We were on a self-drive, on month tour of the south island of New Zealand in December 2012 and we were fortunate to put Akaroa on our itinerary. Akaroa was originally a French settlement and it is elegant, compact, refined and luxurious. Akaroa was suggested to us by some friends as a day trip from Christchurch but doing Akaroa as a day trip does not do it justice. I highly recommend that you stay a minimum of two nights.
Christchurch to Akaroa and Akaroa harbour cruise
Up and breakfast in Christchurch. Drive to Akaroa via State Highway 75. Leave yourself a minimum of 90 minutes for the drive. It is twisty and there are great places to stop and look at the scenery. There are also a few craft shops and lakes on the way, all worth a stop and easy to find.
We arrived in Akaroa about lunchtime and stumbled into the HarBar Cafe. They were serving blue cod fish and chips that tasted as if it had been caught in the harbour that morning. Additionally, this is the view from the counter in the café. They also have lots of outdoor seating. This is also a great place for drinks and watching the sun go down over the harbour.
After checking into our room (see Maison de la Mer) we went on a harbour cruise. Although we wanted to just relax in our room, the weather was a balmy 26C and sunny but rain was predicted for the following day so we thought it was best we take to the water in the great weather.
There are two cruise providers in Akaroa – Black Cat Cruises and Akaroa Dolphins. Black Cat Cruises is very family friendly and clearly has a huge marketing budget. We opted for Akaroa Dolphins because the boat was a bit smaller and the experience more personal.
Akaroa Dolpins have a little dog, Murphy, who goes on the cruises and can hear the dolphins before we can see them. They even have a cute cartoon book which follows the adventures of Murph the Dolphin dog. This made an excellent gift for my 6 year old niece. (Which was made even better when I went to the post office and bumped into the author who signed it! Akaroa is truly a village…)
After returning, we showered and dressed for dinner. After stopping in for a glass of wine with Carol and Bruce who run Maison de la Mer we sauntered to The Little Bistro for a high quality dinner. Although the menu was relatively limited, everything was cooked to a high standard and delicious. Unfortunately, however, this place was not air conditioned and it was still 24C so a bit too hot to be sitting in the sun tucking into steak and potatoes. They also feature Barry’s Bay cheeses (an easy stop on the way to Akaroa) which made an excellent blue cheese sauce for the steak.
Sundown in the harbour is a special event. Because of the shape of the harbour, it is not only a sunset but the way the shadows grow and recede across the mountains is beautiful. Also, it is relatively dark so the stars shine brightly and an hour watching the day end is truly an event here.
Akaroa lighthouse and harbour
Sometimes jetlag is a good thing. On day 2, we were up at 0500 and walked the Akaroa harbour to the original lighthouse that has been moved to an accessible part of the village. As you can expect for this hour of the morning, we had the whole village all to ourselves and it was peaceful, fresh, calm and delightful way to start the day.
After breakfast in the B&B we took our car out one of the many great drives around Akaroa and climbed a steep path to look out over the harbour.
We had a late lunch at the Trading Rooms where the service was a bit patchy but the restaurant itself was great décor, fabulous location and a good menu. We spent the afternoon doing various walks around Akaroa in between relaxing in our room. Dinner this night was Vangionis Trattoria and Bar which we caught on a bad night. They were hosting a Christmas party of about 20 Kiwis post a rugby match who were quite rowdy and our waitress was brand new (Eastern European I think) and had clearly never been a waitress before. The food was competently cooked but we didn’t stay for dessert – just mains and out of there as quickly as possible!
Saying goodbye to Akaroa
On day 3, we were reluctant to leave so packed in as much as we could into our time in Akaroa. This morning we again walked the harbour first thing in the morning for the peace and relaxation it provided. After breakfast, however, we had to say goodbye and move on to our next stop of Hanmer Springs.
Important Note related to Akaroa: Cruise ships are stopping here because the ports in Christchurch are closed due to the earthquake. My understanding is that on days when the cruise ships arrive, the character of Akaroa changes dramatically as it is full of tourists. When planning a trip, take this into account.
This guest post is from a professional couple in their late 30s who were inspired by Sandal Road to take their own trip to New Zealand. In their fifth post on Sandal Road, they are giving some great tips on things to do in Akaroa.