At some point in the future I may be overwhelmed by a tide of homesickness. It will lap at my toes with the softness of an English spring lawn or clutch at my throat like the sticky buds of horse chestnuts. So for those times, I have begun a collection. A collection of places on these islands that remind me of home – that I can get to with significantly less travel, and pretend my feet are once again on English clay.
Number one on my list for both proximity and propagation is the beautiful Eastwoodhill Arboretum in Gisborne. Inspired by the parks and gardens its creator (William Douglas Cook) recuperated amongst in England, it’s no real surprise that when walking through those forests of familiar trees and scents I could’ve been at any of my favourite National Trust escapes of home. One of my small regrets is never having visited the Surrey sphere of tranquility, Winkworth Arboretum, in Autumn. But I can atone for that here, in a few weeks’ time.
Number two is the South Island, French settlement of Akaroa – a Mediterranean outcrop in Canterbury’s Banks Peninsula – an hour from Christchurch and a region itself that echoes so strongly of Wales that it feels more puzzling than normal to see cows where sheep once dominated.
With its French-named Rues and terracotta coloured harbour-side cafes, Akaroa has become a popular stop on the cruise-ship itinerary, depositing hordes of middle-aged Europeans accessorised with P&O lanyards. Here you will hear as many French-accented voices as you would in a stroll through France’s sixth biggest city, Londres. It is this, as much as Akaroa’s proclivity for breezy French flags and tricolore bunting, that makes it easy to imagine yourself in a small Breton market town – or, my personal preference, Rye in East Sussex.
We lunched in the beautiful rose garden of the The Brasserie Kitchen & Wine Bar before ambling down Beach Road to the iconic Akaroa Light House – via a slight detour up the hill to Stanley Park to admire the view over the glorious harbour.
One of Akaroa’s main tourist attractions is the tiny Hector’s dolphin – approximately 1.4 metres (or 4′ 7″, for the metricphobes amongst us) and found only off the coast of New Zealand. Whilst rarity alone is an insufficient cause for celebrating anything (modern outbreaks of the plague, for example), our brief sighting of one of the playful little critters leaves me inclined to believe that Akaroa might have at least one-up on my beloved Rye.