You’re over hill and down dale, as you approach Akaroa, a delightful township with a French connection, sandwiched between soaring hills and sea. Look out for hard working cyclists - or perhaps you might be one of them - grinding uphill or freewheeling down, on route into this seaside enclave. And then you arrive, welcome to historic Akaroa. Haere mai.
A place of history and in history
Akaroa is a spot with a distinct holiday and tourist vibe, supported by a hospitable local population. But behind its relaxed seaside sense, here’s a place with a story to tell about how it became Canterbury’s oldest town, its European founding dating to August 1840.
It’s famously known as New Zealand’s French outpost, and its French associations are very obvious. This is even though, by the time French settlers arrived, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, between the British Crown and Māori chiefs had been signed - the French interest no doubt expediting British ink.
The central village street names are decidedly French - and the main road in, Rue Lavaud, named after Captain Charles François Lavaud. He was the character ordained by the King to represent France in the settlement of this land… it seems he was just a little bit late.
And the history of Akaroa, and its place in relations between the Māori and the British - and, in turn, the British and the French - make for interesting consideration. It is certainly a place where its happenings in the 19th century set the course for a wider turn of events in New Zealand’s more recent history. While you’re meandering the streets, trying out some of the food the region is famous for, do take the time to look into its past.
Time to eat
Now time to eat, from the bounty of a place with long and strong associations with good food. In part, it’s that French heritage that has earned Akaroa its culinary reputation. And these days we like to think it’s the fabulous New Zealand product and care and skill of local artisans, from here and abroad, that maintain it.
So as you roam the streets you’ll spot them here and there - perhaps a little off the well-trodden tourist bee-line. Delightful bistros (find the grilled cheese sandwiches if you can), the general store offering handmade whole food (perfect to pick up for a picnic waterside), a divine butcher (with an impressive range meat cuts and local artisan grocery products), and of course, the kiwi classic… the fish and chippie.
And not too far away - only over a hill or two or three - there’s a wonderful cheesemaker, with a range including seasonal small batch cheeses that you won’t come by outside of the region, and a local smokehouse curing and smoking delicious local salmon. These boutique products are on the store shelves in the village, but nothing beats calling into the producer themselves, when you have the chance.
Around that harbour
The village takes its name from the harbour, Akaroa Harbour. Akaroa is the South Island form of Whangaroa, and the understood meaning is “long harbour”. Which, indeed, it is.
On a sunny day in paradise, find yourself a possie down by the harbour - with a coffee or with lunch, and take in the charm. That lighthouse up the road - the one with the big red door - another historic landmark, where the lights went on 100 years earlier, is also a vantage point for taking in the sights of the harbour.
Yes, Akaroa, just as we had heard, you definitely do offer your visitors a day in paradise. Coupled with some very good local artisan food. Thank you very much, you make a day on the road to remember.