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Thursday, November 3, 2005

Akaroa is a small and charming waterside town 85km from Christchurch, nestled in the heart of a very old volcano. In 1840, when French settlers arrived, Akaroa had just been claimed by the British under the Treaty of Waitangi. It remains as the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand. While some of their architecture and street names survive and a tricolour flutters over the landing spot, that's about as French as it gets, except for some businesses with French-sounding names.

Maori for "long harbour", Akaroa's population is just 650, but for such a tiny place, it offers some things of real interest for visitors.

Akaroa Museum takes up several historic buildings, including the old courthouse, the tiny Custom House at Daly's Wharf and Langlois-Eteveneaux, one of the country's oldest houses.

The Maori and Colonial Museum is a collection of indigenous and pioneer artefacts, with a reproduction of a Maori meeting house, a sacred 15th-century god stick and a war canoe.

Banks Peninsula Track is a 35km walk across private farmland and around dramatic coastline, from which you can dolphin-watch. There is hut accommodation along the way.

Tree Crop Farm, owned by Lynne Alexander, is tucked into a hillside behind Akaroa, beside a stream. Its wilderness gardens have been featured in many publications. Guests can enjoy walking tracks through the bush, forest and open pastures and plots of old roses, lilies, dahlias, lavender, vegetables and herbs. A grove of 200 young olive trees and 26 chardonnay vines is happily maturing. There are chestnut, walnut and hazelnut trees.

The haphazard layout of the gardens was inspired by the Renoir garden in Cagnes in the south of France. They offer a wonderful retreat, with hammocks for snoozing in, sheepskin and fur rugs, hot tub, tranquil walks and fresh, feel-good air.

The original cottage has wattle and daub walls and was built in the 1850s as a wedding gift for a bullock driver and his family. Subtle changes have been made over the past 150 years by its many owners, but its core character remains.

Apart from bathrooms and breakfast rooms attached to the house, guests have their own space in romantic huts. Breakfast and afternoon tea are served on their deep verandahs and fires set in the cosy breakfast rooms on chilly days.

The Verandah hut has shutters and a brass day bed, shower and toilet, open fire, electric blanket, candles and if you really want to use it, electricity.

Bedouin Creek hut has no electricity and is popular for just that reason. It is beside the watercress and mint filled stream, has a little verandah, Norwegian wood stove, loads of candles and a modern bathroom.

Lost Weekend hut is the largest. It has an open fire and gas ring, a chandelier, great brass bed, rafters, modern bathroom and candles.

A massage therapist is available for one-hour appointments, as well as reflexology and electrolysis. Hot herbal teas are served.

C'est la Vie is one of New Zealand's best French restaurants. They specialise in seafood and delicious desserts. It is run by the Lau-Nelles family — father and daughter in the kitchen and mother working front-of-house.

It is a small, intimate restaurant and people are encouraged to share tables. There's a C'est la Vie tradition of diners writing reviews of their dining experience on the walls, such a popular tradition that people now have to write on the ceiling.

Specialties are French onion soup, escargot and filet steak with spinach and blue vein cheese (which regular visitors insist never be removed from the menu).


Near Christchurch on the south island of NZ


Tree Crop Farm rooms are $250 a couple a night.

C'est La Vie bistro/café is open from between September and May from Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 3pm and 6pm till around midnight.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

Tree Crop Farm
Box 9, Akaroa
Banks Peninsula
Canterbury New Zealand
Ph: (64) 3 304 7158

C'est La Vie bistro/café
33 rue Lavaud
Akaroa New Zealand
Ph/Fa: (64) 3 304 7314

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