A Nature Lover’s Journey through Akaroa, New Zealand
By Dola RC
I always look forward to farm holidays with mixed feelings. Not that I ever had anything to complain about in any of the rural holiday destinations I went so far, but there is always a lurking danger that the agritourism destination may turn out to be a disaster. My fear is mainly associated with a perceived lack of amenities, such as a speedy internet connection, which is a prerequisite for any of my holidays.
I know what you are thinking: This is certainly not the best mindset to approach any holiday, but I am hopelessly stuck in the mood and maladies of modern society! However, even my tech obsession speedily acceded to an invitation to travel to Akaroa, or more specifically to Shamarra Farm Stay. After all, it’s not every day that you get an opportunity to spend an entire day (and night) in company of the alpacas. And, I am not the type to let such an experience pass by.
Akaroa’s picturesque town is situated about 51 miles away from Christchurch, New Zealand. Though not a very prominent name on the international tourism map, this erstwhile French colony has many unusual attractions in store, some of which I am going to unravel for you shortly.
Life on a Farm Stay
Days start early, even before sunrise, on a farm stay. Even if you try to cozy up by pulling the blanket over your head, there is a good chance that the early morning chorus of sheep, cows, ponies, hens and all the other inhabitants of the otherwise serene landscape will pull you out from your bed. I hardly slept through the night, so I willingly got up early.
As I threw the windows wide open a gush of moist but fresh air greeted me cheerfully. On one hand the green pasture, still slightly hazy due to a lack of light, and on the other the vaguely discernible harbor at a distance, drew my attention.
Shamarra’s enviable location atop a hill ensures a breathtaking view of the valley. It also offers excellent facilities for tourists. But I was most interested in meeting the alpacas, which kept me entertained for the rest of the day. I have seen alpacas before, but not from such close quarters and certainly not in such great numbers and varieties.
The owners of the farm talked at length of each progeny, then present in the paddock. They also took time out to showcase the difference in the quality of fleece. Most of these cuddly animals regularly earn kudos in the shows organized across Australia and New Zealand. Shamarra also has its own store from where you can buy precious alpaca souvenirs for friends and family members back home.
I could only afford a little more than 24 hours in Shamarra. However restful and unique my visit was to this beautiful farm, there were other attractions to explore in Akaroa that promised to be equally fascinating.
Akaroa’s charming harbor is a reflection of the town’s pretty face. Many of the region’s fun-filled journeys begin from here. Banks Peninsula is home to one of the rarest varieties of dolphins, known as the Hectors. In Akaroa you are presented with an irresistible opportunity of dolphin watching. You may contact any of the local operators who offer daily trips.
Overnight in a Penguin Village
After a night with the alpacas comes a chance of contemplating the mysteries of the starry sky in company of the little penguins. Pohatu Marine Reserve is home to a number of endemic species one of which happens to be white–flippered penguins. Kayak your way to Flea Bay, exploring numerous sea caves and volcanic formations on the way, or use a guided four–wheeler tour to reach Pohatu. I said “guided” because the way can be treacherous, particularly when it rains.
With prior booking you can make yourself comfortable in the only visitor accommodation that Pohatu offers – a colonial type cottage which doubles up as a self–catering property. It is right in the middle of a sheep farm and most importantly very close to the penguin colony. October is the best time to visit a penguin colony. You can contact Pohatu Penguins to arrange a trip and also book your accommodation.
Bank Peninsula’s craggy shoreline also provides resting beds for New Zealand’s famous fur seals. So if all the excitements have failed to move you so far, you will now have an opportunity to meet these furry mammals in the nooks and corners of the volcanic cliffs. They seem to be friendly and cute enough from a distance, but it is advisable not to go too close. You would not want them to be driven away from their peaceful abode. Like dolphin watching, there are operators who arrange a safari to the seal colony on prior request.
A Walk in the Park
Don’t forget to pack your walking shoes on this trip. The town itself can be best explored on foot. I am not a great walker myself, but thanks to the great beauty of the rugged coastline – which is never too far away from wherever you go in Akaroa – and mild weather, I managed quite a lot. The area is blessed with numerous nature trails many of which meander through forest and exotic wildlife habitats. Banks Peninsula Track is a private trail and you need to pay to use its facilities, but you will get much beyond your money’s worth during your trip. Besides, Flea Bay penguin colony is going to be one of the stops on this trail.
For lovers of nature and life outdoors, camping in Okains Bay is highly recommended. This idyllic location is great for a brief family outing. The facilities are reasonably modern, the water is calm enough to go swimming and there is no dearth of quite spots on the sandy beach. In the afternoon, take time out to visit the Okains Bay Maori & Colonial Museum which preserves precious bits of Akaroa’s history.
This charming locale is fast becoming a popular tourist destination. I met quite a few who reached here as a part of their cruise vacations. So, it is highly advisable that you arrange your trip there soon to experience its nature in a more pristine condition. Due to its multi–faceted charm, young lovers also find this place particularly attractive. Whether you are a backpacker or honeymooner or both, you will never find Akaroa short of any excitement.
From farm stays to secluded cottages, boutique hotels to campsites the small town has accommodation available for everyone’s taste and budget. In the blissful surroundings of Akaroa, Beauforthouse became our home away from home, that is, except two nights in Shamarra and Flea Bay Cottage. The old world charm was palpable in its atmosphere. It felt heavenly to wake up in the morning by the sound of cooing birds. I am sure you will have no trouble in finding your private corner in this enchanting town. Sadly, Shamarra no longer accepts tourists for overnight stays at the farm. The owners however, gladly welcome guests during the day, preferably on prior appointment.
Dola is a writer, art historian and blogger. She uses her skills to craft insightful articles on a range of topics including art, culture, history, tourism, environmental sciences and sustainable living for various online and print magazines. Nature lovers and travel junkies stay updated on her posts and musings by following her on Twitter. And, don’t forget checking her art and culture related articles on Lucky Compiler and its blog.
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