Five hours and 120 miles after boarding the red NZ Post van, we’ve had
the ride of a lifetime, cruising hidden bays of the Banks Peninsula with
Robin, the rural post mailman. The Eastern Bays Scenic Mail Run was all
that and more.
T’was a gorgeous day Thursday when we boarded at 9 am near the Akaroa war memorial.
Postie (NZ for mailman) Robin was born to do this: both delivering the
mail to tiny hamlets throughout the peninsula, chatting with people who
came down to greet the mail truck, but also answering endless questions
from the lone two passengers on today’s run.
Robin organizes the day’s mail
The landscapes were breathtaking. And we learned a lot. Including that
there’s no letter “L” sound in Maori, that giant cruise ships don’t
clutter up Akaroa Bay because the water’s only 15 meters deep, and that
he and his family shop for food in Christchurch.
Map of our route in black.
The rural post is government-owned and Robin contracts with the firm
that the government contracts with. He also does a school bus run in his
van, ferrying kids to school and home from Akaroa and other
communities. This scenic mail run is part of his postal gig.
Today’s ride opened our eyes to the many small communities on the peninsula, total population 2000 east of Little River.
Mailbox after mailbox, many with personality.
Starvation Gully Road
The post boxes are outside Pigeon Bay School, now shuttered.
This bad boy watched us from next door.
We used the toilet in the school, which smelled just like you’d expect a
closed school to smell, of dust and wood and silenced chatter.
The gymnasium, with a sprung dancefloor.
Robin makes this run six days per week, 300 days a year. He’s also a
dedicated conservationist, looking after and regenerating a large swath
of land (now a conservation trust) denuded of trees over the decades.
Satellite view of Bank Peninsula.
Mosaic of Robin’s bus made by a friend, in part using his family’s
dishes shattered in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. Robin
told us there were 14,000 aftershocks. Discussing the earthquake with
anyone who experienced it (and they did, here on the peninsula where he
lives, just an hour from the city) immediately pulls a shroud over
conversation. It’s a somber, serious recollection.
Emergency: incredible view out the van’s emergency door
I wish I could show you every place we stopped and relate all the
conversations Robin had with the people he serves. Clearly, this
widespread community is just that. Closely knit, with news carried in
the postie’s van both way. “There’s a sleeping leopard seal on the
beach,” one woman relayed. “Best keep the dog away,” he responded. With
another, Robin discussed an upcoming meeting of the LeBons Bay
Environmental Educational Trust, an effort to turn a closed school in
his community into a place where city kids can come to be outside, hear
birds, race around, and learn about nature.
Sometimes we were up so high looking down it felt like we were flying.
Enormous landscape, much grazing. Some of these farms have been in
families for 165 years. Robin told us the government owns just 2% to 3%
of the Bank Peninsula.
What’s this? Shy spring lambkins?
We drove and drove, sometimes frighteningly close to the edge.
Often down quiet lanes that seemed like scenes from a distant past.
And then it was time for tea. What? Yes, along the way Robin serves a
charming and delicious tea made by his wife, who was that day having a
“stitch and bitch” meet with some friends at the house of a woman who
had broken her hip. Naturally, they were cooking and tidying up for her
too. We dropped off her mail too.
Coffee, tea, cheese, crackers, and homemade muffins and chutneys. To me, this epitomizes the hospitality of NZ.
Next stop, St Luke’s Anglican Church in Little Akaloa
Surprisingly, Robin encouraged us to get out and briefly explore these extraordinary places.
Built and carved by John Menzies, for whom Menzies Bay is named.
This 1906 stone building replaced the 1874 church which had been a school. Chief benefactor John Menzies, a lay reader, not only donated much of the money, he did much of the construction and decorative work.
Menzies’ designs, using Maori motifs, are a talking point with all who pause for reflection at St Lukes.
Near Little Akaloa is Menzies Bay. It is characteristic of this area that a few family names occur over and over, reflecting the family nature of a district with which communication was once difficult. Menzies, Craws, Waghorns and Boleyns are still represented here.
The bell pull.
Chorlton Post Office
This little guy is third generation on his family’s farm.
On we drove, and if the views hadn’t been so compelling I’d have taken
better notes and could tell you which bays these are, with soaring views
of the Pacific.
Here’s the oldest and longest continually operating store in NZ. Since 1873 it’s been open, today in a community of 140.
With 12 children in attendance at the school
There are four million people in NZ, one million of them on the South Island.
This is where Robin has lived and raised his family for 30 years.
Hooray. Another walkabout.
Remember the woman telling him about the leopard seal? Here she is, a
long way from Antarctica. They are vicious, according to Robin, who
guided us to within a safe distance for zooming in (“don’t get between
the water and her”). Why she’s here we’ll never know.
The leopard seal is second only to the killer whale among Antarctica’s top predators. Its canine teeth are 2.5 cm (1 in). It feeds on a wide variety of creatures. Smaller seals probably eat mostly krill, but also squid and fish. Larger leopard seals probably switch from krill to more substantial prey, including king, adelie, rockhopper, gentoo, emperor, and chinstrap penguins, and less frequently, other seals, such as crabeater seal. Leopard seals have been filmed eating fur seal pups.
One more locked post box shed, this one at Gough’s Bay, before we take a shortcut back to Akaroa.
An extraordinary day, riding the back roads of the Banks Peninsula. Robin was interviewed for