This gorgeous little township on the Banks Peninsula offers a beautiful scenic road trip, and an equally lovely destination. Head along SH75 from Christchurch, and plan a stop at the Little River Café and Gallery for a bite to eat and to look through the lovely arts and crafts.
The historic township of Akaroa was settled by French colonists in the mid-1800s. Today, the village retains its French heritage, with many of the street and shop names in French, and an abundance of French cafes and restaurants to choose from.
The village itself offers a lovely selection of boutique art and craft shops, jewellery and specialty stores. After a wander through the shops, head along Lighthouse Road to take a look at the site of Akaroa’s original lighthouse.
If you’re lucky, you might spot a Hector’s dolphin, fur seal, or a Little Blue Penguin. Pohatu Penguins offer a variety of tour packages, including an evening penguin tour where you can get the opportunity to see the birds up close.
On a nice day, head up the Summit Road across to the beautiful beach of Okains Bay (about 30 minutes’ drive from Akaroa). If you plan on staying in the area, the Okains Bay Camping Ground is a lovely spot with good facilities.
Also in Okains Bay is the Maori & Colonial Museum, where you can learn more about life on the Banks Peninsula as it was many years ago. The Akaroa Museum (on Rue Lavaud in the main village) offers another opportunity to learn more about the area.
If wine and cheese is your thing, you’re in luck. Barrys Bay Cheese –on the Christchurch-Akaroa Road – offers tastings of their yummy artisan cheeses made using traditional recipes from early English settlers to the region.
Akaroa also has several great wineries, including Akaroa Winery (Long Bay Road), French Peak Wines (French Farm Valley Road), and Meniscus Wines (Lighthouse Road).
And if you love honey, head to the recently opened Bee Nice Honey Emporium (Rue Lavaud) for a great selection of honey skincare and New Zealand art. Akaroa and Banks Peninsula have some gorgeous walking tracks that vary in length from short hikes to full day tramps. Most offer spectacular views down over the harbour.
A good choice if you are short on time is the Otepatotu Scenic Reserve (about 20 minutes’ drive from the Akaroa township). A 15-minute walk will take you to a viewpoint harbour with fabulous panoramic views.
If you have more time, continue up through the totara forest to reach the summit of Lavericks Peak. Near the summit you’ll find the ‘goblin forest’, where the weeping moss hanging from the trees creates a mystical atmosphere where you might imagine fairies live – hence the translation of Otepatotu is ‘place of the fairies’.
Another must-see in Akaroa is The Giant’s House on Rue Balguerie. Plan an hour or two to wander through this amazing garden full of the unexpected. You’ll find beautiful mosaic sculptures, colourful terraced gardens, and surprises around every corner.