17 of the best things to do in Akaroa – A touch of France in Canterbury

Cover the very best things to do in Akaroa. Use this guide to plan your visit to New Zealand’s only French settlement.

Located an easy 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.

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A car on the road passing by a signpost.
Driving in and around Akaroa is always a treat. Photo: Graeme Murray.

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.

Short on time? You can also fly in a helicopter from Christchurch to Akaroa (including time to explore the town).

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

5807 Christchurch Akaroa Road, Duvauchelle 7582

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!

70 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520

A beautiful garden with plants, trees, and benches in front of the colourful "The Giant's House."

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.

A rhino made from scraps in the middle of the fields.

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 southeastern 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 wētā, native lizards, and lots of birds), along with those ever-present Banks Peninsula views.

Long Bay Road, RD3, Akaroa 7583

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!

Lighthouse Road, Banks Peninsula, Akaroa 7581

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!

Couples on the bow of a yacht holding onto the railings while watching a dolphin racing ahead of them.

8. Pay a Visit to the Pōhatu Penguins

A visit to the Pōhatu 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 you can expect to join 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 see them up close in the wild.

It really is quite the experience!

Or, if you’d prefer to see the Pōhatu 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 dependent on them having rescued penguins in rehab.

Blue penguins resting on top of the rocks.

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.

6 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520

  • 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.

83 Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520

  • 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.

33 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa 7520

  • 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 fusion food, served up alongside delicious cocktails!

40F Rue Lavaud, Akaroa 7520

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, farmland 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.
A woman feeding lambs with green grass while in the fields.

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.

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

Shamarra Alpaca Farm: 328 Wainui Main Road, Akaroa 7582

A brown alpaca surrounded by white alpacas on the grasslands.

12. 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.

28 Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520

13. 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, blue penguins and other wildlife, whilst also visiting Cathedral Cove.

It’s the best way to see Akaroa from the water whilst staying dry.

14. 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!

Kayaking in a cave while penguins are watching.

15. Treat Yourself to a Gin Tasting

Akaroa Craft Distillery produces the most incredible gins locally, and they’re open to provide tastings to visitors.

The Tasting House has been lovingly restored to become a place that feels like home; somewhere relaxing and memorable for you to sample their range of gins and learn more about their story and vision.

Every bottle is a taste of the Banks Peninsula. From kelp gathered in Wainui and lavender from Little River, to rosehips from Little Akaloa and wild thyme from the Peninsula, these flavours are distinctly local.

Choose to take a bottle or two home, or just enjoy a tipple there – the choice is yours.

16. Check Out Newton’s Waterfall

This lovely little walk leads you to Newton’s Waterfall after just 10 minutes.

The track is easy, making it suitable for children and those without a high level of fitness.

During the summer season, this 9-metre-high waterfall may have only a little water – or it may be completely dry. It’s most impressive after a good dose of rain, or from late autumn to early spring.

Park at the end of Aylmers Valley Rd in Akaroa to begin your short walk.

Newton's Waterfall in Akaroa. A beautiful single waterfall in a bush setting.
Newton’s Waterfall. Photo: Vicki Steven.

17. Enjoy the Garden of Tane

The Garden of Tane was started in 1874. It is now home to a range of well-established trees and gardens (which isn’t surprising considering how long ago it was started!).

With native regenerating forest and a range of exotic trees, you’ll find plenty of birdlife in the area. Keep your eyes peeled for a number of historic cemeteries too, remembering many of the early European settlers.

If you’ve got kids, they’ll enjoy the playground too.

We recommend spending an hour or so enjoying the gardens and walking through the bush.

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.

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