Cover the very best things to do in Akaroa. Use this guide to plan your visit to New Zealand’s only French settlement.
Located just over an hour’s drive from Christchurch, Akaroa is a world-class destination.
Akaroa is a unique little town – it is quite unlike anywhere else in New Zealand.
Not only is it Canterbury’s oldest town but it is home to a great selection of historic buildings, a beautiful harbour (which is a dormant volcanic crater) and countless memorable restaurants.
Akaroa was settled by the French in 1840, making it the only French town in all of Aotearoa. The town’s unique history adds to its charm today.
You’ll find Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula which is one of the South Island’s most interesting volcanic features. It was originally an island that was formed by two individual volcanic cones. The craters of these volcanoes are how what we know as the Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours.
As you’ll come to learn, the whole of the Banks Peninsula offers incredible coastal views and stunning rolling hills, helping to make the hills above Akaroa some of the most beautiful in the region.
Book: Short on time? Fly in a helicopter from Christchurch to Akaroa (including time to explore the town).
Related: Just as Akaroa is a great short trip from Christchurch, so too is Hanmer Springs. Find out what to do there and where to stay.
COVID-19 has come with its fair share of challenges for New Zealand businesses. Though we do our best to share accurate information, this can change quickly as some businesses make the decision to operate under reduced hours or hibernate. We suggest you double-check they are open before finalising your plans.
The Best Things to Do in Akaroa
Whether you’re making a day trip from Christchurch or are planning to spend a number of days in this memorable settlement, there is much to do in Akaroa.
From family-friendly activities to romantic excursions – there is something for everyone in Akaroa.
We suggest using the following suggestions to plan your own personalised itinerary…
1. Enjoy Locally Produced Cheese
As you drive into Akaroa (or out) there’s one place you just have to visit – Barrys Bay Cheese!
Lovingly and locally handmade, this stuff is like gold. It’s no wonder too, when you learn that they’ve been in the cheese-making business for over 120 years.
We recommend swinging by Barrys to pick up some handmade cheese before continuing onto Akaroa for a fresh French stick.
Can you think of a better way to get your bearings in this beautiful little township?
At Barrys Bay Cheese, our milk comes from local, grass-fed cows. We don’t know their names, but we know where they live. Sourcing our most important ingredient from a single farm in the same geographic area is one of the ways we ensure that every piece of our cheese tastes as good as the last. Being so close to the source of our most important ingredient also has implications for our cheese. Not many people know this, but milk doesn’t like being jiggled about inside a milk tanker. So the less time it spends on the road, the better. By minimising the travel time from the farm to our factory, we do our best to preserve the unique flavour profile of the local milk that gives Barrys Bay cheese its distinctive taste.Barrys Bay Cheese
Pro Tip: If you love good cheese, why not stop by Barrys Bay Cheese both as you head into Akaroa and on the way back to Christchurch too?
2. Pay a Visit to the Giants House
The Giants House is a bit of a local icon and is a must-visit when in Akaroa.
Recently recognised as a ‘Garden of International Significance’, this unique mosaic garden is full of quirky, art-filled brilliance.
There, you’ll find a wide range of colourful sculptures – many of which are interactive, containing hidden surprises.
The Giants House brings out the child in everyone and provides a beautiful backdrop for holiday snaps.
Everyone that visits this amazing garden is wowed by its incredible originality and fun – we guarantee you’ll be no different!
Enjoy a Walk in Akaroa
Akaroa has a number of fabulous family-friendly walks. As the region is so breathtakingly beautiful, it’s worth adding one or two of these tracks to your itinerary.
3. Walk the Ōnawe Peninsula
With extensive (and violent) Māori history and striking views, the Ōnawe Peninsula is another worthwhile walk in the area.
Displaying both volcanic and plutonic igneous rocks on the foreshore, this area provides an intriguing glimpse into the initial stages of volcanism – it’s unlike anything else you’ll see on the Banks Peninsula.
The walk itself is approximately 3km return and suitable for all levels of fitness.
Pro Tip: Because this is a sacred Māori site, please do not eat whilst visiting. It is also best to visit during low tide as during high tide, this area becomes difficult to access.
4. Check out the Children’s Bay Rhino Walk
The Children’s Bay Walk (affectionately known as the ‘Rhino Walk’), is easily accessible from town.
This lovely walk heads over a boardwalk, along the seashore and through a regenerating forest, before providing visitors with the gorgeous coastal views that are so well-known in Akaroa.
You’ll find something that’s a little less common in this region whilst on this walk though – savannah animals in the form of life-sized sculptures! Four giraffes and a rhinoceros to be exact.
These unexpected pieces of art make this easy walk a real favourite.
5. Explore the Hinewai Reserve
The Hinewai Reserve is a privately owned ecological restoration project that is freely open to the public.
It occupies 1,250 hectares in the south-eastern part of Banks Peninsula and can be found just east of Akaroa township.
The reserve itself is made up of dozens of walking tracks, each of varying difficulty.
There, you will find a great range of native flora and fauna (including weta, native lizards and lots of birds), along with those ever-present Banks Peninsula views.
6. Head out to the Lighthouse at the Akaroa Head Scenic Reserve
Also highly recommend is the short drive out to the Akaroa Heads where you’ll find a short but steep walk down to the Akaroa Lighthouse.
The original manned Akaroa lighthouse started on the 1st of January 1880, before being moved to the Akaroa Township one hundred years later. It was replaced in 1977 by an automated lighthouse – this is what you’ll see when you visit today.
And you guessed it – the walk to the lighthouse includes plenty of incredible views!
Pro Tip: You’ll need to travel on a gravel road out to Akaroa Heads. 4WDs are recommended and campervans are not.
7. Visit the Hector’s Dolphins – Swim With Them if You Like too
Hector’s dolphins are one of the world’s smallest dolphins (at 1.5m in length). They are easily recognised by their rounded dorsal fins and are found almost exclusively off the South Island.
With approximately 15,000 mature adults, they are considered ‘nationally vulnerable. This makes the ability to visit them in the wild all the more special.
Choose from a nature cruise that will provide you with the perfect view of these New Zealand natives. Or, if you prefer, jump in with them on a dolphin swim cruise!
8. Pay a Visit to the Pohatu Penguins
A visit to the Pohatu Penguins is another of the most popular things to do in Akaroa.
These evening penguin tours take guests to the largest Australasian little penguin colony found anywhere on mainland New Zealand.
Whilst on this tour can expect to join in on the monitoring programme and learn more about white-flippered penguins (eudyptula minor albosignata) which are the local Canterbury variant of the Australasian little penguin.
You’ll have a great opportunity to learn about the life of these incredible little penguins and a chance to see them up close in the wild.
It really is quite the experience!
Or, if you’d prefer to see the Pohatu penguins along with dolphins, seals and seabirds from the water, we recommend joining the kayak tour offered by the same company.
Did you know? From November to February you may have the opportunity to see up-close rehabilitation efforts such as feedings and swim therapy. This is dependant on them having rescued penguins in rehab.
9. Dine Out in Akaroa
Akaroa is home to a number of great restaurants, cafes and eateries, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time to eat out during your visit.
The following are our top recommendations for food in town:
- Ma Maison. Offering uninterrupted views out over Daly’s wharf and the Akaroa Harbour, Ma Maison serves up beautiful food. They focus on fresh, simple dishes, sourced locally whenever possible.
- HarBar Beachbar & Kitchen. Located right on the waterfront (so close, you could practically dangle your feet in the sea), this eatery serves up memorable food in an equally memorable spot.
- The Little Bistro. If you’re looking for French cuisine (because you are in Akaroa, after all) or European dishes, this really is the place to go. It’s perfect for those celebrating a special occasion. As this restaurant is popular, advanced booking are generally required.
- Mandala Restaurant. Looking for something a little different whilst in town? We recommend paying a visit to Mandala. There you’ll find a great selection of tasty modern Indian fusian food, served up alongside delicious cocktails!
10. Hop on a Scenic Nature Tour
Perhaps sitting back and relaxing, whilst someone else does the driving (and guiding) sounds like your idea of a good holiday?
If so, we recommend jumping on a scenic nature tour of Akaroa! During the course of your tour, you will:
- Enjoy a 4WD safari to the spectacular, award-winning Wild Side Conservation area
- Learn about the area’s rich history, native flora and fauna and Pohatu’s unique penguin conservation programme
- Take in the stunning views of Akaroa Harbour, the outer coast, farm land and forested hillsides
- Visit a working farm and be greeted by their friendly sheep!
- If you are lucky you may see White Flippered Penguins as the guide monitors their nesting sites.
Book: Seats on a scenic nature tour. Promo code NZTTPLAY (10% discount).
11. Join an Alpaca Tour
If you’re an animal lover, be sure to include a visit to the Shamarra Alpaca Farm on your Akaroa itinerary.
Home to over 170 grazing alpacas (along with some of the most incredible sea views in Aotearoa), this is a fabulous way to spend a few hours.
Join a guided tour where you’ll learn all about these unique animals and get to meet them personally.
Cute, photogenic and fluffy, their award-winning alpacas are used to interacting with people and are super friendly.
Book: An alpaca farm tour.
This was without a doubt the highlight of our trip, so much that we went twice on our two day visit to Akaroa.167KiwiTravellers – Trip Advisor
12. Visit the South Island’s Largest Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition – Limited Season
Sculpture on the Peninsula is located on the historic Loudon Farm. Home to contemporary sculptural works from over 70 different artists, this is a beautiful place to visit on a warm, sunny Akaroa day.
Guided tours are available (with Dr Warren Feeney), or you can choose to visit independently too. It is important to know that this sculpture exhibition runs an incredibly short season – keep an eye on their website for current dates to help plan your visit.
Open only on a particular Friday, Saturday and Sunday, this event is worth planning your Akaroa holiday around.
Not only will you have the chance to check out countless striking sculptural works, but you’ll also be treated to a host of food and beverage, or have the opportunity to pull out your own picnic.
Did you know? Sculpture on the Peninsula hosts artwork from both leading and upcoming sculptors for your viewing pleasure but also to sell. You may like to take a piece home as a memento of your visit.
13. Hit the Mini Golf Course
If you’re travelling with kids or are looking for a bit of fun in town, Akaroa has its own mini golf course.
Unlike anything else you’ve seen, this is a Jurassic Steam Punk golf course – though the greens themselves are pretty stock standard.
We wouldn’t rate it as one of the best mini golf courses in Aotearoa, but it’s something to do if you have a little more time in this lovely township.
14. Enjoy a Scenic Cruise
If swimming with the dolphins doesn’t sound like you, but you would like to hit the water, we highly recommend hopping onboard a scenic cruise.
Aside from the spectacular scenery, you’ll likely spot Hector’s dolphins, fur seals, white flippered blue penguins and other wildlife, whilst also visiting Cathedral Cove.
It’s the best way to see Akaroa from the water whilst staying dry.
Book: A 2-hour scenic cruise in Akaroa. Promo code NZTTPLAY (10% discount).
15. Check Out Local Wildlife on a Kayak Safari
If you’d like to see all of Akaroa’s famed wildlife up close, there’s really no better way than to do so from a kayak.
Cruising along, you’ll be right alongside dolphins, fur seals, penguins and seabirds.
It really is the stuff of dreams!
Book: A kayaking sea safari. Promo code NZTTPLAY (10% discount).
Whether you’re planning a day trip to Akaroa or an extended stay, there is much to do in this unique seaside town.
Thank you to the members of New Zealand Travel Tips for sharing their personal recommendations for Akaroa. We’ve included any of their suggestions in this article.
Photo credit: Graeme Murray and Reddit user Nier_Tomato