Welcome to Banks Peninsula, home of The Hector’s dolphins and eco-tourism pioneers Black Cat Cruises

Destination Akaroa: An Explorer’s Guide to Banks Peninsula & Its Crown Jewel

Wondering where to begin your Akaroa adventure? This blog will guide you through every must-see and must-do activity!

There’s no denying the allure of a New Zealand summer, especially when exploring the myriad of things to do in Akaroa, Canterbury. With its captivating charm, Akaroa stands out even amidst New Zealand’s stunning locales. Situated within the scenic Banks Peninsula, Akaroa beautifully showcases a rich tapestry of French, British, and Māori heritage, all enveloped in a truly magnificent natural landscape.

As for me, I’m not just your guide but a lifelong devotee of Akaroa. Having spent countless holidays here, I’ve grown with the town, just as it has blossomed over the years. My roots run deep here; with family who have lived and breathed Akaroa’s salty air, their stories and connections to this land are as intertwined as the pohutukawa trees that line the coast. Join me, a local at heart, as we uncover the enchanting experiences that make Akaroa more than just a destination.

The Journey from Christchurch to Akaroa

Getting to Akaroa is an adventure in itself. From Christchurch, it’s just 1.5 hours away, but we recommend a few choice places to stop along the way.

Starting with the vast expanse of Lake Ellesmere, or Te Waihora. Its shores, replete with native trees, lead to the Hart’s Creek track — a serene walkway that offers birdwatchers a chance to spot 166 different avian species.

Moving closer to the ocean, Birdlings Flat emerges. Beyond its rugged coastline and tempestuous seas, lies a small town steeped in the history of gemstone hunting. The Gemstone and Fossil Museum showcases this rich past, with its treasure trove of finds over the centuries. Not to forget, the Kaituna golf club, which provides an excellent leisurely stopover, and a playground set against a scenic backdrop for kids.

Further along, the quaint township of Little River awaits, showcasing a blend of history and quirkiness. From unique accommodations like ‘Silostay’ to an art gallery bursting with local talent, it’s a hub of creativity and culture. Add to that the historic rail station, a reminder of bygone days, and the bustling energy of the Bank Peninsula A&P Show in January.

As you ascend from Little River, the winding roads lead to the Hilltop lookout, a vantage point that offers unparalleled views of the Akaroa Harbour. I always make sure to snap a photo with whoever I’m with here. On the route, the aroma of fresh cheese might draw you to Barry’s Bay Cheese Factory. A haven for cheese enthusiasts, it offers not just a tasting experience, but a deep dive into the art and history of cheese-making in the region.

Sights to Behold

Key landmarks in Akaroa tell a story of history and nature. The Akaroa Lighthouse stands as a symbol of the town’s connection to the sea. From there, it’s not far to the Catholic and Anglican Cemeteries on the hill above. They are full of beautiful headstones of marble, and many are still endowed with new flowers.

If you want to see something unique and artistic, you must check out the Giant’s House. Full of beautiful plants and ceramic sculptures that you’ll have to see to believe, this one is worth checking out.

Nearby, the Onuku Marae offers a glimpse into Māori traditions and heritage. The local Iwi does a fantastic job maintaining the building and surrounding area. They invite all to share in their heritage and experience their culture.

For a refreshing slice of untouched nature, Newton’s Waterfall is a serene spot to reflect—just a brief walk from Akaroa’s centre.

However, the most special thing about Akaroa lies in its harbour. Hop aboard Black Cat Cruises for scenic views, and observe some amazing marine life. Book our Harbour cruise now for the chance to see rare dolphins, penguins, seals and other surprises (we have been known to spot Orca!)

To cool off after a day of exploration, the harbour provides the perfect backdrop for a swim. For those seeking a bit of adrenaline, jumping off the local wharf is a popular pastime. And for land-based adventures, the biking trails in the hills above Akaroa cater to both novices and experienced riders.

One of my traditions when I visit Akaroa is to check out the local gemstone stores along the main street. Both Fire and Ice and Hettie’s Rock and Crystal Shop are quaint and full of fascinating objects which you can touch and feel!

Of course one of the top activities to do in Akaroa, which can be done nowhere else, is to swim with the Hector’s Dolphins. Coming this close to such a beautiful, playful, yet fully wild animal is an unforgettable experience. Don’t just take our word for it, it was voted the number one attraction in NZ by an online poll with 18,000 votes.

Trails and Beaches

Whether you prefer the high vantage points or the sandy shores, Akaroa has a path for you.

The short but steep walk to Stanley Park presents Akaroa in all its glory. You even get to walk amongst some grazing sheep (or lambs) on the way.

The Children’s Bay Rhino Walk is full of surprises (in the form of animal sculptures), perfect for a family outing.

As the day winds down, the beach becomes a playground for crab hunting. It’s something that has never failed to entertain my family. Where the water meets rocks a little bigger than your fist, live thousands of little crabs. Walk along, lift the rocks, and watch the crabs scuttle away. The trick to picking them up is to avoid the claws! Be gentle with the crabs and put them down in the water after a few seconds.

Local Flavors

Akaroa’s culinary scene is diverse and satisfying. There is a fantastic Akaroa breakfast scene with many great options. We recommend The Brasserie Kitchen & Wine Bar for its combination of a luscious garden setting, varied menu and friendly service.

The town’s fish and chips are a must-try, as is Pot Pourri’s delicious fudge (free samples provided!)

Grabbing an ice cream and walking along the beachfront is a great way to pass the time. Whether you like real-fruit ice cream, classic scoops or even popsicles, you’ll find it there.

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in authentic local flavours, head up to the hills overlooking the town. ‘The Akaroa Winery’, is a sanctuary of delightful wines and a charming ambience. The vineyard is not just about wines but also about the passion with which they host every visitor. It’s an experience that combines the allure of the landscape with the sophistication of their wines.

Searching for that perfect dinner spot for a romantic evening? Look no further than The Little Bistro. Nestled in the heart of Akaroa, this cosy place exudes a romantic atmosphere that’s perfect for those intimate dinner dates. The lights are dim, the service impeccable, and the food is divine. It’s not just a meal; it’s an experience you and your partner will cherish.

Ma Maison Restaurant and Bar is located right on the beachfront. Whether you’re a seafood lover or just in the mood for some quality dining with an unbeatable view, Ma Maison promises a memorable experience. It’s no wonder they’ve earned the title of Akaroa’s ‘Hidden Gem’

Looking for something a tad different? If you’ve had your fill of the usual sightseeing and fancy a ‘liquid tour’ of the town, this is your spot. Dive into the local flavors at the Akaroa Craft Distillery. This isn’t just any distillery; the passionate owners have literally tried to bottle up the essence of Akaroa. They’ve even named one of their signature gins “Hectors,” tipping their hat to our favourite local animal. The place recently got a cosy makeover, so you’ll feel right at home. They also have a tasting tasting menu – it’s the perfect way to discover gins that you didn’t even know you were missing out on. Who said dolphins were the only spirits in town?

If you’re wandering around Akaroa looking for a culinary adventure, pop into the Mandela Restaurant. A fusion of Pacific-Indian flavours, this gem offers a delightful blend of dishes that perfectly capture the essence of both cultures. The rich and aromatic spices paired with fresh local ingredients are bound to tantalize your taste buds. It’s not just the food that’ll keep you coming back, but the warm ambience and friendly service.

That’s all for now

Now it’s time to take your first step to experiencing Akaroa’s magic firsthand! We’ve given you a list of things to do in Akaroa, New Zealand. Why not start with us? Whether you’re dreaming of swimming alongside nature’s most elegant creatures or craving the tranquil beauty of a harbour cruise, book with Black Cat Cruises for an unforgettable journey.