Tuesday, October 07, 2008


One night in The Jailhouse and then we were off to Akaroa, a beautiful headland off the South East of Christchurch.

We checked into the deserted but homely hostel, snuck out for fish and chips, ice-cream and post-cards, and then readied ourself for the penguin safari.

Christ, that was hairy. Talk about expectation versus reality. I thought we'd just be driven to a beach, pointed at some waddling throng, and that'd be it.

This is actually what happened. A 60-year old woman turned up in a van, and then preceded to drive us up gradients so steep that only 4x4 were permitted along the path. If I'd let go of my camera it would have hit the back windscreen.

As time went by the path got narrower, the floor fell even further away, the engine note changed from a low D to a high C sharp as it struggled against the gradient, the concrete turned to chippings and everyone started to look a little bit uncomfortable and tighten their seatbelt. As if that would make a difference.

"Don't worry," said the ageing driver through her mounted mic "I've been driving along this road 30 years and I've never had an accident". Yes, I thought, but you weren't 65 for most of those 30 years.

After a 45 minutes of 45 degree ascent and then 45 degree descent along a track barely wide enough for a car, we arrived at her homestead - a remote shack in the wilderness - whereupon she ushered us out along a darkening cliff path to glimpse blue, yellow eye and white flipper penguins through binoculars. Hmmm... not exactly Attenborough. Don't think I'll ever become a twitcher.

After 30 minutes of squinting and pointing, it was back into the van for a less fraught return as, in the pitch black, I couldn't see the 200ft drops either side of the track. As Akaroa came back into sight, it was like coming to land at an airport -the Christmas lights of the town sprawling out in front of us.

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