Saturday, 19 January 2013

Is that Silver Fern or Heather?

One of the things that is so very striking about New Zealand is the pastoral beauty of the entire country. There is so much lushness and greenery, and the rolling hills and craggy coves seem like they were painted on as scenic backdrops by MGM or Warner Brothers. Seriously. Everything looks like a film set around here. I had a movie moment today in Akaroa. As we tendered into the small, but quaint village from our ship, I honestly thought that I was looking up at a scene from Brigadoon. You know the part. Remember when Gene Kelly goes up into the hills to help Cyd Charisse collect the heather? And then the whole orchestra starts and suddenly they are doing a full ballet up and down the mountains? Well, I half expected them to dance right down into the harbour to greet us. The funny thing is that Akaroa is much more colonial French than Scottish, but the environs still evoked that "Heather on the Hill" moment. The water here is turquoise; as turquoise as any December birthstone I have ever owned, and when the sun is shining just right, as it is today, it has an almost opalescent quality.

This small area of the world was devastated just a few years back by the horrendous earthquakes that levelled Christchurch. There were numerous tours that drove the 90 minutes into the city, but we were warned that while the Kiwis are rebuilding, there is still much damage and much that remains inaccessible. So, instead we decided to spend the day admiring Akaroa. One of the by-products of the earthquake is that many of the artists and native artisans that previously resided in Christchurch have relocated to this coastal village. There are galleries and studios dotting the entire area, and bread and breakfast accommodations are abundant and doing a thriving business during these summer months. (By the is finally getting warmer. Praised to the God that knows how much I hate winter!) The town manages to keep its French heritage with Gallic names on all the street signs and a few bleu, blanc, et rouge flying proudly. This combination of French and English intermingles easily with proud the Maori culture that has been a fixture on this part of the South Island for much longer than the colonials. The Maori influence is heavy in the jewelry and art designs. The area is also home to the very rare Hector's dolphins, and while I would have loved a chance to swim and play, those kinds of tours and sightings are never guaranteed, so I am just praying one or two might greet us we leave port.

One of the highlights of our day was definitely our trip up the steep (and I do mean steep!) Rue Balguerie to visit The Giant's House. A mosaic artist by the name of Josie Martin has converted her home and gardens into a contemporary art gallery. As much acclaimed for her horticultural sense of style as for her artwork, Ms. Martin began her restoration of the old house 18 years ago. While digging in the garden, she discovered shards of old china that had been buried because there was no trash pickup in those days. Feeling that they belonged with the house, she saved them and began using them to mosaic her front steps. Well, the project just mushroomed and it is a sight to behold.

Sometimes a place just surprises. That was today in Akaroa.


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