Akaroa history is incredibly rich, Māori waves of exploration, settlement and conquest, rich culture and traditions as well as inter-tribal warfare and bloody massacres. European trading, sealing and whaling led to settlement and farming, with the first planned settlement in the South Island and the only French settlement in New Zealand. The near total destruction of the forests (down to 1% remaining) has led to a strong culture of conservation and environmental protection to restore the natural beauty and abundance that Akaroa is known for today.
Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū, the original name, means the great food storehouse of Rākaihautū who was the first explorer to claim and settle this area. He chose Banks Peninsula out of all of the South Island for its great abundance. Later the area was named Banks Peninsula in honour of Joseph Banks, the naturalist on Cook’s voyage of discovery.
The first conflict involving a European captain in inter-tribal warfare happened here in Akaroa harbour and altered the course of New Zealand’s history, the Te Rauparaha Brig Elizabeth incident at Takapūneke. This sad tale was driven by musket trading and greed resulting in the death of 200 people and led to the first British Resident and eventually the Treaty of Waitangi.
Etienne Francois LeLievre is a well-known French colonist who arrived as a blacksmith on the whaling boats and built the first European whare (cottage) in Akaroa township, up the street now known as Rue Balguerie. There he planted his Napoleon Willow cutting. He was with Langlois when the French whaling captain made a treaty purchase of Banks Peninsula from Māori chiefs in Lyttleton Harbour in 1838.
The first signing of Te Tirity O Waitangi was on the shores of Akaroa Harbour, such was its importance at the time, at Onuku Marae. Only two and a half months later, learning that the French settlers ship was on its way, Governor Hobson sent the Britomart Frigate to Akaroa to raise the Union Jack to demonstrate British sovereignty for the first time in the South Island. The French settlers delayed by a storm and unable to enter Akaroa Harbour due to light winds, had spent a week in Pigeon Bay before returning to Akaroa to discover the British flag had been flying for only 5 days!
The French and English lived in settlements alongside each other, and this can still be seen today in the division of French and English street names. However, Akaroa has always been a multicultural port with settlers from all over Europe and beyond, creating the beautiful ambiance still found in Akaroa today with charming historic cottages, abundant gardens and groves of vineyards, olives and walnuts.
Akaroa History and Nature Tour
To make the most of your time in Akaroa, to understand the unique history and culture of the area, in stories that tell New Zealand’s history from a unique perspective it is recommended that you visit the Akaroa Museum and take your family and school groups for an in-depth history tour with expert local guide and The Seventh Generation from that very first French settler, Marie Haley of The Seventh Generation Tours. Check out the tour options here.