Akaroa is a charming harbourside town on the eastern side of Akaroa harbour, in southern Banks Peninsula in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. Its early settlers were French and British. It was the only French settlement in New Zealand. Aspects of its French heritage remain, such as names of streets and businesses.
"Akaroa" is Maori for "Long Harbour". The village is snuggled into a wide bay on the eastern side of the rugged harbour, with Onuku Marae a little further south. The permanent population of around 600 (2013) in this historic village swells significantly over summer.
Akaroa's harbour is home to an array of wildlife, most notably the rare Hector's dolphin. Cruises and dolphin swimming are popular attractions.
Akaroa is 85 km (80– to 90-minute drive) from Christchurch on SH75, which winds over the hills of the rugged Banks peninsula with breathtaking views.
- Akaroa French Connection bus departs Christchurch daily at 9AM. Departs Akaroa daily at 4PM. $45 return.
- Akaroa Shuttle bus departs from Christchurch at 8:30AM (all year) and 1:30PM (Nov-Apr). It departs Akaroa Adventure Centre, 74 Rue Lavaud, at 10:30AM and 3:45PM (Nov-Apr), and 3:35PM (May-Oct). $35 one way, $50 return.
Both buses depart Christchurch from Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Ave.
Akaroa is a tender port for cruise ships anchored in the harbour. Tenders bring passengers to the shallow-water main wharf in the centre of town. The small town can be easily walked and explored in several hours. To get to the centre of town, walk north on Beach Rd with the French Bay waters on your left for about 10 minutes to get to Rue Balguerie. On cruise ship days, a free shuttle operates every 15 minutes from the main wharf to the centre of Akaroa (Akaroa Tourist Information Centre) and to the Recreation Ground (end of town).
Akaroa is the base port for excursions to Christchurch (the port of Lyttelton has been closed to cruise ships since being badly damaged in the 2011 earthquake). Christchurch city is 1.5 hours drive away. Shuttle services: Akaroa Shuttle (white and red) and French Connection (CityLine) buses to Christchurch leave from the main wharf.
- Akaroa Shuttle Christchurch Direct Shuttle bus departs Akaroa at 9:45AM and travels to Rolleston Ave, close to Hagley Park, Botanic Gardens, Punting on the Avon, and the Museum. Departs Christchurch at 3PM and arrives back at Akaroa at 4:30PM. $45 return.
- Akaroa French Connection Christchurch Direct Shuttle bus departs Akaroa at 9:30AM, arrives in Christchurch within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens, Canterbury Museum, Art Gallery, Punting on the Avon and local cafes, and arrives back at Akaroa at 4:25PM. $45 return.
- The Akaroa Historic Area along the waterfront of Akaroa Harbour is easily explored by foot. The main axis comprises all of the Rue Lavaud, part of Beach Road, and includes streets and areas to the east of these two principal arteries. The axis of the area runs roughly north and south with the northern end beginning at the junction of the Rue Lavaud with Woodills Road, and the southern end terminating at the Garden of Tane, about a half an hour walk end to end. The eastern boundary of the area includes the L'Aube Hill Reserve and French Cemetery, and Stanley Park. The western boundary is the French Bay, marked by Dalys Wharf at the end of the Rue Balguerie and by the Main Wharf at Beach Rd and Church St.
- 1 Akaroa Museum, 71 Rue Lavaud (corner of Rue Balguerie). M–F and daily during school holidays 10:30AM-4PM. Partially reopened following repair work after the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Three heritage buildings - the Langlois-Eteveneaux cottage (early 1840s), the Customs House (early 1850s), and the Court House (1878) - are part of the Akaroa Museum complex. The Long Harbour - a 20-minute DVD - tells of the volcanic origins of Akaroa and its settlement. The permanent collection includes a complete edition of the Akaroa Mail from 1876, 19th- and 20th-century costume, photographic and family history archives. Free.
- The Gaiety Hall, 105 Rue Jolie. The façade has Italianate/Classical detailing that is usually executed in stone, but here entirely of wood. It was built in 1879 by of the Oddfellows Lodge. By the late 20th century it had become dilapidated, but a group of three local women took the venerable building in hand. The Gaiety Trust raised more than $300,000 to renovate the building. Wonderfully restored and brought back to life, it is once again a popular venue for community events. The Gaiety is closed for earthquake strengthening.
- 2 Pohatu Marine Reserve at Flea Bay. Take Onuku Rd, then Lighthouse Rd, then Flea Bay Rd. The bay is the centre of the Pohatu Marine Reserve, set aside to protect the natural marine environment. The drive takes about 40 minutes, sometimes on steep and exposed shingle roads, and 4WD is recommended. The drive has excellent views back over Akaroa Harbour.
- 3 The Giant's House, 68 Rue Balguerie. Noon-4PM depending on season. An artist transformed this historic hillside house with a whimsical garden of sculptures and colourful tiles. Interesting oddities around every corner and good views. $20.
- 4 Akaroa Head (End of Lighthouse Road). Epic clifftop coastal views at the mouth of Akaroa Harbor. Probably the only good place to see Hector's dolphins for free (bring binoculars and a little patience), and good for watching seabirds and (distant) seals as well. Access via an 11km gravel road that goes up and over a mountain - signs say 4WD is officially required, but it's not usually necessary in good weather conditions. Free.
- Akaroa Dolphins cruise, 65 Beach Rd. Daily 12:45PM; summer: also 10:15AM and 3:15PM. Two-hour cruise to see Hector's dolphins, fur seals, little blue penguins and other wildlife, and sea caves and volcanic cliffs. Adult $92, child $50.
- Akaroa Harbour cruise (Black Cat Cruises), 61 Beach Rd or on the wharf. Daily 1:30PM; summer: also 11AM and 3:40PM. Two-hour cruise to see Hector's dolphins, fur seals, little blue penguins and other wildlife, and sea caves and volcanic cliffs. Adult $95, child $40.
- Banks Peninsula Track. Two-day or three-day hill country walks over a 31-km circular route around remote bays of Banks Peninsula. Starts and ends in Akaroa. The route goes through Onuku, Flea Bay, Stony Bay and Hinewai Reserve. On the way you may see fur seals from a close distance, and plentiful birdlife including penguins, oystercatchers, paradise ducks, geese, bellbirds and many others. Shared accommodation in huts and cottages. At delightful Stony Bay there are private open-air baths where you light a fire underneath to heat the water, as there is no electricity. Self-catering with fully equipped kitchens. There is a small shop at Stony Bay, where you can buy your food. Options include private rooms, kayaking and pack cartage on some sections. Two-day hike from $195, three-day walk from $390.
- Ecoseaker, Dalys Wharf, toll-free: 0800 326 794, firstname.lastname@example.org. Oct-Apr, meet at 11:50AM. Swim with Hector's dolphins, or you can just watch. The boat takes a maximum of 12 swimmers and gets you close to the dolphins even when you are on board. You may also see marine birdlife, including little blue penguins, and fur seals, and visit sea caves at the base of the volcanic cliffs around the harbour. Hot chocolate and biscuits are provided after the swim. Trip lasts up to 3.5 hours. Wetsuit, mask and snorkel provided. Children must be at least 8 years old. It pays to book as numbers are limited. $220 adult, $190 child to swim with dolphins; $120 to watch.
- Swimming with dolphins (Black Cat Cruises), 61 Beach Rd or on the wharf. Report times Sep-Apr 8:30AM, 11:30AM, 1:30PM, 3:30PM; May 11:30AM only. Swimming with Hector's dolphins. Three hours in total, including 2 hours on the water and up to an hour with the dolphins. Wetsuit, mask and snorkel provided. Adult $199, child $169 ($99 and $69 to watch without swimming).
- Bully Hayes Restaurant & Bar, 57 Beach Rd, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Not cheap, but the relaxed atmosphere and nice views may compensate. (William Henry "Bully" Hayes was well known in the Pacific of the mid-1800s as a smuggler, illegal grog trader, swindler, gun runner and slave trader. A typical businessman of those times, then. Bully was polished off in 1877 by a peeved customer and buried at sea in the North Pacific.) Dinner mains $30-43, light mains $20-29.50.
- Sweet As, Les Delices, 63 Rue Lavaud (main street in the historic precinct), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 8am - 4pm and over summer months 8am til late. Akaroa's premier French bakery and patisserie, famous for its homemade seafood chowder in a bread bowl. Large salad selection
- Akaroa Dolphin Backpackers, 108 Rue Jolie, ☏ . Small family-run hostel, central location one street from waterfront. $65–80 in high season (Jan-Apr).
- Chez La Mer Backpackers, 50 Rue Lavaud, ☏ . $25–96 (lowest prices are for BBH members).
- 1 Onuku Farm Hostel, 89 Hamiltons Rd, Onuku (6 km from town), ☏ , email@example.com. Open Oct-Apr. Free pick-up on request from Akaroa at 12:30PM. Dorm beds from $18, camping from $15 ($25 for 2 nights).