Hidden Gem - Akaroa

The 50 mile drive from Christchurch to the old French settlement at Akaroa on Banks Peninsula presents some excellent sightseeing and photo opportunities. On our last visit, it was a beautiful summers day that encouraged us to spend a day exploring the region. We'd delved into the history of Akaroa and as you'll see in our story, there were some amusing aspects to what happened here in the 1800's!
Akaroa Village, a small piece of France on Banks Peninsula. 


Banks Peninsula, with Christchurch at the top, center.

Banks Peninsula was formed by a long extinct volcano, formed millions of years ago, and was originally an offshore island that would eventually join with the mainland.

Akaroa Village is situated in one of the harbors on the peninsula, just 50-miles from Christchurch, the biggest city (pop. 380,000) in the South Island.

This year, with the re-opening of the Sumner to Lyttelton road, there's a great new scenic routing to be enjoyed. 


The Beach Bar, Sumner.

Leave the city early and enjoy a delicious breakfast at the Beach Bar Cafe at Sumner, then continue over the hills to the port of Lyttelton.

From Lyttelton, follow the inner harbor, passing Governors Bay, before crossing Gebbies Pass and following the road to Akaroa. 

The variety of scenery throughout is amazing and you'll be making many stops to capture the views on camera.

Garden and art lovers will enjoy at stop at the Ohinetane Gardens one of the best in New Zealand.


Ohinetane Gardens, Governors Bay.


Overlooking Lyttelton Harbor on the road to Akaroa.


Another stunning view, approaching Akaroa.


A view of Akaroa Village

A highlight of any visit to Akaroa is the unique opportunity to take a cruise on the harbor to see Hector Dolphins, the smallest dolphins in the world.


The world's smallest, most endangered and cutest dolphin.


Orca (Killer Whale) with calf, visit the bay at Akaroa. 

Black Cats Cruises offer an opportunities to get up close to, and even swim with the Hector Dolphin.  


Great local trails.

An interesting and sometimes amusing history. 


The village of Akaroa was originally established in 1840, by a group of 60 French settlers, the first step by the French in their plans to eventually colonize all of New Zealand.

In an agreement with local Māori tribes, Akaroa and the surrounding Banks Peninsula (440 square miles) was purchased by the French for a deposit payment of "2 cloaks, 6 pairs of trousers, 12 hats, 2 pairs of shoes, some pistols, axes and 2 shirts". 

The balance was due to be "paid later" when the Frenchman in charge of the settlers, a Captain Jean-François Langlois, returned from a visit to France.

Events were somewhat complicated by the fact that by the time Langlois returned, both Akaroa and Banks Peninsula had been resold several times over, as was often Māori custom at the time! 

No doubt Captain Jean-François Langlois was not at all amused by this turn of events.

In fact, the French plans for a colony were thwarted before they even started, because in the same year, 1840, Māori chiefs had collectively signed 'The Treaty of Waitangi' which effectively made New Zealand a British colony.

So the French enclave was eventually abandoned, and although the locals have managed to retain much of the charm and character of the original settlement, the only real evidence of the French stay in Akaroa is the street names, most of which remain French. 

And in the French tradition, some great cafes and restaurants.


Street sign Akaroa.

We also visited some of the local art galleries, many displaying the works of local artists. We browsed the boutique shops, enjoyed a lunch at one of the harbor side cafes and ended a most enjoyable day with a stroll in the surrounding hills. 


In April each year the people of Akaroa celebrate their "French heritage".


A view on the drive back to Christchurch, but that will have to wait for a future blog.

In the afternoon we followed a routing home as recommended by a Christchurch friend. It's amazing how much there is to see and experience on a 50-mile drive, but a description of our drive back to Christchurch will have to wait for a future blog. 

And we agreed, that with so many attractive places to stay, mainly B&B's and Farmstays, next time we'll be staying over.

Ask the team here at New Zealand Vacations to help you make the best of a visit to Akaroa and Banks Peninsula Akaroa.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Feb 19, 2020