The Must-Dos in Akaroa
The oldest town in the Canterbury region and a hub for marine wildlife, Akaroa offers so much that it can be hard to decide what to do! We pick out some of our favourite things to do in Akaroa, with options for families, budget travellers, foodies, luxury-seekers and more, in this list of the top Akaroa must-dos!
For more advice on planning your trip to the Banks Peninsula, see The Complete Guide to Akaroa.
1. Explore New Zealand’s Sole French Settlement
Simply walk around town to explore New Zealand’s first and only French settlement! The small village breathes French culture, from shops to cuisine to architecture. Check out the French street signs, pick up a baguette from the Sweet As Bakery or pâté from La Boucherie & Deli, and get a photo with the French artist Charles Meryon statue. In the short time the French settlers stayed here, they created an unmistakable piece of France on the other side of the world. Plus, don’t miss the Akaroa French Festival usually taking place every October.
Location: Sweet As Bakery – 63 Rue Lavaud. La Boucherie & Deli – 67 Rue Lavaud. Charles Meryon statue – 82 Rue Lavaud.
2. Meet the Little Blue Penguins with Pohatu Penguins
How about meeting the world’s smallest species of penguins at New Zealand’s largest blue penguin colony? Join Pohatu Penguins for their penguin safari, taking you to a private conservation area in a picturesque and remote bay to learn about protecting New Zealand’s birds, as well as spotting penguins and perhaps even seeing a chick feeding. On their evening tours, you’ll arrive at the family’s homestead to the enthusiastic welcome of sheep before being given camouflage clothing and binoculars to enhance the viewing experience. Next, you may get to see a penguin chick being fed as part of its rehabilitation before heading out to various hides overlooking nesting sites. Try to time your visit between September and mid-February for the best viewings.
Location: Tours depart from Wildside Booking Office, 2/8 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa town.
3. Set Sail on the Akaroa Harbour
Set sail on the Fox II (see more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) in the crater of an ancient volcano (yes, that’s the Akaroa Harbour) harnessing the power of the wind for a gentle, blissful and eco-friendly cruise. Seeing Hector’s dolphins riding the pressure waves produced by the yacht is an almost guaranteed experience, while spotting little blue penguins, seals and more are not uncommon. Enjoy the charm of this vintage sailboat with a complimentary tea or coffee as you sail to giant sea caves and other dramatic formations in the cliffs. Note that sailing trips are only available from late December to March. See more activities like this in the 10 Romantic Activities in Akaroa for Couples.
Location: Departs from Daly’s Wharf, end of Rue Balguerie.
4. Swim with the World’s Smallest Species of Dolphin
Connect with nature on a dolphin-swimming cruise in Akaroa! Swim with the world’s smallest species of dolphin, Hector’s dolphins, which can’t help but make your heart melt as they dance around you in the vibrant blue waters of the Akaroa Harbour. You have several options for swimming with dolphins in Akaroa, including Black Cat Cruises (check them out of Viator and Tripadvisor), EcoSEAker and Onuku Farm Hostel. All have wetsuits and snorkel gear, as well as instructions on how to interact with the dolphins in a safe and ethical way.
Location: Black Cat Cruises – Departs from the Main Wharf, Beach Road. EcoSEAker – Departs from Daly’s Wharf, end of Rue Balguerie. Onuku Farm Hostel – 89 Hamiltons Road, Onuku, approximately 6km (4 miles) from Akaroa town centre.
5. Find Rhinos and Other Surprises on the Children’s Bay Walkway
A must-do, especially for families, is the Children’s Bay Walkway, not because of its obvious name, but because of the more surprising “wildlife” you’ll find along the way. Locally known as the “Rhino Walk”, you’ll see why as you steadily climb up a headland on this one-hour return walk or three-hour circuit. Enjoy beautiful vistas of the Akaroa Harbour and various bays, while looking out for metal sculptures in the long grass. See more child-friendly activities in the 10 Things to Do in Akaroa with Kids.
Location: Parking is available at the Akaroa Recreation Ground, Rue Brittan, which provides access to the Children’s Bay Walkway along a 10-minute boardwalk.
6. See Adorable Fur Seals
Yes we know, we are mentioning seals for about the hundredth time on this website, but to hell with it! New Zealand fur seals are as playful as it gets and it is a treat to spend a few hours watching them behave in their natural habitat. Akaroa’s colony is no exception. Check out the seals with wildlife cruises, such as the Black Cat Nature Cruise and Coast Up Close from the Akaroa wharf.
Location: Cruises depart from Akaroa Wharf.
7. Try Award-Winning Cheese at Barrys Bay Cheese
A must-do on your way to or from Akaroa is stopping by the factory store of Barrys Bay Cheese. Sample handcrafted award-winning New Zealand cheeses, with some favourites being Havarti, Maasdam, Aged Gouda, Rinded Cheddar and Peninsula Blue. Watch the cheesemakers in action (on weekdays) through the viewing window of their factory shop, where you can also pick up local wines, craft beer, preserves and more. For more experiences like this, check out the 6 Things to Do in Akaroa for Foodies and 6 Luxury Activities in Akaroa.
Location: 5807 Christchurch Akaroa Road, Duvauchelle, approximately 13km (8 miles) from Akaroa.
8. Hike the Te Ara Pātaka/Summit Walkway
This stunning ridgeline walk is tough but well worth it. Feast your eyes on the views capturing the whole peninsula, the ocean and as far as the Southern Alps on the Te Ara Pātaka/Summit Walkway. The 2-3-day hike has a number of huts along the way which should be booked in advance. Be aware of seasonal restrictions where the track is closed from 8 August to 15 October each year for lambing.
Location: Start from Hilltop Tavern, approximately 18km (11 miles) from Akaroa.
9. Explore the Coast and Encounter Wildlife on a Kayak
Another way to get on the water to explore the bays and, fingers crossed, encounter some wildlife, is to paddle in a kayak. A fun option is available with Akaroa Guided Kayaks (see Viator and Tripadvisor for more info). Their “Sunrise Safari” not only allows you to see the volcanic cliffs and blue waters at the most stunning time of the day but also gets you on the water at the calmest time of the day. The three-hour tour has you paddling through a marine reserve, which gives you a good chance of encountering wildlife. Pohatu Penguins also offers sea-kayaking tours in their penguin marine reserve, while the Akaroa Adventure Centre offers freedom kayak hire to explore the Akaroa Harbour on your own.
Location: Akaroa Guided Tours – 40F Rue Lavaud. Pohatu Penguins – Wildside Booking Office, 2/8 Rue Balguerie. Akaroa Adventure Centre – 61 Beach Road.
10. Do Night Paddleboarding or “Pedalboarding”
Try some innovative ways to get out on the water with NightSUP! Their signature experience is their night paddleboarding tour where you’ll explore the Akaroa Harbour with colourful lights shining on the bottom of your board, revealing all kinds of creatures below. It also gives you the chance to experience the scenic coast at sunset. NightSUP also offer SUP (stand-up paddleboard) hire throughout the day, as well as the more unusual offering of Hobie Eclipse boards, i.e. “pedalboards” – that’s paddleboards with pedals!
Location: 58 Rue Lavaud.
11. Hike the Hills, Bush and Beaches of the Hinewai Reserve
With over 12km (7 miles) of tracks, the Hinewai Reserve has a lot to offer to hikers. The main attraction of the volcanic reserve is the Stony Bay Peak, rising above the peninsula at 806m (2,644ft) high. Also known as Taraterehu, the peak offers 360-degree views of the peninsula and a great outlook of the small French settlement below. Check out the details of this walk and others in Akaroa with our Akaroa – Guide for Backpackers.
Location: 8km (5 miles) inland from Akaroa along Long Bay Road.
12. See So Many Marine Birds!
Like many harbours in New Zealand, Akaroa is home to fishermen and marine birds competing for the plentiful fish shoals metres below the surface. Seagulls, albatross and more are common sights when walking on the shore or cruising in the harbour. Get your camera ready: they are moving fast! Again the best way to see seabirds is on wildlife cruises, such as the Black Cat Nature Cruise and Coast Up Close from the Akaroa wharf or see penguins with Pohatu Penguins.
Location: Cruises depart from Akaroa Wharf. Pohatu Penguins – Wildside Booking Office, 2/8 Rue Balguerie.
13. Enjoy the Scenery on the Misty Peaks Hike
The Misty Peaks Reserve covers over 500 hectares (1,236 acres) and hides the photogenic Newton’s Waterfall. The easy 30-minute walk is convenient to reach from the town’s centre and is a great way to spend an afternoon away from the crowds. See more experiences like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Akaroa.
Location: Access the walk via Aylmers Valley Road to Misty Parks Reserve car park (30-45 minutes if walking).
14. Cuddle Fluffy Alpacas at Shamarra Alpacas
One of the more surprising must-dos of Akaroa, Shamarra Alpacas offers tours to meet their herd of irresistibly cute and fluffy alpacas. Their farm tour gives you a brief introduction to alpacas and their quirky habits before meeting an alpaca in the barn for a safety briefing and to feel the silky softness of their wool. Then, it’s out to the paddocks to meet, feed and pet the herd and even experience the joy of seeing adorable baby alpacas!
Location: 328 Wainui Main Road, Wainui, approximately 17km (11 miles) from Akaroa town.
15. Explore the Whimsical Gardens of The Giant’s House
Finally, to add a touch of art to your visit, visit The Giant’s House. Explore an exuberant garden of mosaic sculptures, water fountains and walkways around the grand historic homestead. You can easily spend a couple of hours discovering its secrets, like a hidden art gallery, and relaxing at the on-site cafe with alfresco dining under the shade of the trees.
Location: 70 Rue Balguerie.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Akaroa
- 9 Things to Do in Akaroa on a Rainy Day
- The Foodie Guide to Akaroa
- The Travel Guide to Akaroa on a Budget
- The Travel Guide to Akaroa for Families
- The Luxury Travel Guide to Akaroa
- The Honeymoon Guide to Akaroa
That’s it for the best things to do in Akaroa. Find more activities for your travels in the 51 Best Things to Do in the South Island.