In recent times we have been fortunate enough to satisfy the impulse of family travel with adventures beyond our shores; search around the world to discover new places, cultures and cuisines, often at the expense of what’s on offer closer to you.
But pandemics and carefree travel don’t mix, it seems.
To fill this void, our 12 year old son had an idea. His plan was to explore locally with a ride from the house to Akaroa and we were invited to join him!
Departing on a cool spring morning, we made our way across New Brighton Pier along the coast to Sumner Beach before the first climb of the day featured a short but dirty mole of hill above the Evans Pass to the historic harbor town of Lyttelton.
* Akaroa: it’s more than just a day trip
* Hidden gems of Christchurch Beach, in time for summer
* Banks Peninsula is a great place to spend a summer day
Part of the preparation for the trip involved discussions about planning the two proposed routes that would take us to Banks Peninsula, and although the two were fundamentally different, the final decision was left to the younger members of our expedition.
The first of these options included the aforementioned drive to Lyttelton, around the harbor and bush covered bays, before entertaining our second ascent over Gebbies Pass and onto the peninsula.
An alternate route teased us with a flatter ride, but was loaded with crisscrossing NZ’s second largest city, a lot more traffic and the pervasive smell of burning fuel.
With gratitude, he chose the first option. This means our slide down the peninsula started from the top of Gebbies Pass where a steep descent propelled us through pastoral farmland towards the Motukarara junction.
From there, our next 24 miles were enjoyed on an old railroad line that once carried lumber between Little River and Lincoln between 1886 and 1962, before being converted in 2006 to a popular bike path that threaded its way between rugged volcanic formations on our left and Canterbury’s. the largest lagoon, Ellesmere Lake, on our right.
In the middle of the afternoon, we reach Little River and we rest in the shade of the imposing climb of 465 m towards French Hill.
Temptingly, our current location offered a quaint store and the ability to stock up on caffeine (parents) and sugar (kids), an intervention that we quickly found necessary if we were to have any chance of hauling bikes and bags on the imposing saddle in front of us.
Everything in the ice was working. The boys took off amid a glow of afterburner jets as they continued to run. Unfortunately, the cafe didn’t light fuses on mom and dad’s bikes, leaving us hanging out from lake to lake.
But all the hard work paid off when we reached the top of the hill and started a long freewheeling descent, taking every opportunity to savor the elevated views of the many bays around Akaroa Harbor.
The first influences of the French presence in the region struck immediately as we passed a cheese factory and place names like Duvauchelle and Le Bons Bay, eliciting a brief but wonderful air from abroad.
From there, a series of four small but punchy climbs separate the rides around the bay until we have completed our 100th mile before descending back down to Akaroa’s tricolor entrance.
The dig that evening was ideally located on the main street where we received a warm “welcome” to the Madeira Hotel, hearty food and a well-deserved pint.
The following morning was spent visiting iconic attractions, including the Peninsula Lighthouse, where a small but dedicated group of volunteers were casually celebrating their 40-year move to the city after being dismantled, before heading to a lively French market, more authentic with red, white and blue streamers amid the melody of a piano accordion that drifted in the morning hubbub.
In true French style, it would have been culturally appropriate to stay for a midday aperitif and pain au chocolat, but today that just wasn’t the case.
We needed caffeine and sugar. French Hill awaited our exit, and with it, the departure of our return by bike.
Learn more about the Monk family here: poppingthebubble.com