Friday, November 27, 2009

Taking the High Road

I drove over to Banks Peninsula to do an interview yesterday – to Le Bons Bay specifically, which is roughly 100km east of Christchurch and because of the steep, narrow, winding nature of the roads, it’s about a one-and-a-half hour journey. Heading east along the Summit Road, there are spectacular views in every direction and yesterday the weather obliged with the perfect sunny conditions that make looking down into Akaroa Harbour (a volcanic crater) a visual joy (above).
There are dozens of pretty bays on the peninsula - Port Levy, Okain’s Bay, Stony Bay, Pigeon Bay, Decanter Bay, Otanerito, Lavericks Bay and so on – each one reached via a thin, twisted vein of a road that drops down from the Summit Road through a powerful rock-strewn landscape.
Le Bons is one of the eastern bays and one of the last to be settled (in 1857), originally by the French and then by a Mr Cuff, who set up a timber mill to harvest the bounty of thick, native forest that still covered the hillsides. Ever since then, the bush has steadily diminished to make way for dairy, cattle and sheep farming. Originally only accessible by boat, Le Bons is still 'isolated' despite its being just a twenty minute drive from Akaroa and there are two tiny settlements – one prior to reaching the bay itself, which is still home to Le Bons Bay School, St Andrews Anglican Church, a public noticeboard, a walnut stall, the tatty remnants of the Peace Memorial Library dated July 19, 1919 (above), an old fire station, the old town hall (now a home) and a tightly gathered cluster of houses.
A mile or so on, down a side road, I found the very pretty Le Bons Bay Cemetery, dating back to 1862 and now neatly maintained by the Christchurch City Council. And then to Le Bons Bay itself – a typically turquoise peninsula gem that boasts a beautiful white beach, completely empty of people and known for its sightings of penguins and rare Hectors dolphins. There’s a public domain (with tennis courts), a short stretch of holiday baches and houses and some very handsome, giant macrocarpa hedges. Standing on the sand dunes, looking inland, it’s hard not to be awed by the drama of the peninsula landscape. There’s an ever-pervasive energy about the place – not just in Le Bons, but right across the peninsula and you can feel the power of the land. Maybe that’s to do with its turbulent volcanic origins and its layers and layers of history – generations of the same families have called the peninsular home for well over a hundred years and they all talk about the strong pull of the land. It's the sort of place I'd certainly like to call home.

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