This Aotearoa New Zealand tourist experience is all about the journey.
The Tranzalpine Railway takes you across the South Island from Christchurch, over the Southern Alps, to Greymouth on the West Coast. It passes by plains of cultivated paddocks, beside braided rivers in beds of grey shale; along viaducts curving across steep gorges; through tunnels plunging into the dark heart of the mountains; past stands of ancient podocarps, alongside clear streams, waterfalls and pristine mountain lakes; through swamp forests teeming with native wildlife; and past lonely little settlements with empty streets and abandoned houses.
Plug yourself into the Tranzalpine audio commentary and listen to the stories; of how the land was formed mai rano (in the time before time); of Rotomanu, the lake of birds and Waimakaririri, the cold river; of the Pakeha who first farmed the plains and crossed the alps; of the workers who built the railway; of the people who gave their names to the towns along the way; and of the swagman’s ghost that still lingers in the Otira tunnel.
If you can tear yourself away from your window or the open-air viewing carriage, you can add to the Tranzalpine experience with refreshments from the Scenic Café.
The high point of our visit to the
beautiful little seaside village of Akaroa in Aotearoa New Zealand last
January, was our stay at Beaufort House luxury BB.
Built in 1878 by English Barrister, George Nalder and his wife Mariane, Beaufort House was originally named The Wilderness, because of its location on an untamed hillside in the, then, remote Grehan Valley. In their “wilderness” the Nalders constructed a grand house of native timbers – totara, rimu, matai and kauri – complete with servants’ quarters tucked away further up the hillside. They surrounded it with magnificent gardens and trees, roses, camelies, magnolias and a Bunya Bunya or Monkey Puzzle.
In late 2012, the current owners,
Sharon Rees-Thomas and Noel McGuigan, bought Wilderness House. At the heart of 21st century
Akaroa, it is no longer a wilderness but a carefully tended one-acre garden
with lush lawns and flower beds. A boutique vineyard slopes across a hill
behind the house and birdsong echoes through the tall, leafy trees.
Although Sharon and Noel have renamed The Wilderness as Beaufort House, they have carefully preserved its story in the antique furnishings and in the names of the five guest bedrooms.
The Nalder Room was named, of course, after George
Nalder. His keen interest in Botany and Ornithology is reflected in the décor.
Through the window you can see the monkey puzzle tree, the magnolia grandiflora
and the cornus he planted 135 years ago.
The Shepherd Room recalls Wilderness House’s
second owners – Constable and Mrs Shepherd. This room has its own
private balcony, which gets the first of the morning sun all year round.
The Fyfe Room remembers the Fyfe sisters who
ran Wilderness House as a boarding establishment in the mid-19th Century. From
this charming corner room, you can see all the way down to Children’s Bay and
the surrounding valley.
The Walker room is named after the Walker family who owned the house in the late 20th Century. In their time, extensive renovations were completed and the vineyard came into its own. The spacious bathroom, looks out, fittingly, over the vineyard.
The latest addition to Beaufort House, the ground floor Beaufort Room, is furnished with an antique French Queen size bed, a chandelier and overhead reading lamp, complete with an authentic tassel-pull cord.
Beaufort House is stunning in every way. It’s
a grand old house, gleaming with gorgeous native timbers. The furnishings and
the décor are perfect. The rooms are comfortable and cosy, with immaculate
bathrooms stocked with delicious toiletries. In every corner of the property there
is something beautiful to behold.
What makes Beaufort House truly special though, is its delightful hosts. After years of masterminding weddings, cocktail parties, corporate lunches and special events in their Christchurch restaurant, Noel and Sharon are experts at hospitality. No detail is spared to make their guests’ stay memorable.
Despite the practical demands of this busy B&B, Sharon and Noel are always up for a chat. Both have interesting stories. Sharon worked for many years for a prominent telecommunications company, while Noel travelled to numerous exotic destinations as senior driller in the offshore oil industry. Past businesses include a 500-acre farm and a ski and snowboard rental shop. Noel is also the proud owner of a 40’ Beneteau yacht named ‘Roaring Meg’ and a veteran of many ocean voyages.
An early evening aperitif is a Beaufort House tradition. So, after an afternoon exploring Akaroa village, a nap in the sunny Walker Room and a soak in the bath with its vista over the vines, we joined Sharon, Noel and our fellow guests on the sunny terrace in front of the house to enjoy an antipasto platter with a glass of Beaufort House Chardonnay.
In the morning, we all met again for breakfast in the dining room, at a huge round table set with antique china, glassware and silver. Much of the produce served at Beaufort House is home grown in the kitchen garden or sourced locally. It includes fresh juices, cereals (including Sharon’s home toasted muesli) seasonal fruit and natural yoghurt, Noel’s country breakfast (bacon, eggs, tomatoes, sausages …) freshly baked croissants (bien sûr, in this former French settlement!) with homemade jams, along with freshly ground coffee and wide selection of teas.
one-night stay at Beaufort House was all too brief, but we’ll be back,
It’s nice to know, too, that this grand old house is protected by the local Council as a notable
historic Akaroa building and the Nalders’ Monkey Puzzle tree is protected as a
notable Akaroa landmark.
Akaroa, on Banks peninsula, in Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island, has a superb setting, a fascinating bi-cultural history, quaint colonial architecture, a great ambiance and a small, artistic, welcoming population that seems dedicated to preserving and sharing all four.
The township sits at the edge of a long, deep harbour, in the shelter of steep, gold and dark green hills. Against them the sea is luminescent turquoise. The long view from the summit road overlooking the town is one of the country’s best and most memorable.
Akaroa’s human history begins some 800 years ago, with the arrival of the great fleet from Hawaiki. The first Iwi, or tribe, to settle here were Waitaha, followed later by Ngati Mamoe and later still, in the 17th century, by Ngai Tahu. The hilltops are still traced with the terraces of ancient pas. Modern settlements, Marae and churches now stand on the sites of ancient villages and the descendants of those first Iwi still live, meet and worship there.
By the 1830s, Akaroa had become a European whaling centre. Then, in 1838, with a view to establishing a French colony, Captain Jean Langlois negotiated a land deal with the local Iwi and set sail for France to seek funds and to recruit settlers. By the time he returned, the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed, the Union Jack was flying from the hilltop and the land deal was declared invalid. Nonetheless, the French stayed and Akaroa village became Aotearoa New Zealand’s little patch of France. It still is and many of the descendants of those first French settlers still live in the district. French family, and first names, are common here.
To learn more about the history of the area, visit the Akaroa Museum. Both the displays and the film, shown in the Courthouse theatre next door, give an excellent overview. Be sure too, to take a drive to the Maori and Colonial Museum at historic Okains Bay.
To steep yourself in the ambiance of Akaroa, take a stroll through the streets – or rather, rues and chemins – past charming colonial houses with tall, narrow windows and tiny front gardens, blooming with the daisies, hydrangeas and roses typical of the south of France. Study the French signage! Browse in the shops, check out the local produce, the antiques, the crafts and the art. Stop for a coffee or a meal in one of the town’s cafes and restaurants français. Explore the old French Cemetery. Light a candle at historic St Patrick’s Church. Head out to the wharf for a magnificent harbour view and with a bit of luck you’ll see a cruise ship sail in or out.
To experience truly outstanding and unforgettable Akaroa hospitality, stay at beautiful Beaufort House.