Our cruise itinerary listed a stop in Christchurch, and I was excited to spend a day exploring the city. But then I discovered we would be disembarking in Akaroa. I decided instead to spend the day exploring this cute little town rather than travelling into Christchurch. So here are all the things to do in Akaroa, New Zealand.
Where is Akaroa, New Zealand
Akaroa is located on the Banks Peninsula about 80km south of Christchurch. Don’t be fooled though, the twisty roads mean that’s about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch to Akaroa. The peninsula is the remnant of a volcano with a round shape and covered in hills and valleys. It became the main port for cruise ships visiting Christchurch when the nearer Lyttleton port was damaged in an earthquake.
But that is no hardship, it means visitors can spend the day enjoying the dozens of Akaroa things to do instead of trekking into Christchurch. Akaroa also makes the perfect day trip for other visitors to Christchurch too, and locals love to spend one day in Akaroa for some recreation time. With a population of only about 650 people, this means that there are always many visitors in town.
Akaroa is unique in New Zealand because it has French heritage. Back in 1838 a French captain made a deal with the local Maori to purchase land on this peninsula. He then went back to France, and got together a group of French settlers, who then made their way back to the area in 1940 to start their new life in this French colony. Unfortunately, just days before they arrived back, the British came along and claimed the land for themselves.
The settlers stayed though, and today the town has a distinct French vibe to it, including French street names and many French cafes and bistros.
Things to do in Akaroa, New Zealand
Akaroa is one of those towns where visitors can spend the day just wandering the streets and beaches, enjoying a long relaxed lunch and perhaps visiting one or two attractions. Or you could spend the day learning about the history of Akaroa by poking around cemeteries and museums. Or you could spend the day hiking or taking on some water sports. There really is something for everyone when you are planning what to do in Akaroa.
As you are wander around the town, keep a look out for some of the quirky things locals have added to create interest. We saw a huge carved bear looming over passersby, and this, a small version of a New Zealand bungy jump.
Here are my suggestions for what to do in Akaroa.
Check out the Akaroa Lighthouse
The Akaroa Lighthouse began it’s life out on a headland near the town in 1880. It stayed there, alerting passing ships to the danger until 1977 when it was replaced by and automated light and them moved into the town. The wooden lighthouse is now on the foreshore and makes a nice end point to a walk around the harbour from the centre of town.
Hike to the Britomart Monument
If you want to extend your walk to the Akaroa Lighthouse, then continue on past it until you come to the Britomart Monument. This monument is the location that the English raised their flag in 1840 when HMAS Britomart landed just days before those pesky French came back. It’s on the next point, and about a ten minute walk here from the lighthouse, with some lovely views over the harbour.
Be Amazed at the Giant’s House Akaroa
When I mentioned to a friend from Christchurch that I would be in Akaroa and asked about cool things to do in Akaroa she told me that I simply had to go the The Giant’s House! I had never heard of it, imagining some sort of large house with furniture in huge proportions. Well, it’s a largish house, or at least it is two-storey, at I guess to the young girl that looked up to it from the valley below it DID look like a giant’s house. So the name stuck.
Today it is one of the most popular of the Akaroa attractions. It is the canvas for the artwork of Josie Martin. The gardens are strewn with mosaic creations. They are bold and colourful and quirky, and there is something new to see in every corner. The garden has grown to such a state as to now be recognised as a Garden of International Significance. Spend an hour or two wandering around enjoying the art, then indulge in afternoon tea at the cafe. You can also choose to stay the night at The Giant’s House as it now offers B&B accomodation too. Staying here is oe way to see inside the house, otherwise you will need to arrange a special tour to do so.
Hike to the Rhino in the Hills
There are quite a few short walks in Akaroa to points of interest, but one that is particularly unique is to see the rhino overlooking Akaroa. The walk takes about half an hour each way on a well marked path with great views back over Akaroa Harbour. Be aware that on the way the track is almost all uphill, but at least it’s downhill on the way back into town. Before you get to the rhino, also look out for giraffe and crocodile sculptures too.
Before taking this walk or any others in the area, call into the Akaroa i-SITE Visitor Information Centre on Rue Lavaud to pick up a map and directions of the walking tracks.
Hike to Newtons Falls
Another of the free things to do in Akaroa is a short hike to see Newtons Falls. This hike takes about an hour round trip and takes you to see a waterfall. This is a relatively new hike as until recently the waterfall was located on private lands and was not accessible. Now the area is owned by the local council and is a part of the Misty Peaks Reserve. If you have a car it is possible to drive most of the way and take only a short walk to the waterfall. For information, pick up a map at the i-SITE as mentioned above.
Hike or Bike to Misty Peak
This is a longer hike or bike of about 14km return. There is also an added ridge line walk that can be included too for some extra views. All up the walk can take between 4 and 8 hours depending on the exact route taken. This hike will provide the best views back over Akaroa and the harbour. Pick up a map at the i-SITE and ensure you consider the weather before heading off. It can change quickly, even in summer.
Eat Crepes and Baguettes
While in Akaroa take advantage of the French heritage to indulge in some traditional crepes or baguettes. While I wasn’t there long enough to work out all the best places to eat in Akaroa, I did enjoy a light lunch at the Sweet As Bakery on Rue Lavaud. Visitors could probably choose any of the bakeries to enjoy the same delicious foods.
See the Akaroa Dolphins
This could be the most fun of all the activities in Akaroa! Akaroa Harbour is home to Hector’s Dolphins, the smallest dolphins in the world. This area is home to the biggest population of these endangered dolphins, which have only around 10 000 remaining in total. The best way to see the is to take a harbour cruise. I recommend Akaroa Dolphins who have been doing this for years and have the advantage of having trained dolphin-spotting dogs on board! I’m not sure how effective the dogs are, but since 98% of all cruises successfully see the dolphins, then maybe they’re not just a cute accessory.
Another way to see the Akaroa dolphins is to take a swim with them. If you don’t just want to jump into the water and paddle away from shore, you can take a tour. Be aware though that if conditions aren’t right you cannot get in the water, and that these are wild dolphins so they will either choose to swim with you or not, there are no guarantees (you do get a partial refund though if you don’t see dolphins or if it’s too rough to get in the water).
See More Akaroa Wildlife like Penguins and Sea Lions
Not to be outdone by the dolphins, there is plenty of other wildlife to be seen around Akaroa Harbour. Again the best way to spot the various animals and birds is to take a cruise. This time I recommend one from Black Cat Cruises. On their 2 hour cruise you will not only spot dolphins and penguins, but pass by a sea lion colony and stop at a salmon farm.
Kayak around Akaroa Harbour
For another great way to see the dolphins Akaroa Adventure Centre hire out kayaks and stand up paddle boards for visitor to get out on the water on their own terms.
Or if you prefer, there are tours that will take you sea-kayaking for three hours through the marine reserve to look for the various wildlife in the area. The advantage to a tour is the information and guidance received from a local who knows exactly where the animals like to hide out.
Look for Ghosts at the Dead Centre of Town
Okay, so you may not actually find any ghosts, but if you head to where the old cemeteries are in town you will learn some interesting historical facts checking out the old gravestones. There is also some signage explaining the significance of some of the areas, such as the Dissenter’s Cemetery. As soon as I saw the sign pointing towards that I just had to go and find out what it was all about. The Anglican, Catholic and Dissenter’s cemeteries are found almost directly uphill from the lighthouse. The French Cemetery is at the other end of town on Rue Brittan.
Visit the Orion Powerhouse Gallery
This is a free, small gallery that showcases local artists. Occasionally there will also be works from visiting national and international artists too. It’s worth a few minutes to take a look through. Make sure you also check out the restored power generator that gives the gallery it’s name too.
(I have also seen this called the Akaroa Art Gallery but the sign said Orion Powerhouse Gallery so I’ve gone with that)
Learn about the Banks Peninsula at the Akaroa Museum
The Akaroa Museum includes the oldest house in Akaroa, probably the whole area. A look inside will teach you about the history of the house and the people who lived in it. The rest of the museum will tell you about the history, lifestyle and nature of the Banks Peninsula. The museum is open almost every day of the year from 10:30am to 4pm/4:30pm (depending on the season) and entry is free.
Take a Cooking Class
If you are a foodie, there is a fantastic cooking school in Akaroa that you can take a class at. The Akaroa Cooking School has been named one of the top 10 places in the world to learn to cook local food by Lonely Planet. They focus on simple, quick meals that still look and taste amazing. Of course there is French cooking on the schedule, but also Spanish, Italian, Asian, BBQ, seafood and many more options.
Things to do Around Akaroa
If you have a car during your visit, there are a few great things to see and do in Akaroa that will be easir to get to with your own vehicle. Some of them are on the way to Christchurch, so if you are visiting from there then you can stop off along the way.
Relax at The Hinewai Reserve
Located about 6.5km from Akaroa it is possible to walk here, but expect it to take two hours each way. Ideally you will drive and then go for a walk around the reserve to enjoy this restored corner of the Banks Peninsula. The project has been set up to restore native vegetation and wildlife to the area, but to also provide a place where people can come and visit to enjoy it. It would be nice to enjoy a short walk, then relax with a picnic to appreciate the wilderness.
Visit nearby Onuku for Maori Culture
About 5km along the coast from Akaroa is the tiny town of Onuku. A visit here can teach you about the local Maori culture. Take a walk around and admire the traditional Marae and not so traditional new meeting houses. Visit the traditional little church dating back to the 1800s and take a peek inside – it’s tiny, only seating 30 people, but so important to the Maori history of the region.
Do some Wine Tasting at French Peak Wines
Where there is good food, there has to be good wine, and we all know New Zealand has some great wines. While the Banks Peninsula is not known as a wine region, there is still a winery to visit for a tasting. French Peak Wines are 14km from Akaroa, just off the road to Christchurch. They also provide delicious platters of food to enjoy while tasting the wines they produce. This could also be a relaxing place to stay overnight in the comfy converted barn.
Barrys Bay Cheese Shop Akaroa
This is the most popular stop on the drive from Christchurch to Akaroa. Just 11km from Akaroa is a traditional cheesemaker who has been making cheese right here since 1897. They use milk from the cows that graze on the nearby hills to produce delicious cheese that is sold all over New Zealand. If you visit between October and May, make sure you take a look at the cheese making process through the factory viewing window.
Tour a Local Farm
While in New Zealand, take a tour of a local farm and learn all about those sheep we hear a lot about. (Funnily enough, there are now a lot more cattle in New Zealand than sheep these days!). Akaroa Farm Tours take you on a tour of a local farm that has been in the same family since 1837. Visitors will see how to sheer a sheep and meet the sheepdogs, before enjoying some delicious fresh scones.
Alternatively you can visit Shamarra Alpacas to meet the cute alpacas (and get a great selfie!). You will also learn about farming alpacas and all about their fleece and what it is used for.
Getting to Akaroa, NZ
If you are not coming here by cruise ship, then it is likely that you will be driving to Akaroa from Christchurch. If you are looking for another way to get between the two places, here are some suggestions
To hire a car, check out RentalCars.com. They search all the local car hire providers and compare them in one search. I have been using them for a few years now whenever I rent a car and have not had any problems.
To catch a bus Christchurch to Akaroa see the Intercity Coachlines website. (At the time of writing, buses are cancelled due to COVID-19, but hopefully they will be up and running again soon)
A private transfer can also be organised between Christchurch and Akaroa. Click here to book.
There are plenty of places to stay in Akaroa. It’s mostly a B&B style town, but if you are looking for cheap accommodation in Akaroa there are options for that too. Check out the Chez La Mer Backpackers right in the centre of town, or if you want a rural stay, try Onuku Farm Hostel. Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park also provides budget cabin accommodation. For a great apartment right on the beach Akaroa Central Apartments will do the job. For a delightful B&B, French Bay House looks perfect. For something special try Akaroa Glamping or Beaufort House Akaroa for that English country manor feel.
Looking for more New Zealand ideas? Try these posts
Things to do on Stewart Island, New Zealand
Best Things to do in Dunedin New Zealand
A 10 Day New Zealand North Island Itinerary
Hobbiton Tour from Tauranga Review
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.