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           Home >  Regions  > Banks Peninsula  :

Akaroa On Banks Peninsula
Dorothy - 9/7/99

Akaroa on Banks Peninsula - a magnet for Cantabrians and tourists alike
- the history of this area

Why does Akaroa attract so many visitors?
Eh bien, c'est Úvident!

The Akaroa area today viewed from the Lighthouse Road
The Akaroa area today viewed from the Lighthouse Road
Photo source Peter Hunt
The obvious first answer is because the Akaroa harbour is so beautiful and the town so attractive. The scenery brings out the cameras. The atmosphere invites relaxation. However there is more for the visitor who has time to explore this little town.

Looking briefly at the history
The French names on the streets and the quaint old houses invite exploration into the history. The museum is the best place to start the exploration. The history of Akaroa is the history of change as different people and different ventures have come and gone.

Volcanic origin
Akaroa means 'long harbour' in the southern Maori dialect. The Akaroa Harbour was formed by volcanic eruptions estimated to have ceased about six million years ago.

Maori settlement
The climate in the area is warmer than in places further south and it is not possible to grow kumara further south. This made the area attractive to the Maori in the South Island - first the Waitaha, then the Kati Mamoe, and later the Ngai Tahu.

Fighting in the area

Onawe Peninsula today
Onawe Peninsula today
Photo source Peter Hunt
In 1830 an English trader, Captain Stewart, and his crew on the brig Elizabeth exchanged a cargo of flax for transport to Akaroa for a party of North Island warriors led by the warlike chief, Te Rauparaha. The result of this action was terrible suffering for the Ngai Tahu. The local Maori were armed with traditional weapons which were no match for Te Rauparaha's muskets. Villages were destroyed, people killed and their chief captured. The Onawe Peninsula at the head of the harbour was the site of a fierce battle in 1832. Te Rauparaha won that battle but allied South Island forces stopped his further advance in the South Island.

Vast areas of land sold cheaply to the British
The Ngai Tahu were no longer a strong tribe and signed over to the Crown 20 million acres of land in Canterbury and Otago for ?,000. Through the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal the Ngai Tahu have recently settled claims redressing the devastating effects of what happened in 1830s.

Discovery by early explorers
In 1769 Captain Cook had discovered New Zealand and sailed along the East Coast, and (what is less well known to New Zealanders) D'Urville sailed along the West Coast in the same year.

Sealers and whalers
From that time on first sealers and then whalers came, and Akaroa with its sheltered harbour was a popular place for crews to call, to refit their ships, and to get fresh water and food.

In 1838 Jean-Francois Langlois, commander of the whaling ship, Cachalot, called there and was so impressed with the area that he began moves to make Akaroa a French settlement. He negotiated a land deal with the Ngai Tahu chiefs in Lyttelton (then Port Cooper) and formed the Nanto-Bordelaise company which was backed by the French Government.

Treaty of Waitangi
Meanwhile the British had secured control over New Zealand by the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on February 6 1840. South Island chiefs signed it in Akaroa on May 30th.

French colonists
The migrants were brought to New Zealand in the Comte de Paris.. The French Government backed the venture and sent a warship, L'Aube, to accompany them. The commander of L'Aube was Captain Lavaud. When the warship reached the Bay of Islands in July 1840 he found that the Treaty of Waitangi had given sovereignty over New Zealand to the British. Thanks to his diplomacy the arrival of the colonists from France did not develop into an major incident.

Meanwhile a British warship, H.M.S. Britomart, sailed to Akaroa and planted the Union Jack at Green Point.

When the Comte de Paris arrived in Akaroa with the fifty seven French and German settlers they found that they were settling in a British colony, and that there were already a number of British settlers in other parts of Banks Peninsula.

Life in the colony
After great hardships in the first years the settlement began to prosper and in 1850 British settlers joined the original group of French colonists.

The hills were originally forested and the timber was cleared for the development of pastoral farms and sold to the growing settlement in Christchurch and its environs, establishing prosperity in the Akaroa region. As the only transport to Christchurch for the timber and the farm products was by sea many boats were built for the coastal trade.

The cocksfoot industry
The fertile land and the climate of the Banks Peninsula farms were ideal for growing cocksfoot grass. This was grown for its seed which was exported to other areas of New Zealand and to Australia.

The Akaroa Museum has an interesting video about the industry which is worth watching if you have the time. Harvesting the seed was seasonal work which helped the local small farmers eke out their income and also attracted harvesters from further afield. This industry flourished until after World War 2 when different types of grass were imported.

Cheese and butter were produced in many local factories on the Peninsula, but only one remains. The Barrys Bay Factory is worth a visit. It is situated on the main road a short distance from the foot of the hill.

The once prosperous fishing industry has declined because the quota system has reduced the number of small fishing businesses. Only a small fishing fleet now operates from the harbour.

Changing ventures
The Akaroa area has seen seal hunting, whaling, timber felling, ship building, cocksfoot harvesting, fishing, and dairy factories prosper and decline. Now the community is different with the farming community being joined by craftspeople, artists, people retiring to this beautiful retreat and those who serve the ever growing number of visitors.

Learning more about the history
For more information about the history I suggest that you read "Akaroa - a short history" by Steve Lowndes, published by the author at Akaroa, New Zealand and printed through A & H Print Consultants Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand.

More information about farm life in this area is in the NZine article - The Barretts , a family farming on Banks Peninsula the hard way."

Watch for further articles on Akaroa and other attractive places on Banks Peninsula in coming weeks.

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