The South Island’s oldest town, Akaroa, was established by French and British colonists in 1840. This seaside village is New Zealand’s only French settlement, and it’s a picturesque place to discover some history, colonial architecture, gardens, gourmet dining and more.
“Akaroa” means “long harbour” in the local Kāi Tahu Māori dialect. Set on the eastern side of Banks Peninsula, with its spectacular volcanic scenery, Akaroa has a beautiful harbour and bays, ideal for kayaking, sailing or tours to see Hector’s dolphins, penguins and seals.
Driving out to Akaroa from Christchurch, you’ll pass Barry’s Bay, where they’ve been making cheese the traditional way since 1895. You can taste and buy cheese here, and watch cheese-making demonstrations every second day from October to May. Another good place to stock up on local delicacies, such as olives, is the Akaroa Farmer’s Market, open every Saturday from 9.30am-1.00pm in the Fletchers Hub park (next to the Akaroa 4 Square Super market) from October until Easter.
Akaroa Museum is small, but a great place to explore the colourful history of Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, with displays ranging from local Maori history to French history, with whaling, sawmilling and costume exhibitions.
Daly’s Wharf, built in the early 1860s, is a picturesque jetty, which some tourist boats depart from. It’s a popular leaping off point for a summer splash in the sea.
The Akaroa Harbour is a marine playground, perfect for a cruise or sailing trip. Various cruise options are available, from exploring the harbour to viewing or even swimming with Hector’s dolphins. Sea kayaking is also a good way to discover the best of Akaroa and its marine life. Akaroa Marine Reserve lies at the mouth of the harbour. Species that visit these waters include Hector’s dolphins, smaller whale species, seals, white-flippered penguins and albatrosses.
Pōhatu Marine Reserve is centred round Flea Bay, on the south east side of Banks Peninsula, and is home to large penguin and seal colonies. It’s a rough 4WD drive out there, but if you take the Penguin Tour the trip out from Akaroa is included, with great scenic views, and pet sheep running to greet you. You will see Little Penguins in the wild, and may also see yellow-eyed penguins.
The Giant’s House is a whimsical house, with lovely gardens full of quirky sculptures and artworks. Wander amongst mosaic-work, statues, and imaginative follies, for an enchanting and magical experience. Take water and a camera, and finish up with a Devonshire Tea or ice cream at the outdoor cafe.
Walking the Banks Peninsula Track. Photo credit: Shireen Helps
Dotted around the harbour’s edge are various beautiful beaches and secluded bays, great for a swim or just relaxing on the sand. There are many good walking and tramping tracks in the area. If you have two to four days, the Banks Peninsula Track gives walkers a real experience of backcountry New Zealand, with sheep dotted over rolling hills, cliffs with seals at the base, forests and fantails, and great sea views.
The Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum lies at Okains Bay, half an hour’s drive from Akaroa and an hour from Christchurch. There are amazing views from the winding Summit Road in the way there. The museum holds an interesting collection of Maori and colonial artefacts, along with a variety of historic and reconstructed buildings, Maori waka (canoe), a working smithy and more.
Where to stay
What to do in Akaroa
- Go sea kayaking in the harbour
- Visit the colony of White-flippered penguins at Pohatu
- Look out for the rare Hector’s dolphins
- Explore the town’s history at Akaroa Museum
- Take a tour of the town’s historic sites
- Enjoy a meal at one of the town’s many fine cafes
- Visit Okains Bay and see Maori and European artefacts at the museum there
- Explore spectacular coastline and bush on the Banks Peninsula Track
- Akaroa Museum
- DoC - Akaroa Marine Reserve
- Pohatu Penguin Tours
- The Giant’s House
- Banks Peninsula Track