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Exploring New Zealand

Akaroa Area Guide

Looking down over French Bay & the town of Akaroa;
Akaroa Harbour - ©
Akaroa is a pretty village set on the waterfront and sloping hills of Banks Peninsula above the scenic Akaroa harbour, 82 kilometres from Christchurch. Akaroa is the site of the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand, after French whaling captain Jean Langlois negotiated the purchase of Banks Peninsula from local Maori in 1838. His bid to form a French colony was narrowly forestalled when the British raised the flag at Akaroa only days before his ship arrived with a group of French and German settlers. The French stayed on, making Akaroa the first colonial settlement in the South Island, and leaving their mark in the French street names and the layout of the village's charming narrow streets.

The village is best explored in a leisurely way, with plenty of cafe stops. Try the Akaroa Historic Area Walk from Rue Lavaud, an easy two-hour stroll, which takes in 43 of the early buildings and historic sites in the village. It's worth stopping at the Akaroa Museum, which is made up of three historic buildings including one of New Zealand's oldest houses, Langlois-Eteveneaux House.

Akaroa's harbour formed in the crater of an ancient volcano and provides a rich environment for birds and marine life, including the endangered Hector's dolphin, the smallest of the world's dolphins. Yellow-eyed and little blue penguins and New Zealand fur seals can also be seen in the harbour. Explore the harbour independently by hiring a sea kayak or motor boat, or join one of the harbour cruises from the main wharf in a motor boat or sailing boat. You can also go on a dolphin swimming trip in the harbour, or take a four-wheel drive trip to visit the white flippered penguin colony at Pohatu-Flea Bay.

There are many good short walking tracks in the surrounding area, but if you have more time, book ahead to do the 35-kilometre Banks Peninsula Track, a private track which takes in spectacular volcanic coastline, native bush, waterfalls and sandy beaches. The track is open from October to April and can be done in four or two-day options. The peninsula also provides good hilly horse riding country, and horse treks are offered at Mount Vernon Stables, just up the hill from the township.