- About Heritage
Only 85 km from Christchurch, Akaroa is an historic French and British settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano.
Welcome to Akaroa – a slice of France nestled in the Canterbury region of New Zealand
Explore the village with its colonial architecture, French street names, boutique craft stores and cafés or relax in the sun at French Bay. Take a cruise and enjoy the scenic fishing and wildlife that is available in Akaroa and the surrounding area.
The fist-like peninsula south of Christchurch has a varied and interesting history; formed by a volcanic eruption eight million years ago, the scenic grandeur of the landscape was a base for the Ngaio Tahu tribe, then sold in 1838 to a French whaling captain, but before an official French envoy could claim it, was declared as a British territory in 1840. The pretty settlement of Akaroa retains its French flavour.
Bon appétit! Wine, cheese and more in Akaroa
Nourished by rugged terroir with rich volcanic soils, this wine region of New Zealand is known for producing excellent Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Rieslings. The French brought the first vines to the Peninsula in 1840. Today, the small quantities of wine produced by the vineyards near Akaroa are highly regarded and sought after.
Nestled on the north facing slopes of the hills above Akaroa, Takamatua Valley Vineyard produces certified organic wines and has a magnificent panoramic view of the harbour and countryside. French Peak winery holds true to its heritage and produces New Zealand wine with a distinct nod to French wine-making practices.
Nearby, Barry’s Bay Cheese offers you the chance to watch cheese making from Monday through Thursday (Oct to May) and enjoy complimentary samples at their store.
Enjoy fresh locally-sourced food with a touch of French flair in many of the eateries in the village. You may taste specialities such as local salmon or deep water groper – cooked with a French twist. If you love to cook, you can even book a French cooking class during your stay in Akaroa.
Spot the dolphins or hang out with penguins
The beautiful, sheltered Akaroa Harbour dominates the landscape and is home of the world’s smallest, rarest and friendliest dolphins – Hector’s Dolphins. An encounter with a Hector's dolphin in the wild is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Akaroa Dolphins is a family business that is 100% locally owned and operated. Akaroa Harbour is home to the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world, the Hector’s dolphin. Akaroa Dolphins will take you on a journey of discovery through millions of years of fascinating history and natural heritage on board our luxurious catamaran. Experience what makes this cruise special from the moment you step on board, starting with a complimentary beverage, including award winning New Zealand wine, beer and soft drinks.
There are outdoor activities for everyone including wildlife cruises, boat hire and sea kayaking. The harbour's edge is home to plenty of activities for those who prefer to stay on dry land. Enjoy farm, outer bay or seal and penguin colony tours, or hire a bike, kayak or paddleboard and venture out on a self-guided tour. Between January and August is penguin breeding season, and this is the best time to view little blue and yellow crested penguins.
Explore the history of Akaroa
As the site of the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand, Akaroa is unique. From Hilltop, where the magnificent panorama of Akaroa Harbour stuns first-time visitors, Akaroa, Canterbury's oldest town, looks dwarfed; a cluster of small buildings below rugged hills on the far side of a broad harbour. But closer up, the town reveals itself to be a fascinating collection of charming older buildings and a thriving, lively centre for both visitors and locals.
Akaroa has a deserved reputation as one of the country's best preserved historic towns. Nowhere else in New Zealand has such a compact, complete record of the country’s domestic architecture. Akaroa’s churches and other public buildings are also notable examples of New Zealand's colonial architecture.
Historic as it is, there is much more to Akaroa today than history, though ambling up its irregular streets, admiring old cottages and gardens, is still a large part of Akaroa's charm.
European whalers began frequenting Akaroa Harbour regularly in the 1830s, not long after the harbour had seen the North Island chief Te Rauparaha attack Ngai Tahu settlements on its shores. The town gained distinction in 1840 as the site of the only attempt to plant an organised French settlement in New Zealand. People of British and other nationalities soon outnumbered the French, but the town still celebrates its French origins.
Less than 20 minutes’ walk from Akaroa Cottages, Akaroa Museum reflects the varied and colourful history of Banks Peninsula.
Through its long life, Akaroa has played many roles – including a fishing port and a farm service town. Before the road over Hilltop was improved, most goods, and many visitors, came to and from Akaroa over its wharves. Akaroa now proudly boasts a cruise ship port.
The Akaroa lighthouse is a short walk from the village and offers picturesque views of the harbour. If you time your visit for a Sunday afternoon, you may well chance upon an informative tour of the lighthouse.
The Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum – just slightly over twenty minutes’ drive from Akaroa Cottages – is a must-see hidden gem of the Banks Peninsula area.
The exhibits of this museum reflect the shared European and Maori history with genuine artefacts, stories of the past, displays of Maori art and customs – including a wonderful collection of South Island greenstone and Maori tools. You are able to wander around a working Blacksmith's shop, a print shop, a saddlery, and a restored school.
Souvenirs and shopping in Akaroa
While you can walk from one end of Akaroa to the other in 15 minutes, it may just take you a while longer to check out all the charming boutique stores and galleries stocked with all sorts of delights to either give as gifts, or to treat yourself. Take your time and browse merino wool or possum fur garments, beautiful arts and local crafts, or take home some souvenirs of French chic.
Visit a Giant’s House in Akaroa
Well, it’s not guaranteed that you will find a giant, but you will find crafty creativity and wondrous mosaic sculpture art set amidst terraced gardens overlooking Akaroa harbour at The Giant’s House. A unique and wonderful experience, the historic house is grand in size, the garden is filled with inspiration, unexpected artistic flair and a visit here will be fun for the whole family. This is one of those hidden gems that you should make some time for in your next visit to Akaroa.
Walking, hiking or cycling trails lead to panoramic views
With its stands of original native bush, seal colonies and nesting penguins, Banks Peninsula is ideal for exploring on foot, whether for an hour or two, or over several days on the southern Banks Peninsula Track.
The Banks Peninsula Track, a self-guided walk or hike is perfect for those that enjoy experiencing the wonders of the great outdoors. The route includes a spectacular volcanic coastline, native bush, waterfalls and sandy beaches and can be either a two day hike or a four day walk. Held annually in November, the Banks Peninsula Walking Festival is a wonderful way to discover the beauty of this region.
French character and quaint charm
Akaroa is so full of charm that it even has its own Town Crier who is a direct descendant of the first French settlers to arrive in Akaroa; you can meet him most weekends during summer. A biennial festival celebrating the unique culture and heritage of New Zealand’s sole French settlement is held every odd year in October, and every year you can be sure that Bastille Day (July 14), les célébrations sont magnifiques!