Akaroa meaning "long harbour" in Maori, is a charming, French-influenced harbour town in the heart of the Banks Peninsula. Located in the middle of a volcanic crater, the harbour is home to seals, rare Hector’s dolphins, penguins, birds, and much further out to sea, whales.
The popularity of the town means there are plenty of wildlife cruises that journey out to the Canterbury Bight and the surrounding bays, along with scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing and fishing expeditions. If you want to get out on the water without venturing out too far, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding are also good options.
Within this little pocket of ‘French-ness’, you'll find delightful French colonial buildings, French street names, the French Cemetery, cute chalets, and lots of places to sit and enjoy some fine cuisine. Try one of the restaurants overlooking the harbour or one of the many cafes and bars down the main street. Ma Maison, The Little Bistro, Bully Hayes and Harbar are all popular dining options.
For retail therapy, there are some great little artisan shops,gemstone jewellery stores, unique crafts and giftware. The town has a very informative museum housed in a trio of the former Customs House, Court House and Langlois-Eteveneaux Cottage, which details the colourful history of this, the South Island's oldest town.
The town hosts a Farmers' Weekly market on the grounds of St Patrick's Catholic Church. The market runs every Saturday from 9.30am to 1.30pm during the months October to April
A few minutes drive from Akaroa is a fantastic short walk. The Onawe Track is off State Highway 75 (just before/after Duvauchelle settlement) and is a one hour return walk along the Onawe Peninsula which offers amazing views of the harbour.
Akarao is also home to a few small wineries which offer wine tastings. It's best to check beforehand to see if they are doing wine tastings and lunches. For something a little bit different, visit 'Shamarra Alpacas' to feed and and wander through herds of grazing alpacas, and enjoy breathtaking views of Akaroa Harbour.
Akaroa is only about 90 minutes’ drive southeast of Christchurch and another reason why it's a popular retreat for locals and visitors from further afield.