What is special about Akaroa?
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Akaroa is the only French town in New Zealand, it is one of the best preserved historic towns in New Zealand and is oozing with history, culture and a natural beauty that is not surpassed. It has a style and beauty all of it’s own, with a wonderful climate, warm in summer and mild in winter.
There are endless opportunities for exploration and adventure, no matter what your style, great coffee, cafes, restaurants, accomodation, activities and nature walks, you will want to spend several days in this beautiful seaside town.
Romantic French Akaroa
Who landed in Akaroa?
Around 700 years ago Polynesian Maori settlers led by Rakaihautu who named Banks Peninsula Te Pātaka o Rakaihautu, literally meaning the food basket of Rakaihautu. After waves of Maori settlement….
What does Akaroa mean in French? Akaroa Meaning:
Long harbour in Maori coming from the origional Whangaroa.
Why did the French go to Akaroa?
There were up to 60 French whaling ships in New Zealand territorial waters every year, with a natural deep harbour and ideal for whaling ships to shelter and refit. Akaroa was to be called Port Louis Philippe after the French King of the time.
Why is Akaroa so French?
60 predominantly French settlers landed in 1840 establishing the first European settlement in the South Island. The French bought with them their food, culture, language, gardens and architecture, making it a very special and unique town in New Zealand.
Who were the French Settlers of Akaroa?
The settlers who came to Akaroa were ordinary poor farming and gardening families who travelled to the other side of the world with their few possessions, rakes and seeds, they were promised 5 acres of land for every man and set to work creating a very pleasant but poor self-sufficient community.
As you wander around you will still see the names of those first settlers on the street signs, buildings and monuments such as Libeau Cottage and Lelievre Lane.
Volcanic in origins the landform of Banks Peninsula is unique and spectacular, it was rich in plants and animals as it was an island ecosystem for most of it’s existence, together this arose as great abundance and beauty.
With 5 of the most important historic sites in New Zealand, it is considered by historians to have an even richer narrative than that of Waitangi, Takapūneke was the site of the Brig Elizabeth incident and the first European involvement in inter-tribal warfare, resulting ultimately in the Treaty of Waitangi, which was first signed in the South Island at Onuku Marae.
Incredibly rich in Maori history, Banks Peninsula is surrounded by historic sites and stories, Te Rauparaha raided several times attacking Ngai Tahu settlements.
When the French made a purchase for Banks Peninsula it drove the British to claim sovereignty, demonstrated for the first time at the Britomart Monument.
Kemps Purchase of Canterbury also played out on the shore at Britomart Reserve, this was where Ngai Tahu was forced to sell 8.1 million hectares of land to the New Zealand government in 1848.
Read this guide for more about Takapuneke and the new pou and Maori historic reserve, that is beginning to restore one of New Zealands most important historic sites.
Takapuneke was the site of the Brig Elizabeth incident that lead ultimately to the Treaty of Waitangi.
What to do in Akaroa for a day trip?
There is so much to do in Akaroa, it is worth spending more than a day, but if you were to do only one thing take a Akaroa Nature and History Tour it includes all of the most important historic and cultural sites as well as an eco tour of the incredible Hinewai Reserve, Akaroa Heritage Park and Wildside. This tour truely covers it all and the reviews are amazing.
Things to do in Akaroa
How to get to Akaroa
Take State Highway 75 from Christchurch, this is a spectacular drive past lakes to Little River and then over the Hilltop. Allow at least 2 hours for your drive with stops to enjoy the scenery and the Little River Art Gallery on your way.
Be mindful of traffic behind you that may want to pass, the speed limit is 80kmph and 60kmph over the hill, and locals who know the road may want to pass, look for safe pull over areas to let traffic pass and to take photographs from.
Enjoy this Locals Guide to the road from Christchurch to know 5 of the best secret spots!
To take a bus from Christchurch the French Connection has it’s up to date schedule and departure points.
The Akaroa Nature and History Tour has it’s departure time at 12:15 for the three hour tour, allowing time to wander the streets AND take in all the best sites in one day.
Blessed with a range of beautiful accomodation from the very best historic B&Bs, to motels, or private holiday homes, to suit every budget.
For the full guide HERE
Yummy! You can’t go past the Akaroa Cooking School for unique culinary experience, enjoy learning how to make a range of amazing dishes and then eat them!
Per head of population (est. 650 permanent residents) the number of cafe’s and restaurants is astounding and that is because the town fills up on holidays and weekends, a very popular seaside holiday town for Canterbury residents as well as a must see beautiful historic town for international visitors, take your time and taste your way through the village.
Don’t forget snacks and drinks as well, with an abundance of bars overlooking the harbour, it is the best place to relax and enjoy life. And maybe dip your toes in!
Full guide HERE
Akaroa Fish and Chips
Kaimoana Takeaways (meaning food of the sea) is a locally owned and operated Maori business of Ngai Tahu who have lived on Banks Peninsula for many many generations, serving fresh fish and a yummy range – support local!
Boutique shops provide a sensory experience for any visitor, Lava Gallery is full of beautiful often handmade New Zealand art and handicrafts. Bright and vibrant it fills your eyes with colour and it will be very hard to resist the urge to take something home, or a gift for loved ones.
Fire and Ice is another locally owned and operated jewellery shop that has protected an iconic historic building as part of it’s operations for decades.
Akaroa Farmers Market
9:30am – 1pm every Saturday in Summer between October and April. Full guide to everything you need to know.
With many local homemade and homegrown stalls this is an enjoyable market not to be missed. Take a stroll, buy something yummy from one of the vendors, buy a coffee from a nearby cafe, take it all in with the tranquil views and historic setting, perfection!
3-4 times a year the Madeira Hotel hosts a vibrant night market filled with vendors from near and far, lovely food and local drinks make it a night not to be missed for locals and visitors alike.
Watch this space for updates for the next one.
Akaroa French Festival
Every two years the French Festival is a celebration of everything French in New Zealand, showcasing the special history and local community this is a full weekend not to be missed. The next is 6-8 October 2023. Book your accomodation now! Click here for a full guide of what’s going on.
Inside Out Garden Tour
Every two years the Inside Out Garden Tour takes place over a weekend, giving you access to the inside and outside of some of Akaroa and Banks Peninsulas best houses and gardens.
Akaroa Walks and Hinewai Reserve
Hinewai Reserve is the largest private reserve in New Zealand with 1570ha and some 30+ km of free and publicly accessible walking tracks. Hugh Wilson (written from a neighbours perspective) is an absolute legend, he was a visionary that believed he could transform weed infested farmland to native forest, by DOING NOTHING!
Some 35+ years later, he’s been proven right. He doesn’t exactly do nothing, he’s always busy working and writing, but he’s let nature restore herself, without planting and without intervening any more than he has to.
Now Hinewai Reserve is a very productive native forest, sequestering carbon and earning a nice little income for the reserve through the emissions trading scheme, the gorse is slowly disappearing and the visitor numbers are slowly increasing.
Make sure you watch the free documentary Fools & Dreamers, it’s a must to understand what a genius Hugh Wilson is.
Banks Track is a three day hike across spectacular and remote private land. Staying in homely accomodation and walking some of New Zealands most beautiful farmland, this track is very special, one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets!
Here is a full GUIDE to walks on Banks Peninsula, from half an hour to a few days, there is something for everyone and every fitness level. These walks will take you to stunning out of the way places where it is often very likely you will see no other people! Take a picnic make a day (or two) of it.
Wildside the Green Ribbon Winning conservation project was started 35 years ago by local landowners concerned with the number of dead penguins they were finding, figuring out that introduced predators were stealing the eggs and chicks and even eating the adults, the landowners borrowed traps and started what would become one of New Zealands oldest landowner driven conservation projects.
These amazing landowners are still working on their conservation projects which have expanded to include forest covenants to permanently protect forest and all the plants and animals that live within them.
For a full understanding of the Wildside Project take an eco-tour with ecologist Marie Haley who ran the project for 8 years and now runs educational tours and can answer almost any question you may have.
How to swim with the dolphins?
Blessed to have the amazing Akaroa dolphins and to be able to swim with these wild dolphins Ecoseeker is locally owned and operated business that provides a unique experience.
Not so into swimming, take a cruise!
Magical Sailing Experiences
Fox II is a historic sailing boat that provides a magic experience.
Educational Tours in Akaroa
2023 is the year of the Aotearoa NZ Histories Curriculum and it really is the best place in Canterbury for a school history trip. There is no one better to go with than the expert guide Marie Haley, who is now running Personal Development days for teachers who are wanting to upskill their knowledge and be inspired for the new curriculum.
It’s not just that Marie is seventh generation and passionate about the history of Banks Peninsula, but she has dedicated her life to reading and researching the history of the area, she understands fully the history and the key characters, the nuances and can answer any question with a range of different stories so that you fully understand the history, no matter what age or background you have.
Storytelling is Marie’s gift, and she can weave stories into a picture that you can see so they become real to you. She is ALSO a trained ecologist who understands the interconnections of nature, and she uses this to fill you with hope for the future and a vision of the beauty and abundance that Akaroa is becoming.
A vision for seven generations into the future inspired by The Seventh Generation Principle to act for those coming after you in everything you do.
Akaroa Private Tours
One of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand, ever changing, dramatic, romantic and diverse a private tour covers it all. Experience all of the beauty Akaroa has to offer.
Akaroa History is remarkable. 5 of New Zealand’s most important sites are clustered together and tell a complete settlement story.
Why not take a private tour with #1 expert guide, with seventh generation connections, well researched with original thinking. Marie Haley is an ecologist, historian, storyteller – authentic and honest.
What lives in Akaroa Harbour?