Just a 90-minute leisurely drive from Christchurch, Akaroa awaits: a beautiful seaside village, situated in the south of the volcanic Banks Peninsula. There are plenty of things to do in Akaroa, from dolphin swimming to historic walks to museums.
Banks Peninsula was formed by volcanic eruptions and is therefore almost round in shape. There you’ll find deep harbours, many an isolated bay, and Akaroa, the only French settlement in New Zealand. It’s a perfect day trip from Christchurch and offers plenty, both for the lazy wanderers as well as for those with more active pursuits.
Things to do in Akaroa
It all starts with a 90-minute scenic drive from Christchurch that leads through green hills to picturesque little bays and seaside villages. On the way there, make sure you step out of your car to take in the gorgeous views and snap a few pictures!
Explore Akaroa’s French heritage
At the end of state highway 75 you find yourself right in Akaroa, New Zealand’s only French settlement. There’s plenty of evidence of the French to be found, in the form of food, architecture, and writings. Have a look at the street signs there:
When I visited Akaroa for the first time, I had no idea the French had even been there at all in colonial times. In April 1840, France sent the Comte de Paris, captained by Charles François Lavaud and carrying 53 emigrants, to New Zealand to establish a French colony in Akaroa. When the ship arrived in Akaroa in August 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi had already been signed, and the British had already claimed sovereignty over the South Island. The French colonists stayed in Akaroa and lived side-by-side with Germans, Maori and British, and traded with whaling ships. The French navy built essential infrastructure but left in the 1850s as whaling declined. It’s quite a sight to be at the other side of the world and reading a sign saying “Rue Jolie” or other writing in the French language!
Walk along the promenade
Akaroa is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon just walking around the pretty little village, taking in the views from the sea promenade, or lounging about on the pier, watching the sailboats in the port. There are a few craft stores and eateries along the promenade, as well as beautiful gardens. When I visited last I was told I had to have the blue cod and chips. I’m not much of a fish and chips person, but I have to say the blue cod was really tasty!
The above war memoria stands in the middle of a beautifully maintained garden with roses and palm trees just off Beach Road. It commemorates the loss of New Zealand men and women during past wars, such as the Great War and World War II. The memorial suffered some damage from the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake, but it still stands and there are fundraising efforts going on in the community to restore the landmark.
There’s plenty to do in Akaroa in and around the water. Akaroa has its own swimming beach and there are others just outside the village. You can rent kayaks and explore the bay, or take a boat tour and visit seal and penguin colonies nearby. There are also harbour cruises, and you can swim with dolphins, too!
For those seeking non-water activities, hiking or biking in the Akaroa area is a great way to spend a day or more on the Banks Peninsula. There are historic walks around Akaroa itself that visitors can book, and plenty of hiking trails of various difficulty and duration in the area. The Department of Conservation (DOC) offers an excellent leaflet outlining these trails here. And let’s not forget the Akaroa Museum, with its exhibitions on Maori history!
Have you been to Akaroa? What would you do in this seaside village?