One Day Itinerary in Akaroa New Zealand - Day Trip from Christchurch
Sometimes, the best things happen on the spur of the moment, with people you barely know. If you read my earlier post on New Zealand, you’d know that I paired up with a Dutch traveler to rent a car and go on a road trip to Mount Cook.
But since we got the car a day before our trip, we thought it would be a shame not to make full use of it. So, we decided to drive to a nearby town called Akaroa.
I posted a message on Couchsurfing asking if anyone wanted to join us and split the fuel cost. A traveler from Taiwan replied, and we agreed to meet up in Christchurch.
This was already the era of smartphones, but for some reason, none of us had internet or roaming service, so it was as if we were back in those days when people would just set the time and place, and hope that the other person would turn up.
Everything was rather last minute, but the Taiwanese girl did turn up, and off we went.
Akaroa, which means “Long Harbor” in Maori, is an old whaling township located in southern Banks Peninsula in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island.
The charming harbor-side town was founded by the French in 1840, and was the only French settlement in New Zealand. Today, the French influence is still apparent, as seen in the street names and architecture.
The village — with its permanent population of around 700 — is nestled into a wide bay on the eastern side of the harbor. Every year, it welcomes a huge number of visitors who are keen to see the wildlife that the place is famous for, namely the rare Hector’s dolphin.
Best Time to Visit Akaroa
Akaroa enjoys a temperate climate, with mild temperatures and a low chance of rain for most of the year.
The best time to visit Akaroa is between December and March, which is the summer season in New Zealand, therefore the warmest months of the year. It’s also the least busy time, because people from the northern hemisphere usually visit New Zealand in their summer holidays, from June to July.
However, it should be noted that “warm” in Akaroa means somewhere around 24°C during the day and 10°C at night, which someone from a tropical country would still consider freezing.
I visited in May, close to winter time, and it was pretty cold and windy. But the hike that we went on kept me warm enough to take my jacket off.
How to Get to Akaroa from Christchurch
Akaroa is only 85 kilometres (around 80 – 90 minutes’ drive) from Christchurch, and takes you along a scenic country road that winds through the mountains.
Going by car is the best way to visit Akaroa as there are places along the way that are worth stopping at. Exploring Akaroa is also much easier when you have your own vehicle.
The drive is fairly easy on the single carriageway and offers you breathtaking views of the rugged Banks Peninsula.
There are two buses that go to Akaroa from Christchurch. Both buses depart Christchurch from Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Ave, with several en-route pick up points.
- Free pick-up from select inner city accommodation
- Informative drive commentary
- A drive-through introduction of the Akaroa Village
- Stops at Little River (historic railway station), the Hilltop Tavern for panoramic views across the Akaroa Harbor Bays, and Berry’s Bay Cheese Factory for cheese tasting.
Departs from Christchurch to Akaroa at 8.30 p.m. and back at 3.45 p.m. daily. Adult fares are $56 return and $36 one way. Pick-up / drop-off at the Christchurch International Airport is also available for $15 per person, but must be booked in advance.
The shuttle service can be combined with other tours, such as the dolphin and penguin nature experience.
**Akaroa Shuttle services are suspended from 31st March 2020, until further notice. Please check their website for latest updates.
Things to Do in Akaroa on a Day Trip
Being a waterfront town, activities in Akaroa mostly center around the sea and marine wildlife. But if you simply don’t have time for cruises or water sports, there is still plenty to do on land.
Here’s a list of things you can do in Akaroa on a day trip, whether or not you choose to get wet:
1. Explore the Town and Harborfront
Slowly walk your way along the waterfront of Akaroa Harbor and admire the views of the sea, as well as the French architecture on Rue Lavaud and the surrounding streets.
Take your time to peek into the shops and maybe have a coffee in one of the many cafes. The French influences are still pretty strong in Akaroa, so you’ll see many French-style cafes and boulangeries dotting the streets.
If you aren’t into French pastries, Akaroa is also famous for fish and chips.
2. Visit Akaroa Museum
Established in 1964 around the historic Langlois-Eteveneaux cottage, the Akaroa Museum on Rue Lavaud is focused on the history of Banks Peninsula. Its vast collections range from archives and archaeology to zoology and arts.
The museum has since expanded to include two additional heritage buildings: the Akaroa Court House and the Custom House.
It is open 363 days a year (closed on Christmas and Aztec Day). Entrance is by donation.
3. Go on a Nature Cruise
Many visitors come to Akaroa for the sole purpose of seeing the Hector’s Dolphin, which is the smallest, rarest, and friendliest dolphin in the world. They come to Akaroa Harbor from September to May each year.
On top of the world’s smallest dolphins, the area is also famous for the world’s smallest penguin, known as Pohatu Penguin or Fairy Penguin.
You have a chance of seeing these two rare species, as well as a variety of sea birds when you take a nature cruise on the harbor.
It’s also possible to swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat. Tour operators are trained to follow strict rules and regulations on how to interact with marine mammals without causing them harm.
4. Take Part in Water Sports
If you go during summertime, the Main Beach in Akaroa usually has water sport equipment like kayaks and paddleboards for rent. You can either kayak on your own or join a guided tour to explore the secluded bays. Who knows, you might get to see one of those marine animals!
5. Chill Out at the Beach
If you don’t feel like doing any vigorous activity, the Akaroa Main Beach is also perfect for just chilling out. Although not a white-sand beach, it’s still quite pretty.
It’s located next to the War Memorial Park, right in the middle of Akaroa Township. Parking is available by the beach.
6. Marvel at the Giant’s House
The Giant’s House on Rue Balguerie is a historic Akaroa house with contemporary artworks, terraced gardens with whimsical sculptures and colorful mosaics.
Designed by artist Josie Martin, this quirky house features a grand entrance hall with a mahogany staircase imported from France, original open fireplaces, a bright-yellow farmhouse kitchen, a conservatory with mosaic floor, and unique artwork throughout.
This playful wonderland has been recognized as a Garden of International Significance (NZGT) with 6 stars, and is sure to stimulate your mind and uplift your soul.
7. See the Akaroa Lighthouse
The Akaroa Lighthouse is actually located inside the bay, but this is not its original location.
The lighthouse was first built on a rugged headland at the entrance of Akaroa Harbor, some 80 metres above sea level. However, almost a century later, it was replaced by an automatic light. Fortunately, a group of lighthouse enthusiasts managed to save it from demolition and reinstalled it inside the bay.
From the town center, the walk to Akaroa Lighthouse is very simple and can be done in about an hour (round trip). The lighthouse offers some great views of the town.
8. Go on a Hike
There are over 50 hikes you can do in the Banks Peninsula ranging from short walks to multi-day tramps.
In Akaroa alone there are at least 15 different trails that take you to the top of the hills or just around the town proper.
We stumbled upon one of the trails. If you asked me to point it out on the map, I don’t think I’d ever be able to, but somewhere along the walk, we saw this sculpture of a man half-buried in the ground. If you know where it is, please share in the comments. Google wasn’t helping.
The trail was fairly easy, with a gradual incline and lots of greenery all around (mostly farms and fields). When you’re high enough up the hill, you can see the bay behind you.
You might also come across some cows looking at you curiously.
That was my first time seeing cows in a cold country. I love how much fuzzier they are than their Southeast Asian counterparts.
A short while later, we reached the grassy peak, where we promptly plopped down on the soft green grass and waited for the sun to set behind the mountains.
The view in front of us was like a giant movie screen. In fact, the whole place felt like The Lord of the Rings movie set, except that we were in it.
I’m glad I had the two girls with me — I wouldn’t have been able to find the trail (or the way back to the car) on my own.
If you have more time, you can stop halfway between Christchurch and Akaroa to climb Port Hills, from where you can see the Canterbury Plains, the bays of Lyttelton Harbor, and even the Southern Alps if the skies are clear.
Other than that, the Banks Peninsula Track is a two- to four-day hill country walk over a 35-kilometre circular route around remote bays of Banks Peninsula that starts and ends in Akaroa.
Check out this website that provides useful resources for hiking in the Banks Peninsula.
Where to Stay in Akaroa
If you’re going to do all of the activities listed above, you might want to stay in Akaroa for a night or two. Bear in mind that if you visit during the peak season, hotels can fill up very quickly, so make sure you book early.
Here are a few of the top-rated accommodations in Akaroa:
Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park – The holiday park features a seasonal outdoor pool, table tennis, and shared bathrooms. Some units have a kitchenette fitted with a microwave. From NZD 78 for a Standard Cabin.
Akaroa Waterfront Motels – Located in the historic French village, 8 minutes’ walk away from the harbor. All accommodations include a kitchenette, a balcony, and dining and lounge areas. Free parking and WiFi. From NZD 148 for a Budget Studio.
L’abri Bed and Breakfast – Just 4 minutes’ drive from Akaroa Town Center, this B&B is set among pristine gardens that are home to a range of local birdlife. Guests can relax on their private terrace and enjoy magnificent sea views. Free parking and WiFi. From NZD 224 for a Deluxe Queen Studio, with breakfast.
Akaroa is definitely a place you must not miss if you’re in Christchurch, considering the proximity between the two, and how easy it is to get to, whether you have your own transport or not.
Most people visit Akaroa on a day trip from Christchurch, but I could easily stay there for a few days to enjoy its relaxing vibe.
All in all, I’d consider our trip a huge success, especially when you factor in the fact that it was planned at the last minute and that we were practically strangers at the beginning of it.
Have you visited Akaroa, New Zealand? What did you like best about it? Share your experience in the comment section below.