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Monday, June 26, 2006

Akaroa


Had some free time today and the weather was cooperating so I decided to finally check out some of this gorgeous scenery here in New Zealand. I just got my car yesterday, a 1994 Mitsubishi Lancer that had been well taken care of by its previous owner, an engineer who had recently passed away. His son was settling his estate, and by happy coincidence I met friends of his at a dinner party the weekend I got here. It came up in conversation that I'd be needing a car now that I'm here, and they put me in touch with him. I got a really good deal ($2800 US for the car) and was anxious to get out into the countryside.

I could go into the mountains, or drive along the shore - shoot, driving nearly anywhere in this country gets you glorious scenery - but I really wanted to check out Akaroa. It's this volcanic island attached to Christchurch (which is a swampy area that was also once a volcano) and it's apparently very pretty there. The French initially settled Akaroa, but unfortunately for them they arrived one year after the British had already laid claim to New Zealand. To this day, lots of the streets there and the surrounding communities have French names, as the streets are all called "Rues" and there are little towns like Duvauchelle, etc.

Anyways, as a sidelight to this, I stopped at a local cafe in Ashburton called Danaz. They've got great food and drinks there, but I'm starting to discover that tipping is still a very new thing here in NZ. Basically, you can't go wrong tipping someone in food service, but by and large it's still really unexpected. Meaning, you don't really have to tip. Now, some of the larger restaurants in bigger cities operate on the assumption that you'll tip at the end of the meal, but even then it's only 5-10% of the bill. That's really nice because you basically just pay what's on the menu and you're good to go. But after living in America all my life it's very hard to untrain that impulse to tip!

So after buying a coffee and some food for my trip, I tipped the pretty waitress a couple New Zealand dollars, and she immediately turned a bright shade of red and didn't seem to know what to do with the coin. She thanked me but then she hurried into the back, and I just had to laugh. Well, I guess I'd rather err on the side of caution and tip when not expected to rather than the opposite, but I am finding out firsthand that tipping really isn't expected in most cases!

Well Akaroa was pretty awesome, and the drive out to it was a bit difficult but rewarding as once you finally crest the windy roads climbing the hills out to Akaroa, all of a sudden you see the lake and town laid out before you. That picture is my first view of Akaroa on the way in.

I really wanted to check out this lighthouse, at the end of - wait for it - Lighthouse Road, but as I drove further and further along the road kept getting progressively steeper and less paved. Finally I reached a sign that said from this point on the road was even steeper and more narrow, and having only had my car for a day and still struggling with mastering the clutch I decided to skip it.

Afterwards, while talking to a woman that ran a tourist outfit that among other things lets you swim with dolphins, she said she had taken her little two-door Honda all the way to the end of the road and that I really didn't have any worries.

Oh well, next time I come back then!

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