Looking forward to berthing with our sister ship Viking Orion, in Lyttelton today, unfortunately a couple of months ago, we received the not so good news that we were going to Akaroa. This is a tender port about 55 miles from Christchurch and has been used extensively by cruise ships since the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.
Today we did 2 ship’s tours – the included in the morning and Punting on the Avon in the afternoon.
It was another early start this morning, so we had a quick breakfast in the World Cafe, then to the Theatre about 08:00. Yet again, Viking’s tender operation ran smoothly and on time, as within 5 mins of arriving in the Theatre, our number was called and we were off to the gangway.
- Tour type – Ship’s Tour, Included
- Name – Dramatic Coastlines along the Banks Peninsula
- Duration – 2.5 hrs
- Summary – a 45 to 50 min drive on the bus over the caldera rim on a narrow, twisty and steep road to a tiny village, where we had 45 mins before returning on the same road.
Akaroa is a very small town about 55 miles south of Christchurch, which has a touch of French culture, as the French arrived in 1840, trying to create a French colony. They were met by the “Union Flag”, as New Zealand was already a British protectorate. The first French settlers elected to remain, establishing a small enclave.
The inlet is the caldera of 2 volcanoes that exploded millions of years ago, creating a long inlet from the open ocean. Therefore, except where open to the sea, the entire inlet is surrounded by a steep rim, which must be driven over to enter/exit the area.
From the end of the bay we started climbing and for Judi, with her motion sickness, it was a terrible experience. I don’t get motion sickness like Judi, but I was certainly hanging on as the driver hauled the full size bus around multiple hairpin bends, followed by racing up hill.
Shortly after surviving the descent from the rim, the road leveled and straightened, passing through a long line of trees on both sides. These were lime trees that were planted in 1940, to commemorate New Zealand’s 100th anniversary of signing the Treaty of Waitangi.
Shortly after we arrived at out destination of Little River, which was billed as brimming with crafts and local produce. It was a collection of 3 shops on one side of the main road to Christchurch. The driver said we had 45 mins, in reality it should have been 45 seconds.
The final business, was a novelty and for me was the highlight.
At a distance, I thought it was a craft brewery with multiple vats, image my surprise on finding a hotel. Called “Silostay” the rooms are crafted from silos, which is rather unique. The entire village took under 10 mins, so I had another 35 mins to wait. Fortunately, everyone was back on the bus about 5 mins early and we commenced the roller-coaster ride back to Akaroa.
Just below the rim, the driver pulled over so we could get out to take a photo of the inlet. On the outward journey we were in the inside lane, but on the return, we were in the outer, or cliff side. Not many safety barriers on this road and on many stretches, it was a long way down, if the bus left the narrow road.
We arrived back safely, but definitely more than a little shaken, not stirred. Another thing we learned that the road to Chistchurch follows exactly the same route, it just continues past Little River. Many on this tour were also going into Christchurch in the afternoon, so were grumbling about the poor tour descriptions and that this was a complete waste of time.
Summary – With the exception of Papeete, the included tours have been good, meeting our expectation, but we have heard of the horror stories. Well, today we experienced a horror story, as this tour is best summed up with 1 word – “Rubbish”. An almost 2 hr drive on poor roads, to visit 3 or 4 shops at the side of the road. I believe the fault rests with Viking’s generally poor and minimal tour descriptions, which are more marketing hype than actual facts.
Had Viking also mentioned that the included route is repeated on the Christchurch Tours, 1/2 of our bus would not have taken the Included Tour. Judi was basically green, by the time we returned, so she skipped the PM tour, returning to the ship. I managed to give away our spare ticket,
- Tour Type – Ship Tour, Optional
- Name – Punting on the River
- Duration – 6.5 hrs (see note)
- Summary – a 1.5 hr drive into Christchurch, where we would enjoy 1/2 punting cruise on the River Avon, a self-guided visit to the adjacent Botanical Gardens and a scenic drive through Christchurch.
Note – we signed up for a 6.5 hr tour, departing at 12:00 and returning at 18:30, which was after the ship sailed. This would have included 3 hrs to/from Akaroa, with about 3.5 hrs in Christchurch. Not the best ratio, but we we decided to accept it and book the tour. The night before, we were shocked to note the tour was curtailed to 5 hours, with about 3 hrs on a bus and 2 hrs in Canterbury. Had we known of this change, we would have cancelled.
We set off again on the same bus and with the same driver. Didn’t think it possible, but he drove the route even faster than the AM tour. The times to Christchurch varied from 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs, with our driver making it in 1 hr 35 mins. Disembarked the bus at 13:45 and were requested to re-board at 15:25, so we only got 1 hr 40 mins in Christchurch.
Disembarking the bus, we walked about 400 yds to the boat shed on the River Avon.
Since the river is waist deep, or less, no lifejackets were provided, so we boarded our punt in groups of 8. It is a shallow draft, flat bottom boat, which is propelled by a pole.
Various photos of our 1/2 hr punting experience
Select any of the photos above to view full size. It really was everything I expected. a quiet and tranquil experience meandering up and down the tree covered River Avon. Sadly, it was over way too fast. On disembarking, we received a boxed lunch with a sandwich, dessert, fresh fruit and a bottle of juice. Since it was rather hot, we found a shady spot to enjoy lunch.
We completed lunch at 15:00, so had only 25 mins to see the Botanical Gardens. Covering many acres, this was insufficient time to view anything but the immediate area around the entrance and down to the river.
From the fountain, I walked the short distance down to the river by the shady willow tree.
With time racing, it was time to turn around and return to the bus by 15:25. All aboard and we departed just after 15:30 for what should have been a scenic drive through Christchurch. The driver added one extra block, mentioned 2 building and we were back on the road to Akaroa. The scenic drive lasted about 5 minutes.
Driving through the suburbs, the driver pulled over, advising they had found a cell phone on another bus and the company was sending it out to meet our bus. We remained in direct sun for at least 15 mins and with negligible A/C, the inside of the bus resembled a sauna. Once we had the cell phone, we set off for Akaroa at high speed, arriving at 17:20 and catching the last tender back to the ship.
Summary – the punting trip was an amazing experience, as it wasn’t something we experienced while in UK for 5 month back in 2017. However, the over 3 hour commute to/from Christchurch just wasn’t worth it. Basically, this entire day was a huge fail from Viking, as by cutting the tour short, I would have expected prior notification and the option to cancel. I have provided my concerns to the tour desk and await their response.
No shuttle bus was provided today, as the tourist areas of Akaroa were a short walk from the tender wharf. You could book a Christchurch on your own, which took you downtown for a few hours.