An easy drive south-east of Christchurch, Banks Peninsula is the South Island's most interesting volcanic feature. Originally an island formed by two volcanic cones, the peninsula has two dominant craters which form Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours. The peninsula was named for botanist Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain James Cook on the Endeavour.
Located on the south east side of the deep, sheltered Akaroa Harbour, the charming township of Akaroa has a special point of difference - it was the only French settlement in New Zealand.
In 1838 a French whaler, Captain Langlois, decided that Akaroa was an ideal location for a town that could service the whaling ships. He subsequently acquired the peninsula in a dubious land deal with the local Maori. He then returned to France and arranged for a group of French and German families to sail to New Zealand, with the intention of forming a French colony.
However, by the time Langlois and his colonists arrived at Banks Peninsula in August 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi had already been signed (the signatories including two Akaroa chiefs) and New Zealand's first Governor, Hobson, had declared sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand.
In spite of this unexpected turn of events, the French settlers decided to stay on. Akaroa's French street names and charming colonial cottages are their legacy.
The best way to explore Akaroa is on foot. Begin at the information centre, which is on the corner of Rue Lavaud and Rue Balguerie. You'll find brochures and maps that will help you to decide where to walk.
Visit local restaurants with their focus on French cuisine and head along to Barrys Bay Cheese, where they've persevered with original methods for over a century. During milking season, every second day, you can watch their award-winning cheeses being made through the gallery window.
Take a self-guided walk to see historic cottages. Be sure to visit the museum - it tells the story of Akaroa with displays and an audio visual presentation. If you have time, take a harbour cruise to view dolphins, penguins and fur seals.
Functional facts: Approximate population 700, information centre, restaurants, bank.