Akaroa, New Zealand is a picturesque small town located in a stunning harbour of the same name. Just a short drive from Christchurch, it is a popular destination for a weekend away.
The town of Akaroa was founded by the French in the 19th century. Today its heritage is reflected in some street names and French-inspired fare in cafes and restaurants.
Akaroa is a New Zealand gem that features unique wildlife encounters, stunning views, heritage buildings and excellent food. I highly recommend spending at least a couple of days there when you’re visiting New Zealand.
Here is my list of the best things to do in Akaroa to inspire your own travels.
Nature Encounters in Akaroa, New Zealand
Swim with Hector’s Dolphins
Hector’s Dolphins are the rarest and smallest dolphins in the world. Akaroa is the only place where you can go for a swim with them. Not surprisingly, it is one of the most popular things to do in this part of New Zealand.
Join a small guided tour that will help you get up close and personal with these unique animals in their natural habitat. You might also spot New Zealand Fur Seals, White-Flippered Penguins and other unique wildlife during your trip.
The dolphin swimming tours run from October to April. You can book you spot for this 3-hour dolphin swimming experience online. Although the success rates of these tours are quite high, it’s worth remembering that Hector’s Dolphins are wild animals, so they might not always appear on cue.
Also, don’t worry if you are not a confident swimmer. You can still see Hector’s Dolphins by joining a dolphin-spotting cruise where no swimming is required.
Spot White-Flippered Penguins
Banks Peninsula where Akaroa is located is home to adorable White-flippered Penguins. They are some of the world’s smallest penguins and closely related to the Australian Little Blue Penguin. They can be hard to spot as they live underground and are nocturnal.
However, it is still possible to see them. Some local tour operators organise guided evening trips to the White-flippered Penguin colony in the remote Flea Bay. Since the area is a designated sanctuary, you will not be able to visit the colony on your own. This Pohatu Little Penguins 3-hour evening experience is just one of the tours you can book to see them.
Alternatively, you can also spot the penguins from a boat as they spend long hours at sea. My partner and I were lucky to see a few when we did our Dolphin Swim trip.
Fun Things to Do in Akaroa, New Zealand
See Giant’s House
Built in 1880, The Giant’s House is a grand historic villa that was lovingly restored by its owner and artist Josie Martin. Today, it is home to a contemporary art gallery and a garden of international significance. With her artist’s eye, Josie has created a one of a kind garden that is full of character and colour. It features beautiful flowers, original sculptures, mosaics and other ornaments. The garden is truly a work of art in itself. In the summer months, the garden café serves delicious coffee and snacks which can be enjoyed al fresco. The Giant’s House also operates as a B&B. It is a great place to stay on your visit to New Zealand’s Akaroa so you can have more time exploring the house and the garden.
Visit the Akaroa Lighthouse
Located just a short walk from the town centre, the charming Akaroa Lighthouse is an important historic landmark. However, its current picturesque location is not the spot where it was originally built. It started operating on the headland of Akaroa Heads in 1880. Eventually it was replaced by an automated light. The local preservation society then moved it to Cemetery Point where it stands today. The cost of entry is $2.50 NZD for adults and 50c for children. All funds go into the lighthouse maintenance.
Go Hiking in Akaroa, New Zealand
Akaroa and the surrounding countryside offer an abundance of walking routes, from short strolls to multi-day hikes. Many scenic short walks are accessible straight from the town centre. The Skyline Circuit is a popular full day option. The track will take you to the summit of Stony Bay Peak where you can enjoy panoramic views of Akaroa Harbour. The hike takes 4-7 hours to complete. It’s best to do it on a fine day to make sure that the track is safe.
Akaroa village is also a starting point for the iconic Banks Track. Possibly one of the best private walking tracks in the country, the Banks Track will take you through native forests, pastures and spectacular beaches. The track is also great for wildlife spotting. Compared to many other scenic tracks around New Zealand, the Banks Track is a lot quieter as there are only 16 walkers doing the track each day. The route takes 2 to 3 days to complete. Booking is required for this track. You can reserve your spot on the official Banks Track website.
Food and Drink in Akaroa, New Zealand
Akaroa is a fantastic foodie destination. From smart eateries and casual cafes to local wine and cheese producers, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Barrys Bay cheese has been a Banks Peninsula staple for over 120 years. Founded in 1895, it is a popular stop on the way to Akaroa. The team behind Barrys Bay pride themselves on using milk that comes from a single farm from the local area. The result of this geographical commitment is consistently beautiful cheeses including such classics as Havarti, Cheddar and Gouda. During your visit, you might be able to get a glimpse into the cheese-making magic through a large window between the shop and the factory. Note that the cheesemaking season runs from October to May. If you visit outside these months, there is an option to watch a recording of the process.
Taste Local Wines
With its French connection, it’s not surprising that Akaroa is home to a number of excellent boutique wineries. There you can taste award winnings Pinot Noirs, Pinot Gris and Chardonnays in spectacular settings. To learn more about the local wine-making processes and unique terrain, I would recommend joining a small group tour. The price starts from about NZ $105 (64 USD). The Banks Peninsula Wine Tour company organise these.
Enjoy Local Dining
Akaroa boasts a few excellent establishments that are worth adding to your itinerary. First up is Ma Maison, an all-day waterfront eatery serving brunch, lunch and dinner. Their menu is a celebration of the Akaroa region with local ingredients used whenever possible. Your dining experience will be complemented by excellent views overlooking the Akaroa Harbour. If you’re after a cosy option for a date night, look no further than the Little Bistro. The restaurant brings together the spirit of French bistro dining and local premium produce.
A trip to Akaroa wouldn’t be complete without tasting some French food staples. Head to the L’Escargot Rouge Deli cafe for a croissant, croque monsieur or baguette. Another popular dining option is Akaroa Fish & Chips located on the town’s waterfront. There you can enjoy a Kiwi classic while taking in the great views.
If you have a sweet tooth, I would also recommend checking out Pot Pourri‘s homemade fudge. There are more than 50 flavours to choose from and they are all absolutely delicious. The shop offers free tastings. Perfect if you’re not sure which one to choose. The store is located on Akaroa’s main road. It also stocks a selection of beautiful homewares, fashion and gifts.
How to Get to Akaroa, New Zealand
The easiest way to get to Akaroa is by car. Just follow State Highway 75 from Christchurch to Akaroa. The journey is 75 kilometres long and will take an hour and a half to complete. There is also the option to travel to Akaroa by coach. The scenic service that includes photo stops along the way departs daily from Christchurch. Return fares are NZ $55 (34 USD) per adult. You can book your spot on the Akaroa French Connection website (official operator).
Getting Around Akaroa
Akaroa is a small town, so you can easily get around it on foot. However, if you would like to see more of the Banks Peninsula, a car is a must. Some guided tours can take you to popular locations like the Flea Bay penguin colony, but a personal vehicle will still give you the most flexibility.
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