Akaroa is a charming coastal town located on the Banks Peninsula in the Canterbury region of the South Island of New Zealand. It is situated approximately 75 kilometers (47 miles) southeast of Christchurch and therefore a great day trip from the city with a very scenic drive. Akaroa is known for its stunning natural beauty and extinct volcanic crater. But also the rich history and unique blend of French and Maori influences makes Akaroa an interesting destination to visit. There are several beautiful beaches, stunning hikes, wildlife cruises and other fun things to do in Akaroa. In our complete guide you’ll find all the best activities and things to do in Akaroa.
The best things to do in Akaroa
Go on a wildlife cruise to spot Hector Dolphins
The cruises are usually conducted in small boats or catamarans designed for wildlife viewing, ensuring a more intimate and immersive experience. As the cruise ventures into the waters of Akaroa Harbour, the guides keep a keen eye out for dolphin activity. Hector’s dolphins are known for their playful nature, agility, and acrobatic moves, which often include leaping, tail slaps, and flips. The guides share fascinating information about the dolphins’ behavior, natural history, and conservation efforts dedicated to protecting these precious creatures.
Black Cat cruises is the best cruise company in Akaroa and even gives a Dolphin guarantee which means that if you don’t see any Hector’s dolphins you can cruise again for free.
Explore the French influence of Akaroa
Akaroa’s French character is evident in its architecture, street names, and local cuisine. The town has several French-inspired cafes, restaurants, and boutiques where you can sample delicious pastries, cheese, and wine. The French influence gives a charming touch to the coastal town and is worth exploring the mix of buildings.
Relax along the waterfront
The Akaroa waterfront is a lovely pathway that lines the ocean and town which is the perfect way to explore Akaroa. Combine it with some food and drink stops at one of the waterfront restaurants, or grab a take away to eat along the waterfront.
Walk in the Garden of Tane
The most accessible and easy nature walk in Akaroa is in the Garden of Tane. It’s actually more a forest than a garden with stunning views along the way. Make sure to check out Akaroa Lookout Point which has a panoramic view over the water and mountains. On a sunny day it’s a great place to find some shade and smell the forest.
Visit Akaroa lighthouse and enjoy the views
The Akaroa lighthouse is an iconic historic landmark located on the headland at the entrance of Akaroa Harbour. It offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and is a great place for photography.
Built in 1880, the Akaroa Lighthouse helped to aid ships in safely navigating the treacherous waters and rocky coastline. It was designed by renowned engineer and architect William Brassington, who also designed several other lighthouses in New Zealand. The Akaroa Lighthouse stands at a height of 8.7 meters (28.5 feet) and is constructed of locally quarried volcanic stone. Its unique design features a square tower with a cast-iron lantern room and a red-painted roof.
Go on a wine tasting tour at the Akaroa wineries
If you’re a wine enthusiast, then going on a wine tasting is some of the best things to do in Akaroa. The town is home to a small but growing number of boutique wineries and vineyards. These wineries benefit from the region’s favorable climate, including warm summers and mild winters, along with the unique terroir of the Banks Peninsula. Some notable wineries in the area include:
- French Peak Wines: Situated in the stunning Takamatua Valley, French Peak Wines offers you the opportunity to taste a variety of cool-climate wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. The winery also provides panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
- Meniscus Wines: Located near Akaroa township, Meniscus Wines specializes in producing handcrafted, limited-production wines. Here you can enjoy tastings of their premium Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, accompanied by views of the vineyard and the nearby hills.
When visiting the Akaroa wineries, you can expect personalized and intimate wine tasting experiences. Many wineries offer cellar door tastings where knowledgeable staff or even the winemakers themselves guide visitors through the wine selection. You can learn about the winemaking process, the characteristics of the different varietals, and the unique qualities of the wines produced in the region.
Indulge at the restaurants in Akaroa
Akaroa boasts a vibrant dining scene with an array of restaurants lining the waterfront. From charming local cafes to cosy bistros and lively bars, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to culinary experiences in Akaroa.
So with this vast array of restaurants in Akaroa you might wonder, which is the best to go to? Of course this depends what you fancy to eat, but some of our recommendations are Harbar, which sits right on the water with incredible views and tasty pizzas. Ma Maison is a great choice as well with stunning waterfront views and delicious seafood, cocktails and craft beer.
Go on a walk to explore the beauty of Akaroa
Misty Peaks reserve is the place to be for hikers and outdoor lovers. The complete Misty Peaks Track is a 17-kilometre, 5-6-hour loop walk and heads along the crest of Akaroa’s ancient volcanic rim. But you can also do shorter walks if you don’t have all day to hike, Even along the shorter trails you can see the spectacular coastal and harbour views of Akaroa.
Visit Giant’s House Akaroa
The Giant’s House in Akaroa is a unique and quirky sculpture garden and art gallery created by artist Josie Martin. She transformed her historic house and garden into a living artwork. The entire property is adorned with a stunning collection of mosaic sculptures, terraced gardens, and vibrant mosaic artworks. The art pieces are made using a variety of materials, including broken china, tiles, glass, and other recycled materials.
You can visit the Giant’s House and wander through the garden and explore the various levels and terraces, each adorned with intricate mosaics and sculptures. The garden is filled with vibrant flowers, lush foliage, and whimsical characters, creating a magical ambiance. In addition to the outdoor garden, the Giant’s House also houses an art gallery featuring Josie Martin’s unique artwork. You can browse through the gallery to see more of her mosaic creations and gain a deeper understanding of her artistic vision.
The Giant’s House is not only an art destination but also offers breathtaking views of Akaroa Harbor and the surrounding landscapes. The combination of art, gardens, and panoramic vistas makes it a popular spot for photography enthusiasts.
Immerse yourself in Akaroa’s history
Visit the Banks Peninsula War Memorial & Grounds which is a significant memorial site that honors the local men and women who served in various wars and conflicts. Located in the heart of Akaroa, this memorial serves as a place of remembrance and reflection.
Constructed in 1922, the impressive memorial in Akaroa stands as a solemn tribute to the brave individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I. Over time, additional inscriptions were added to honor the local soldiers who lost their lives during the South African War and World War II. This memorial serves as a lasting commemoration of their courage and devotion to their country.
Visit Akaroa Museum to learn more about the settlement
Visiting Akaroa Museum is a great thing to do on a rainy day, or if you’re really into history and learning more about the settlement. The Museum is located at 71 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa, directly opposite the supermarket in the centre of Akaroa. Entry is by gold coin donation.
Visit Ōnuku Marae, a traditional Maori meeting ground
Nestled in the picturesque Akaroa Harbour, Ōnuku Marae boasts a magnificent Whare Tīpuna with exquisite carvings, standing as a testament to ancestral heritage. It’s worth a visit when you like to learn more about the Maori culture and is only a five kilometres drive from the township of Akaroa. The charming original church and tranquil grounds offer a serene escape amidst nature’s beauty.
History of Akaroa
Akaroa has a very interesting history and is therefore a captivating destination to visit. The tale of Akaroa weaves together the stories of indigenous Maori people, European exploration, and the unique French settlement.
The area where Akaroa is located was originally inhabited by the indigenous Maori people. In 1840, the area was settled by a group of French and German settlers who were intending to establish a French colony. However, the British had already claimed New Zealand, and the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, establishing British sovereignty. Despite this, the French settlers decided to stay and the town retains a strong French character to to date.
The town’s streets, architecture, and place names reflect its French origins. French-themed events and festivals celebrate the town’s cultural ties, such as the annual French Festival. The French Cemetery, located on the outskirts of Akaroa, serves as a reminder of the early French settlers and their contributions to the community.
Akaroa has transformed into a popular tourist destination, offering visitors a chance to explore its beautiful harbor, enjoy outdoor activities, encounter unique wildlife, and immerse themselves in its rich history. The blend of Maori, French, and British influences has shaped Akaroa into a captivating and culturally diverse town that continues to fascinate visitors from around the world.
One of the best things to do in Akaroa is going on a wildlife cruise to spot Hector dolphins, the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species. A typical wildlife cruise in Akaroa starts from the main wharf in Akaroa town. Knowledgeable guides and skippers accompany your tour and provide valuable insights into the local marine life.
Best time to visit Akaroa
The best time to visit Akaroa largely depends on your personal preferences and the activities you wish to do. Here’s a breakdown of the different seasons in Akaroa:
- Summer (December to February): Summer is the peak tourist season in Akaroa. The weather is generally warm, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius (68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit). This season is ideal for outdoor activities like wildlife cruises, swimming, kayaking, and exploring the scenic beauty of Akaroa. However, it can be crowded, and advanced bookings are necessary for accommodations and popular attractions.
- Autumn (March to May): Autumn in Akaroa brings mild temperatures and fewer crowds compared to summer. The weather is typically pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius (59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). This is a great time for nature walks, hiking, and enjoying the changing colors of the surrounding hills. Autumn is also the start of the dolphin calving season, offering a unique opportunity to spot baby dolphins.
- Winter (June to August): Winter in Akaroa is cooler, with temperatures ranging from 5 to 15 degrees Celsius (41 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit). It is the off-peak season, meaning fewer tourists. Although outdoor water activities may not be an option during this time, it is a great season for coastal walks, visiting the local museums and experiencing the town’s cozy cafes and restaurants.
- Spring (September to November): Spring in Akaroa brings blooming flowers, vibrant greenery, and milder temperatures. The weather can be variable, with temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius (50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit). Spring is a lovely time to explore the town and plan your outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking. It is also a great season for birdwatching as migratory birds return to the area.
Our advice for the best time to visit Akaroa
We have visited Akaroa in spring and the farmlands were beautifully green and nature was flourishing. After doing research online we saw many pictures of Akaroa in different seasons, and the mountains were brown instead of green! Therefore we advice, if you want to see the beautiful rolling green hills of Akaroa, to visit in spring or early summer. The mountains surrounding Akaroa turn brown later in the season towards winter, which is less appealing in our opinion.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads.
We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. You can also check Rental Cars to compare at which platform you can get the best deal. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the best things to do in Akaroa. Make sure to put this lovely destination on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides.