Welcome to Banks Peninsula, home of The Hector’s dolphins and eco-tourism pioneers Black Cat Cruises

anks Peninsula Tourism Operator celebrates 30 years in Business

It’s been a fantastic start to the new summer season for New Zealand eco-tourism operator Black Cat Cruises as they celebrate 30 years in business.

Labour weekend 1985 Ron Bingham and his wife Durelle officially started Black Cat Cruises with a single boat called the Charmaine over in Akaroa. Skip forward to today and they have grown to become the largest tourism operator on the peninsula operating 7 vessels across both Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbour.

This labour weekend if your birthday falls on Monday October 26th (of any year) you can cruise with them for free! 

‘’It’s been a great start to season’’ Paul Milligan, Chief Executive of Black Cat Cruises said.

‘’Over the last couple of weeks we have celebrated 175 years of Akaroa at the bi-annual French Festival, hosted our 30th birthday party with the family and friends of Black Cat, welcomed the first of this season’s cruise ships and to top it off received a new accreditation from DOC as the Peninsula’s first (and the country’s second) ‘SMART’ operator.’’  Milligan said

The 30th birthday party was hosted locally at Mt Vernon lodge in Akaroa where 100 guests including the Bingham family and Real Journey board members, who purchased a 50% share in the business back in 2007, were entertained by the 17 piece Garden City Big Band.

real journeys akaroa birthday partyThe binghams 30th party in akaroa

Garden City Big band in Akaroa

‘’You usually receive gifts on your birthday however as an eco-tourism operator we thought it only appropriate to give back something on our birthday, so we gifted Professor’s Steve Dawson and Liz Slooten from the University of Otago with a brand new boat engine. ‘’ Milligan said

Professor Steve Dawson and Professor Liz Slooten, both of the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust, were delighted to receive the keys to a brand new Suzuki 90 hp outboard for their research boat. “The new engine is a perfect match for our research boat and will be a tremendous asset to our work. The old engine was 11 years old, so it was high time for an upgrade. It is terrific to see a nature tourism company giving something back – we really appreciate Black Cat’s commitment to the dolphins that support their business” Prof Dawson said.’’

Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson in Akaroa

Over the last 30 years the company has become the leading tourism provider on Banks Peninsula. Re-cognised as New Zealand’s first ever eco-tourism operator they have won numerous accolades and awards including the New Zealand Supreme Tourism Award, Qualmark Enviro-Gold award, the Green Globe award, listed as one of the top 10 marine mammal experiences in the world by Lonely Planet, voted the Number 1 wildlife experience in New Zealand, made it into Trip Advisors Hall of Fame and earned the Moss certification (Maritime Operator Safety System) along with the newly appointed ‘SMART’ operator certificate from DOC.

50293AA number 1 wildlifeCoE 2015 HoF UKDOC-Approved-label-180greenglobeSMART Logo col

 

‘’Ron and his family had a passion for the peninsula and its marine inhabitants. To this day a portion of all of Black Cat’s ticket sales goes towards the education and conservation of Hector’s dolphins; the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin. We felt it was the right time to throw a party with Black Cat’s friends and family from across our region to celebrate success and look forward to a prosperous and sustainable future.’’ Milligan said

For the month of October you can also purchase an Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise ticket for just $30 when a full price ticket is purchased. Use 30birthday as an online code or call and book on 0800 436 574.

Akaroa business a SMART operator

We are over the moon to be awarded the SMART operator certificate from the Department of Conservation!

Akaroa business Black Cat Cruises have become the first business in Banks Peninsula, and the second in the country, to sign up to the SMART Operator programme in an initiative developed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to increase the protection of marine mammals.

 

SMART Operators, an acronym for “Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism”, lead by example by committing to activities that have minimal disturbance on whales, dolphins and seals. Commercial operators are able to achieve this by undertaking staff training around the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations, guarantee responsible advertising and help educate the public about best practice boating around marine mammals.

SMART Logo col

 

DOC Ranger Derek Cox was pleased to have Black Cat Cruises as the first SMART Operator in Banks Peninsula. “Black Cat Cruises approached DOC earlier in the year requesting that we hosted the SMART training course in Akaroa, and they have now become the first SMART Operator – this really demonstrates to us that they are the right operators to be leaders in this community”.

 

“As more people want to have that special encounter with marine mammals, they are putting increasing pressure on them, potentially to the detriment of the very thing they love. DOC is looking for new ways of reducing this pressure and Black Cat Cruises will be able to assist with that”.

 

Black Cat Cruises Chief Executive Paul Milligan thought becoming a SMART Operator was a “no brainer”.  “We have been operating on Akaroa Harbour for 30 years now and as the largest operator on the harbour, it’s important for us to work with DOC to ensure that we minimise any impacts on our environment and the Marine Mammals we interact with, such as the endangered Hector’s Dolphin.”

 

“The SMART Operator initiative reassures DOC that we are operating responsibly and gives our customers the confidence that we take what we do seriously and strive to be a leader in the eco-tourism space.”

Hector's dolphin akaroa harbour

 

DOC intends the SMART Operator programme to be extended around the country in the future.

The Giants House Akaroa

The sleepy seaside village of Akaroa is full of unexpected surprises, and The Giant’s House on Rue Balguerie, is most definitely amongst the top of that list.

The Giant’s Housethe giants house akaroa, located just off the main road and up the hill a little bit, is truly a sight to behold. Built in 1881, the historic building is a beautiful ode to creativity and wonder, and of course, the elegance of the French that Akaroa prides itself on.

But before you explore the house itself, it’s hard to miss the world that local artist Josie Martin, has created in her own backyard. Her incredible labour of love and craftsmanship has truly taken over her terraced garden and turned it into another world that young and old from all over flock to see.

Although originally a traditional painter, Martin’s style evolved throughout her career and she began to move into more lively and colourful abstract work. After studying in the US, France, and Italy, and displaying exhibitions throughout New Zealand and the rest of the world, in 1993, Martin put down the paintbrush, and picked up some tiles.

the garden at the giants houseThe evolution of what is sometimes known as the ‘Secret Garden’ took place over a number of years. Each sculpture – a mosaic installation – reflects Martin’s surreal, flamboyant and eccentric view of the world, and of course demonstrates the enormous skill she has as an artist.

A short walk through Martin’s backyard will take you past angels and kings, ballerinas and wizards, a grand piano, and its receptive audience.

By turning her home into a work of art, Martin has earned herself recognition from the New Zealand Gardens Trust, who deem the place a ‘Garden of National Significance.’ Her garden has also featured in many prominent television shows and magazines, such as Maggie’s Garden Show, and New Zealand House and Garden.

 

The Giant’s House can be viewed throughout the year (although it makes a great springtime adventure). Or, if you’re enamoured with Martin’s work and are keen to explore her home, the house itself is set up as a Bed and Breakfast – every bit as beautiful and creative as the famous garden.

 

Accomodation

the rose room akaroa accomodation

 

 

As of recent you can now stay at The Giants House in Akaroa to. It’s a unique, one of kind Akaroa property that promises to deliver a special experience.There are three wonderful rooms to choose from; the Rose room, the Double boat room and a twin room, all of which can be booked for a minimm one nights stay and include bed and breakfast.

 

At The Giant’s House you will be pampered

the giants house piano akaroaOpen Hours

Summer (26 Dec – 30 April) the garden and gallery are open 12 – 5pm daily
Winter (1 May – 24 Dec) the garden and gallery are open 2 – 4pm daily
Cruiseship  days the garden and gallery will be open 12:30pm – 4pm (Oct to Dec ).

The ‘Artisit Palate’ Cafe is open 26 Dec – 30 April.

Prices

  • Garden visit : $20 per adult, $10 per child (2 – 15 years of age)
  • Family Concession Prices:
    • 2 Adults + 1 Child $45
    • 2 Adults + 2 Children $50
    • 2 Adults + 3 Children $55
    • 2 Adults + 4 Children $60
    • Students (with ID) $17
    • Seniors (with NZ gold card ID) $17
  • For group visits (10 or more) to see both the house, gallery and the garden: $22.50pp+ GST

10 Tips To Survive Your Family Camping Trip

What better way to spend your summer nights in New Zealand with the family than pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars?

Banks Peninsula is full of scenic spots that are perfect for such an endeavour, and many people take advantage of that fact during our warmer months.

If you’re thinking of roughing it for a few nights in Canterbury’s great outdoors, be it in iconic Banks Peninsula destinations such as Akaora, Okains Bay or Little River then here are ten things you should bring to ensure your family camping trip is a great success:

    1. Pack of Cards – Or any other board game really. Stock up on the kids’ favourites to wind down at the end of a day of running around in the sun, or for that unexpected stormy summer weather.
    2. Wet Weather Gear – Even if the forecast is telling you there will be nothing but sun, with New Zealand weather’s notoriously unpredictable reputation, it pays to be prepared. If you’re in a tent, make sure the rain cover is packed away, along with the parkas and some extra blankets.
    3. Sun Stuff – On the other hand, the ever so bright (and burning) Kiwi sun can be almost as much trouble as an unexpected storm. Like they say, be sure to slip, slop, slap, and wrap when enjoying the great outdoors.
    4. St John first aid kitFirst Aid Kit – Bandages, antiseptic wipes, tweezers; all essentials for the travelling family. Every kid is bound to graze a knee or get a splinter, and being able to fix up an ailment in a jiffy reduces the worry and hassle of having to ask around for a hand. St John do a great range of first aid kits from ambulance plasters to an ambulance shaped kit. Great for your trip or for a Christmas gift idea.
    5. kathmandu solar chargerMap – GPS, Google Maps, or whatever fancy technological equivalent you may have can do the job just fine, until it can’t. Have a back up old school hard copy of the way to your destination to avoid getting lost or stuck in the middle of nowhere. If you prefer plastic to paper why not invest in a solar charger. Kathmandu do a great solar charger kit so you can stay connected.kids camping torch
    6. Lights – Nobody likes having to get up in the middle of the night to find the loo, only to realise the lights are out and there’s nowhere to find them. Bring a torch or lamp, and some spare batteries, to avoid stumbling through the dark. They’re also great for a game of spotlight. We love this kids camping animal torch from Typo!
    7. Sleeping gear – Although sleeping bags and pillows are a given, it might pay to pack a few extra blankets for those colder nights. Don’t forget the air mattress or cot either – especially if you’re after a comfortable night’s sleep. Or simply bring the whole bed and call it glamping..glamping

 

8. Food glorious food – A local Four Square or dairy is usually pretty helpful for anything you’ve forgotten, but for those more remote locations, prepping meal plans before you go can make a load of difference. Snacks are an essential for the little ones too as all that running around is bound to work up an appetite long before dinner. Don’t forget the utensils either – those beans aren’t much good if you can’t get into them!

9. Toilet Paper – One can only truly appreciate the wonders of toiletries when one has accidently left them at home before a camping trip. Be sure to double check for loo paper, wet wipes, soap, and hand sanitizer in your bathroom bag before you head off into the wilderness.

10. Fun – Not everything will go to plan, and there will no doubt be a bit of stress in the atmosphere, but try your best to go with the flow and make the most of it. There’s nothing quite like a Kiwi summer in the great outdoors!

For more information on camping in Akaroa and the bays check out this fantastic guide cortesy of akaroa.comAkaroa and the bays camping guide 1Akaroa and the bays camping guide 2

5 Fab Stops On Your Drive From Christchurch To Akaroa

Although it’s not a particularly long and arduous journey, it’s always nice to have a place to stop on a drive through the countryside.

Take a look at a few of these places on your next trip to Akaroa for friendly faces, local attractions, or a delicious bite to eat:

1. Little River

Little River is a great halfway point for stretching those legs on the drive over to Akaroa. Hop out at the main stop through the town and have a look around. With the Little River Craft Station, Little River Gallery, and the Little River Café all in one easily accessible location, you can pass an hour or two browsing and brunching on your way to Banks Peninsula. If you’re a little more active and have some extra time, take a day to get out on the Little River Rail Trail – a great biking track that goes along the old railroad – before heading over the hills. There’s also a fantastic campsite here, which is reported to be the most searched for campsite in New Zealand on google!

2. Barry’s Bay

Stop for a seaside snack in Barry’s Bay. Famous for its award winning handmade cheese, a stop in Barry’s Bay means a visit to the factory. With taste tests for delicious cheddar, gouda, harvati and maasdam, you’ll be sure to take a bit of time to stock up. Bring a few crackers and chutney and make a meal of it while looking over the water not far from the shop. If you’re keen on staying for a bit longer, there’s also the cosy Halfmoon Cottage. Just 30 metres from the ocean, its wonderful service, homely atmosphere and beautiful gardens, make it the perfect retreat for backpackers passing through.

3. Wainui

If you’re up for a bit of a detour then Wainui is a great place to unwind after a day of driving. The rocky beach makes for a lovely afternoon stroll, exploring the rock pools and sea life that live in the corners of the shore. The place is also great for a getaway from city bustle, with plenty of baches nestled amongst the bush for the perfect family summer at a quiet beach. Bring the boat or the kayak for a bit of seafaring fun, or take a walk up the hills for a spectacular view of the water.

4. Hilltop Tavern

Open from Wednesday to Sunday, the Hilltop and the Tavern are a great place to soak in the view and have a bite and a beer before you head down the hills. Coin operated binoculars give you a fantastic up close look at the Peninsula and the road ahead, while the Tavern does great woodfire pizzas and Kiwi craft beer to tide you over until you make it to your destination. Spending an evening at the Hilltop Tavern is also an excellent experience, with local and national acts often playing live on the weekends.

5. DuVauchelle Bay

A stop in DuVauchelles will see you get your first taste of French history before heading to Akaroa. The town was named after two brothers who held the land there after the French Settlement arrived in the 1840s. There are several historic sites, such as the 1921 post office, that show an interesting window to the past as you’re passing through. Or, if you’re up for a relaxing afternoon, get lunch at the DuVauchelle Store and Café, and dine in front of the harbour. Then, head down to the 18-hole golf course for a game that has some of the best scenery in New Zealand.

Say Cheese!

Alright, before you read this article, I have to emphasise that I am a cheese lover and furthermore, I am French. I know what you are going to say, but I can assure you, cheese is magical! 

Let’s now talk about cheese…

During my first trip to Akaroa in early 2014, I heard about a little cheese factory on the way to the Peninsula. I thought: “What an amazing idea to stop by!” I was not disappointed!

When you enter this little treasure, you are exposed to a lot of different kinds of cheese. From the Gouda to the Havarti passing by the Gruyere, Edam and Maasdam, you will find some very special taste’s and I am sure you will find one that you like. You will be exploring wonderful aromas, mulitple textures, delicious flavours and different colours.

You can purchase direct from the shop for your friends or yourself after having a degustation (it is the best part). But what made my cheese experience really enjoyable was the factory itself. This factory had been using the traditional method of fabrication since 1895. They also use fresh milk from Banks Peninsula Friesian cows. I think this is great! In addition, you can ask for an explanation about the process and you get to see the cheese making room (see picture).

If you are planning a holiday or daytrip to Akaroa, it is a great stop off along the way. If you need more information about Barrys’ Bay, please find the website below : http://www.barrysbaycheese.co.nz/

Barrys Bay Shop Akaroa

cHEESE FACTORY aKAROA

Banks Peninsula Must-Dos – A Guide to Lyttelton Bars

Lyttelton is a great family destination – the rich and interesting history and nature of the place puts something on offer for everyone. But if you’re after somewhere to wet your whistle after a long day of exploring, or something exciting for the 18+ crowd to do in the quirky port town, then check out one of these fine local establishments for a bit of Lyttelton fayre and late night fun.

Porthole Bar:

porthole lytteltonSituated on the site where the popular Volcano Bar and Café once stood, Porthole is another example of Cantabrian ingenuity that’s come out of the other side of the quake.

Although one of several container bars around the city, Porthole has a uniquely Lyttelton flavour.

The live music, craft beer, and loyal customers all come from the portside village, and the porthole windows cut out of the container are an appropriate finishing touch – head down for a beer and a bite on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

Wunderbar:

wunderbarA popular watering hole for the locals, Wunderbar is perfect for a taste of the creativity that Lyttelton is so famous for. Renowned for its quirky décor – which includes a collection of infamous doll’s heads amongst other bits and bobs – Wunderbar is a little left of centre.

A visit on any given Friday or Saturday night could get you caught up in anything from a poetry reading to a burlesque show to a local folk act.

Definitely a must-do if you’re after something a little different out of your visit.

Civil and Naval:

Civil and naval barA great example of that ‘cult bar’ theme Lyttelton has going on nowadays,

Civil and Naval has cosy-chic written all over it.

A tapas bar, restaurant, beer garden and coffee shop all rolled into one nautical-but-not-in-a-cheesy-way package, this casual dining experience fits perfectly into the town’s atmosphere.

 

It possibly has the best wine and cocktail list in town too.

Using fresh, locally sourced ingredients for creative and tasty dishes, Civil and Naval fits in with the community ethos so well known on the streets of Lyttelton.

 

Tommy Chang’s:

Tommy ChangsTucked away amongst the cool of London Street, Tommy Chang’s is an ode to Lyttelton’s past and future.

Formerly known as Dave’s Place, the café and bar came about after owner, Dave Watchorn, lost an almost complete restoration of the Canterbury Hotel in February 2011.

Although a tragic loss, Tommy Chang’s is yet another amazing Lyttelton establishment that’s come out of the resilience of this community.

With live gigs, superb fare, and, of course, that rich and interesting history, the place is a classic dining experience in the port town.

Hector’s Dolphin Killed By Set Net in Akaroa Harbour

Yesterday, Monday, April 6th, a dead Hector’s dolphin was discovered in Akaroa harbour. The cause of death was drowning by set net. This happened just days after the legal set netting summer ban had been lifted.

A local man found the dead dolphin and alerted Black Cat Cruises, who in turn alerted both DOC and local researchers, and sent out a boat to locate the dead mammal.

Hector’s dolphins are the world’s smallest and rarest marine mammal and are endemic to New Zealand. As a company and a community we are extremely disappointed to see this happen.   The region has taken great steps in the creation and opening of the marine mammal sanctuary and newly opened marine reserve.

 

University of Otago marine biologist Professor Elisabeth Slooten happened to be in Akaroa for Easter and we able to examine the dead dolphin. Together they have studied Hector’s dolphins for more than thirty years and have dissected more than 130.

 

examining dolphin 2 webThe young male Hector’s dolphin, which was 123 centimetres long was likely to be only four or five years old. “A firm estimate of age can only be gained from looking at growth layers in the teeth” Prof Dawson said.

“Going from its size and lack of tooth wear, this dolphin was probably 4-5 years old. They can live to well over 20 years. The dolphin was in good condition, apparently healthy, and would have reached maturity within the next couple of years”

It is extremely sad that at one end of the harbour we now have this wonderful marine reserve yet at the other end it is legal for 6 months of the year to set nets which are proven to be deadly to this endangered species.

Setting nets for flatfish in the inner parts of Akaroa Harbour is legal from April 1 to 30 September. ‘’The problem is that dolphins use this area surprisingly often, even in the depths of winter’’, Prof Dawson said.

Biologists estimate only 7000 Hector’s dolphins remain in South Island waters.

There is currently a petition started by marine experts to ban nets and trawling in the areas that Hector’s dolphins inhabit. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/818/564/528/ban-gillnets-and-trawling-in-mauis-and-hectors-dolphin-habitat/#next_action

dolphin profile webBlack Cat Cruises, who are recognised as New Zealand first ever eco-tourism operator, employs over 50 members of staff alone and have been cruising the waters of Akaroa for 30 years.   Whilst tourism is the backbone of business in Akaroa, which the dolphins single handily spearhead, this isn’t an argument about commercial loss or gain. The fact is that the set netting that is occurring in Akaroa harbour is for recreational purposes.

To call for a complete ban on year round set netting would not have an impact to anyone’s livelihood. ‘’To wipe out the world’s most endangered species of dolphin would be a huge loss commercially but an incomprehensible loss environmentally’’ said Natasha Lombart, Black Cat Cruises Sales and Marketing Manager.

 

In over 30 years of operation it was this summer that Black Cat Cruises captured their most magnificent footage of the Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa harbour on both their dolphin swim, and Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise. They are the reason that visitor’s come to Akaroa from New Zealand and all over the world. We look forward to the day that we can post on this blog that there has been a complete set net ban. If you agree please comment below…

 

Akaroa Harvest Festival

When you think of Banks Peninsula do ever think of fresh smoked salmon, award winning olive oil, juicy chorizo and New Zealand wine?

Well…you should, because our beautiful Banks Peninsula has even more to offer than just world class scenery and wildlife, we have an abundance of award winning food too!

This weekend us folk in Akaroa will be celebrating our fourth Annual Akaroa Harvest Festival. It promises to showcase an array of excellent local produce……and you are all invited!

The Details

When: Saturday April 11thAkaroa Harvest festival

Where: The Akaroa Area School

Time: 10 am to 4.00pm.

This year’s festival boasts at least 30 stalls all offering prime locally-sourced produce ranging from mussel and paua fritters to Pig in a Day – all things pork including a workshop – ‘Three things Italian’,

As always, the atmosphere will be enhanced with live music and local wine, and to create a fun fairground vibe the day will play host to traditional games such as the egg-and-spoon race and sack race.

Food Glorious Food

Let your taste buds discover Banks Peninsula sourced honey, tasty French crepes, sumptuous berries, fresh local lamb,artisan cheese and quince, along with locally produced wines that will be available to both taste and purchase.

There will also be some competition on the day. Bakers will go head to head in a cake auction.

Top chefs will return to Akaroa by way of some marvellous cakes; all fighting for the highest bid to raise money for the Akaroa Health Hub.

Whilst other locals will compete for the ‘best jam’, and who better to judge this than Lou Bentley from the Akaroa Cooking School.

The festival truly celebrates some of the best food and wine in New Zealand – all produced on Banks Peninsula.

Best of all this is a free event, so come on over to Akaroa for a great day out and support the local folk…..

The Quail Island Easter Egg Hunt

Happy Easter holiday eve everyone!

If you have little people at home and are wondering what to get up to over the long weekend then look no further.

Black Cat Cruises will be hosting their annual Easter Egg Hunt on Quail Island. You’ll have two and half hours on the island to hunt for coloured tokens which can be swapped for up to 3 chocolate Easter eggs each! If you’ve never been to Quail Island before, which is a DOC reserve set in the middle of Lyttelton harbour, you’re in for even more of a treat. To see it for yourself watch our video here.

 

We’ll have 3 departures a day every day over the Easter break. Best of all it’s the same price as a standard Quail Island ferry ticket and under 5’s travel for free!

Whilst we don’t take bookings for the Quail Island ferry throughout the year, we do for the Easter weekend as it’s always a sell out! Tomorrow and Saturday are already booked up,so calling to pre-book is highly recommended. If you’d like to book just call 0800 436 574

Easter 2015