French Connection II

Trip Start Nov 06, 2003
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Trip End Jan 24, 2004


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Saturday, December 20, 2003

After a recuperating day of lunch in Lyttleton and Christmas shopping in Christchurch (where I finally buy a piece of Icebreaker merino wool clothing - my latest obsession), we daytrip to Akaroa in hopes of getting Emma in the water with a dolphin.

Akaroa represents the last holdout of French culture in New Zealand. Jean-Francois Marie de Surville claimed the area in 1769. A month later, he and James Cook would sail within a couple of hours of one another at the north tip of New Zealand - an almost inconceivable near-encounter in such a vast unexplored world. Such was the competition between European powers to chart and claim the lands of the Pacific (in fact Spain had claimed the entire ocean).

Even by 19th century standards, French colonial practices were pretty embarrassing, but one could make a case that the relatively healthy state of Maori culture in New Zealand owes something to the French settlement in Akaroa. Without this threat of another colonial power in the islands, it's doubtful the British would have been as keen to press resolution with the Maori chiefs at the Treaty of Waitangi.

Little remains of the French in Akaroa. The croissants at the bakery are ambitious biscuits and the only parlez-vous we hear spoken is by a waiter - from France. Still, despite the faux French window dressing and street decorations, it's a charming place to be a tourist. We putter around the museum's beautiful period dresses and miniature displays of Maori forts; never underestimate the charms of small-town museums! One of the few real French restaurants is closed, so after watching part of cricket game, we book ourselves onto a dolphin tour for Sunday and putter around in a few better-quality craft shops.

Saturday night, we sit down to a chicken dinner with all the trimmings. Dorothy and Don are going to North America for Christmas proper, so we have a great evening of tree trimming and conversation with Don's brother Peter and friend John. Another spectacular sunset closes the day.
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