Akaroa

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christchurch-canterbury

Christchurch - Canterbury

Highlights

  • Sightseeing
  • Dolphin cruises
  • French food

Proximity

  • by car:

    1 hour 20 mins from Christchurch

Akaroa is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most loved towns, famous for its French cuisine, spectacular harbour, sightseeing, rare dolphins, and more.

This small seaside town on Banks Peninsula has an interesting history.  

Stroll down the Rue Jolie or the Rue Lavaud, two of Akaroa’s main streets, past bistros serving bouillabaisse and escargot, and you may wonder why it feels like you’ve just walked through a slice of France.

The reason? Because Akaroa almost was one. This former French settlement was founded in 1840 to be an administrative centre for the French annexation of the South Island. Things didn’t work out that way, so the French didn’t stick around for long, but they left a splendid legacy on the town’s culinary scene.

Restaurant and cafes

Christchurch - Canterbury
Ma Maison Restaurant Akaroa , Christchurch - Canterbury

The Little Bistro 

In a tiny white villa opposite the French cemetery is The Little Bistro(opens in new window), the kind of place you go to when you have something to celebrate, or when you want to impress someone. It serves beautifully presented seasonal cuisine, much of it plucked from local waters and hills. Try the 42-day aged beef fillet, horseradish dauphinoise, bone-marrow butter, winter veg and beef glaze. Or if you’re vegetarian, try the beetroot parmesan arancini, beetroot hummus, and truffled mayo. 

The Brasserie Kitchen and Bar 

In a 100-year-old villa at the end of a long lavender-lined pathway is The Brasserie Kitchen and Bar(opens in new window). Dine here for a modern European- and Asian-inspired menu, served in a relaxed, old-world setting. Order Normandy-style mussels cooked in apple cider, crème fraiche, shallots, and lemon. Or prawns served with Marie rose sauce and fresh lemon. Then grab a seat outside to enjoy the age-old pleasures of an English country garden and sunshine.  

Mandala Restaurant 

For something you won’t have tried before, visit Mandala Restaurant(opens in new window). Fijian chefs Muni and Shomika combine local flavours with Asian cooking techniques. Try slow grilled fish, pistachio crumb, sauteed potato, curry paste, and coriander mint pesto. Finish with orange cardamon panna cotta, spiced mandarins, pistachio, and berry crumb. If you’re wondering which wine pairs with the main course, it’s a Riesling.  

Ma Maison

You could spend hours walking the quaint streets and harbour-side pathways of Akaroa, taking in the French architecture and volcanic headlands. But why not take in one the town’s best views sitting down? Ma Maison’s(opens in new window) dining area has been designed for just this purpose. The restaurant’s ample bifold doors provide uninterrupted views of the harbour, so there’s no need for the usual ‘inside/outside’ conversation. Here, it really doesn’t matter. The menu focuses on seasonal local ingredients, with a French twist. There’s something for everyone, but the seafood dishes are the rock stars of the menu.

To find more places to eat, a full list is available at Akaroa and the Bays. 

Local produce

Christchurch - Canterbury
French market in Akaroa, Christchurch - Canterbury

Akaroa Farmers Market 

From October to April, the Akaroa Farmers Market(opens in new window) pitches up each Saturday on the grounds of St Patrick's Catholic Church(opens in new window). Showcasing the best local produce from around the peninsula, it’s the kind of place where you buy whatever takes your fancy or face an episode of buyer’s remorse.  

Barry’s Bay Traditional Cheese 

Barry's Bay(opens in new window) know a thing or two about handcrafted cheese. But then they should, they’ve been making cheese since 1895. Specialties include Havarti, Maasdam, Aged Gouda, Rinded Cheddar, and Peninsula Blue. 

Pot Poruri Fudge 

The makers of Pot Poruri Fudge(opens in new window) claim to have perfected the art of making fudge. With a line-up that includes lime sorbet, maple walnut, and passionfruit, alongside staples like Russian caramel and dark chocolate, it’s not hard to imagine that this might be true. However, there is only one way to find out. You know what to do.  

Akaroa Craft Distillery

The proprietors of Akaroa Craft Distillery(opens in new window) say you can taste the region’s history in their gin. If this is the kind of history lesson that appeals to you, visit their Tasting House and try their unique blends, made from local botanicals such as bladder kelp, cherry blossom, lavender, and pinot noir.

Sightseeing

Christchurch - Canterbury
Hectors dolphins spotting with Akaroa Dolphins, Christchurch - Canterbury

Ōnuku Church  

Roughly 5km south of Akaroa is the small Māori settlement of Ōnuku(opens in new window). This sleepy rural idyl is home to one of the region’s most photographed landmarks: the Ōnuku Church. Aside from a backdrop of Banks Peninsula hills and a foreground of grazing cows, this neatly painted Christian church would be unremarkable if it wasn’t for the stunning Māori carvings that adorn the church’s entrance. Here you have two contrasting architectural styles creating a striking visual symbolism: that of two very different cultures coming together.  

Akaroa Museum 

For a small town, Akaroa has had an interesting history. For starters, it was a potential candidate for a capital city; the birthplace of sailor Frank Worsley, captain of the Endurance during Earnest Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage to Antarctica; and a favourite stop-off for William ‘Bully’ Hayes, a notorious mid 19th-Century pirate. To find out more, visit the Akaroa Museum(opens in new window). 

Akaroa Dolphins 

With an Akaroa Dolphins(opens in new window) harbour cruise, you almost get a two-for-one nature experience. The operator uses a team of life-jacket clad dogs to help spot rare Hector’s Dolphins in the harbour. If you’re lucky you might also see the occasional whale. But don’t stress, the dogs will point them out to you.  

Akaroa Lighthouse  

It's a pleasant 15-minute walk along a winding road to reach Akaroa's most famous landmark, Akaroa Lighthouse(opens in new window). Although completed in 1879, it has stood in its present location for ornamental purposes for about 40 years. Before being retired, it was 10km away on the Akaroa Heads, at the entry to the harbour – also a great spot to explore.  

Pōhatu Penguins

On a Pōhatu Penguins(opens in new window) tour you’ll be shown the country’s largest mainland colony of Little Blue Penguins by the people credited with their survival. The owners of this family-run business have spent three decades working to protect the Pōhatu Penguin colony. Work that has been funded through tours like this one. Starting at Akaroa, you’ll travel along the scenic backcountry roads of Banks Peninsula to the Pōhatu marine reserve. Guides will show you the best viewing spots and tell you about their heroic efforts to save the penguins.

Shamarra Alpacas

Did you know that alpaca wool is three times warmer than sheep’s wool? And that alpacas love to be cuddled. At Shamarra Alpacas(opens in new window), not only will you have 170 of these cuddly cuties to bond with, but you’ll also find out everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about alpacas.

For more things to do, visit Akaroa and the Bays. 

Getting there

Christchurch - Canterbury
Akaroa, Christchurch - Canterbury

Akaroa is a 90-minute drive from Christchurch. A bus service is provided by Akaroa French Connection(opens in new window), which departs daily from Christchurch and Akaroa.

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