Despite not one French beret or baguette maker in my ancestry I love attending the annual (October) French Festival in Akaroa, the oldest colonial town in the South Island, and famed as New Zealand’s sole French Settlement just over the hill from Christchurch.
Akaroa, sited on a peninsula on the east coast of the South Island, is usually advertised as a place to unwind, to wander and soak up times past among the historic buildings.
Banks Peninsula, and its two large harbours, was formed by volcanic eruptions. The sea then breached both cones with the craters forming the Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours – Maori tell great legends of those times.
Whalers played an important role in the early European history of Banks Peninsula and used Akaroa as a safe harbour.
A French whaling ship commander purchased land from some of the local Maori, Kai Tahu chiefs, thinking the Peninsula was a suitable place to begin French colonisation. The French Government backed the Nanto-Bordelaise Company which was set up to found the proposed settlement. But the British already had stronger trading interests in New Zealand.
In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi, which paved the way for British sovereignty, was signed only days after the French colonists left the port of La Rochelle. When they arrived at Akaroa, the French found the Union Jack flying. However the 57 French (and a few German) settlers set up camp at Akaroa. Evidence of the walnuts, willows, grapevines and roses that they brought with them still remain and French street names are further evidence of the unique origins of the town.
It’s against this background, and over the past 11 years, that the French Festival Akaroa has blossomed into a real celebration of their French heritage. (Dates for 2009 2nd, 3rd, 4th October)
So, join Akaroa people as they paint the town red, white and blue for a town-wide market day with French food and wine stalls, market stalls, entertainment, fun and frivolous competitions and a re-enactment of the first French landing in Akaroa. Special features includes roving French entertainment, food and wine stalls with a French flavour and a French cooking master-class
La Grande Soirée and special flag raising ceremony will be on the Friday before the full festivities kick off onthe Saturday See the website: www.frenchfest.co.nz