Things to do in Akaroa

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!

Hills around Akaroa

Hills around Akaroa

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:

French road signs in Akaroa. Photo by amymichon @ Flickr.

French road signs in Akaroa. Photo by amymichon @ Flickr.

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 pier. Photo by Daniele_Sartori @ Flickr.

Akaroa pier. Photo by Daniele_Sartori @ Flickr.

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!

Thing to do in Akaroa: Akaroa War Memorial

Akaroa War Memorial

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.

Water-based activities

Akaroa sea promenade and pier. Photo by learnscope @ Flickr.

Akaroa sea promenade and pier. Photo by learnscope @ Flickr.

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!

Land-based activities

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!

Things to do in Akaroa: Sailboats in Akaroa harbour

Sailboats in Akaroa harbour

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Have you been to Akaroa? What would you do in this seaside village?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  19 comments for “Things to do in Akaroa

  1. 23 August, 2011 at 18:30

    Seems like a very laid back place to chill out and take your time. I would most probably do some fishing there. Charter a boat and go out to sea.

    • Christina
      26 August, 2011 at 18:15

      I think I’ll follow your ideas next time I’m there. Fishing sounds very relaxing.

  2. 24 August, 2011 at 12:33

    You know I hadn’t been there or even heard of it but it sounds lovely.

  3. 24 August, 2011 at 13:30

    I had no idea about a French settlement in NZ – the country seems to have so much!

  4. 24 August, 2011 at 22:28

    This looks like such a charming small town! I’m picturing myself on the pier or promenade and really wishing I was there now… 🙂

  5. 25 August, 2011 at 01:07

    New Zealand has some really great city names.

    • Christina
      26 August, 2011 at 18:14

      You’re right, they have the second-longest place name, and some very unusual ones. Twizel, Franz Josef, or.. Whakapapa. Wh is pronounced “f”. You figure it out.

  6. 25 August, 2011 at 03:37

    The Akaroa area looks like a beautiful place to visit. That’s very interesting and surprising about the French history there.

  7. 25 August, 2011 at 05:58

    Sadly for the French, the English won the race to NZ! But the French brought with them Gewurtztraminer vines to establish a wine industry, but sadly for NZ this was the wrong grape for the region and they did not succeed. Imagine if they had succeeded in establishing a large wine industry back then – luckily the Kiwis have now succeeded in developing a world class industry, but just 150 years later!!

    • Christina
      26 August, 2011 at 18:07

      Thanks for your comment, John. I didn’t know they had tried the Gewürztraminer on the Banks Peninsula! And I’m glad the Kiwis have succeeded with building their own wine industry now, otherwise I would not have tasted that wonderful pinot noir in Otago, or the Gewürztraminer at Peregrine Winery!

  8. 25 August, 2011 at 14:03

    We didn’t have enough time to go to Akaroa when we were in Christchurch but this post so makes me wish we did!

    • Christina
      26 August, 2011 at 18:15

      I know you two will go to NZ again. So you already have something to look forward to!

  9. 25 August, 2011 at 15:19

    I could definitely entertain myself here for a while, especially with all the outdoors activities.

  10. 26 August, 2011 at 10:58

    Mon Dieu! C’est magnifique! That’s about the extent of my French. Looks like a very nice spot to spend some time…

    • Christina
      26 August, 2011 at 18:18

      Bien sur, c’est super!

  11. NLM
    15 September, 2011 at 03:32

    I visited NZ just weeks after the quake, and wasn’t able to get to Akaroa (although I had a couple of unplanned days in Wellington, which I loved). But your post convinced me to include it on my next trip–which I hope will be soon.

  12. 17 July, 2012 at 13:48

    The two-hour boat cruise with Black Cat Cruises into the harbour and out into the Pacific Ocean was a great experience, especially as skies were clear and seas were calm. For winter, the conditions were an absolute bonus. With the winter sun relatively low to the north, the view of the entire illuminated harbour (re. the former volcanic caldera) was spectacular. We also got to see a number of seals getting their sun on, a number of cormorants, a couple of penguins, and a pod of six dolphins hanging out at the mouth of the harbour. With three crew and six passengers in total, it was easy to get around the boat, and the entire cruise was very relaxed, as our pilot was very informative and we got to linger at the mouth of the harbour to look at the dolphins. In low-season and good weather conditions, I think that the $69 NZD two-hour tour is a great deal. 🙂

    • Christina
      21 July, 2012 at 21:44

      Henry, thanks for your view on Akaroa! Sounds like you had a great time with Black Cat Cruises. You have convinced me to take the tour myself next time I’m there. Sounds great. I’d love to see the dolphins and penguins. Enjoy the rest of your time in NZ. I know you will 🙂

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