. But for some reason, the lady at the i-site said it was $100 per person. Hmm, I felt something was fishy. But we were so tired, short on time, and without a local phone. So we just went ahead with that price. We were hurriedly given a voucher for our booking, as there were other tourists lining up for assistance. I also asked the i-site lady to call the dolphin cruise company, but we again were quoted a very high price. So, I gave up on the cruise booking and decided to just book it on the spot the next day. I had taken a chance.

Now coming back to Day 1, the day we were to go to Akaroa, we were excited! It was a cloudy and windy morning. We had breakfast in our room (thanks to the New World visit the previous evening). I have to say, the dairy/dairy products in NZ are of the highest quality, and you must try them. Then we put on some layers and headed to the shuttle stop, which was at the museum – right across from our room! At that time, little did we know how eventful our morning was going to be. While we waited outside the museum for our shuttle, we saw a shuttle bus of a company called Akaroa Shuttle. The Akaroa Shuttle was waiting for a while, but no one was getting on it. After few minutes, that shuttle bus left and then our French Connection bus came. As we lined up to get on board, to my horror I found out that we were not on their list. Our payment voucher from the airport i-site was not valid, as it was for Akaroa Shuttle and not French Connection! The lady at the airport i-site, for whatever reason, had apparently booked us with Akaroa Shuttle. But she had not informed us on the same. I did not know there were two shuttle companies. It was a major mix-up!

The French Connection bus driver said he was on a schedule and he had to leave soon. He said that I basically had only 5 mins to buy brand new tickets from the nearby i-site at the museum. It was the last shuttle bus to Akaroa leaving from Christchurch that day! (there were only two and one had already gone). Not knowing how to react and what had hit me, I just ran to the museum, bought new tickets and somehow managed to come back as the driver was about to leave. While buying the new tickets from the museum i-site, I requested them to inform the airport i-site about the mix up and ask for a refund of the money we paid the previous day (NZ$ 200 for Akaroa Shuttle). They were kind enough to help me out on that, but said it is not guaranteed whether I will get a refund or not. Paying twice for two different shuttle companies, I finally left for Akaroa, but with an air of suspense. I did not knowing whether I would loose my money or how things would pan out. I just had to trust that things will be alright in the end and not worry too much. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and not let unexpected things get in the way of our enjoyment. Still, it was a rough start to our NZ trip.

On the bright side though, the French Connection shuttle driver was quite sociable and gave out interesting facts about life in NZ, as we made our way out of Christchurch. Passing through the typical countryside, rolling hills and sheep farms that are common in Canterbury, we approached the Akaroa area. Akaroa is a former volcano crater and the road that leads to the harbour is hilly and winding. About 15 mins out of Akaroa, we stopped for a photo stop at the Hiltop Tavern, a popular eatery with lovely views of Akaroa harbour. We were treated to the following beautiful views, and we started to realize why visiting Akaroa might just be worth all the trouble that we went through earlier in the day.


        (view of Akaroa harbour from Hiltop Tavern)


         (view of Akaroa harbour from Hiltop Tavern)


         (view of Akaroa harbour from Hiltop Tavern)



         (driving towards Akaroa town center)



         (driving towards Akaroa town center)

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