On the 6th day of our exhilarating road trip through New Zealand, we made our way to Christchurch. While most travelers choose to explore the bustling city, we decided to venture off the beaten path and set our sights on the picturesque French village of Akaroa, nestled amidst the tranquil beauty of the serene Banks Peninsula, just a short distance from Christchurch.
About Akaroa on Banks Peninsular
Located on a picturesque inlet on the volcanic Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, the historic French village is the peninsula’s greatest attraction today. In 1838, the French Captain Langlois believed that Akaroa would be a suitable location to service whaling ships. So he acquired the peninsula through a land deal with the local Māori, which has been viewed as dubious in hindsight.
After acquiring the land, Captain Langlois brought a group of French and German families to New Zealand and established the French settlement in Akaroa. Despite the land deal controversy, the settlement retained many French influences and preserved its nineteenth-century buildings, which can still be seen today.
Hilltop view over Akaroa harbour
Banks Peninsula, located southeast of Christchurch, is a scenic drive along SH75. The road can be busy, but along the way, you can pass by two lakes, Lake Ellesmere and Lake Forsyth, where some people stopped to take pictures. One of the must-do activities in the area is to visit the viewpoint near Hilltop Tavern, which offers panoramic views of Akaroa harbour and bays.
Banks Peninsula is a result of volcanic activity that took place millions of years ago, resulting in the formation of two overlapping volcanic cones. Over time, erosion reduced the volcanic complex to half of its original height, creating deep valleys. About 6,000 years ago, as the sea level rose, these valleys were flooded, forming the present harbour.
In fact, the viewpoint near Hilltop Tavern is located on the crater rim of the long-extinct Akaroa volcano. You can also join a guided crater rim walk in Banks Peninsula to learn more about the area’s history from a knowledgeable local guide. Many tour buses also make stops at Hilltop Tavern, making it a convenient place to take a break, grab a bite to eat or enjoy a drink while admiring the stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
The leisure activities in the French Village Akaroa
After driving a few more minutes, we finally arrived at the heart of Akaroa. This historical village comes alive during the summer season, with a vibrant bustle that fills the air. Despite having only a few hundred permanent residents, the number of tourists is much higher.
Discover Akaroa Village on foot
Akaroa exudes charm through its quaint architecture and warm hospitality. Strolling down the streets, one can’t help but notice the French street names and colonial cottages that dot the landscape.
A range of essential services are available for both residents and visitors, including a bank, fuel station, pharmacy, doctor’s office, general store, police station, postal services, and a visitor center. Many of these amenities are conveniently located along Rue Lavaud, the main street of the township.
Have lunch in a French Restaurant
The local restaurants here are known for their French cuisine, and we went to a French Bistro for lunch. While I can’t remember exactly what we ordered, I do remember that the food was really tasty. They also offered free table water, like they do in France. Overall, it was a great meal and a nice taste of French culture.
For a more authentic taste of French culture, one can explore the local cheese scene at the Cheese Factory and Shopp, or sample the finest wines at Meniscus Wines Cellar Door. Immerse yourself in the rich culinary traditions of France while savoring the delectable offerings of Akaroa.
Spend some time at harbour front and on Akaroa Beach
The leisurely stroll along the waterfront was a delightful experience. The bustling harbor was a hub of activity, with various adventures to embark on. As we walked further, we came across a handful of houses perched atop a charming timber trestle bridge.
We reached Akaroa beach, which was a serene and secluded spot. The beach has a unique combination of fine sand and small rocks, creating a textured landscape that was both flat and dense. Surprisingly, there were no other people on the beach, but we spotted many birds frolicking in the area.
Things to do around Akaroa
Take a nature cruise
Join an Akaroa Harbour 2-Hour Nature Cruise to explore the wildlife and admire the giant volcanic sea cliffs while learning about Akaroa’s fascinating history.
Swim with Akaroa wild Dolphins, the world’s smallest dolphins
Experience an intimate encounter with Hector’s dolphins, one of the world’s rarest and smallest dolphins, by joining a swimming with wild dolphins tour.
Kayak the Bay
Enjoy kayaking and sailing the oceans in the marvelous natural environment of Akaroa with the Kayak Adventure Eco Tour. The tour will take you to the breathtaking volcanic basin vistas, and you will be keeping an eye out for Hector dolphins in this hidden gem that’s just 80 minutes from Christchurch.
Go for a Hike
Hiking is a popular activity in the French village of Akaroa, with various trails and walking routes to choose from. Whether you prefer a short 10-minute walk or a full-day hike, there’s something for everyone at the edges of this historical French Settlement.
The Boardwalk to Children’s Bay offers a scenic waterfront walk to a tiny beach with lovely views of the town and harbour. For more information, visit the Akaroa Walking website.
How to make an Akaroa day trip from Christchurch
Akaroa is just a short drive from Christchurch, taking less than an hour via State Highway 75 (SH75). Follow the well-marked road, and you’ll easily reach Akaroa.
If you prefer not to drive, you can also take a bus from Christchurch to Akaroa. However, the journey takes about two and a half hours due to the route and potential stops along the way.
Join a tour
For a comfortable and hassle-free option, consider booking a tour from Christchurch to Akaroa. There are plenty of tour options available online, providing guided trips with transportation. And you can relax and enjoy the scenery without worrying about driving.