On Saturday, the second day of our weekend trip to Christchurch, we drove over to Akaroa, around an hour and a half drive from Christchurch on the Banks Peninsula. Tradition has it that is was founded in 1840 by French settlers. After being informed of the French intent to colonise Akaroa and use the area as a whaling port, the British ship Britomart was despatched to proclaim sovereignty of the Banks Peninsula for the Crown. The ship arrived in Akaroa and the British flag was raised showing British occupancy. As a result of this small French connection, Akaroa is deemed to be a little French town, though apparently this is mostly a marketing ploy from the 1960s (the French street names, for example, are from that era). Regardless, Akaroa is the oldest town in Canterbury, and a very pretty place to visit.
The French connection can be seen in not just some of the street names, such as the Place de la Poste and one of the main streets is Rue Jollie, but if you look around you will see that the signage outside the butcher resembles the French flag, and of course there is a French bakery.
There is also a rather magnificent war memorial (see below) which was unveiled in 1923. It was badly damaged in the 2010 earthquake, but funds were raised to rebuild and restore it, add some new paths around it, and even complete a wall from the original plan.
A farmers’ market is held on Saturdays near St Patrick’s Church (pictured on the right below). This was built in 1864-65 and has been in regular use since then. The architects were Bury and Mountfort of Christchurch – yes, Mr Mountfort’s name appears on many a building in the region! (I should, as a side note, say that my mother’s maiden name was Mountford – with a d not a t – hence my sort of interest in this individual).
We of course took a walk around the market, stopping to admire the bunches of asparagus and other local produce. I bought some cold smoked salmon and smoked salmon pâté from Kingfisher Smoke House to bring home (and yes dear readers, I did remember to take them out of the fridge in our room at the hotel).
It was then time for lunch, and we headed to The Brasserie Kitchen and Bar (note the flag…..) where I had smoked salmon bagel, while Karl went a bit more French with a Croque Monsieur.
After lunch, we wandered to the museum and the neighbouring old Court House. The museum was first opened in 1964 in the “historic Langlois-Eteveneaux cottage, a rare remnant of the real French presence in Akaroa” as it says on the website. The museum was really worth a visit, covering the history of the town and the surrounding area. It was here that we learned about the adoption of the French street names, and the creation of a French festival, which was boycotted by some residents after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. The next door old Court House is also open for visitors. Below you can see the front of the Court House and museum, the pigeon holes for writs and letters at the Court House and an old phone and letter box seen in the museum. The museum is free and is open seven days a week.
All in all, a really excellent wee trip, and a highly recommended place to visit. The weather was perfect as you can see, and we had a lovely drive there and back.
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