Just 85km from Christchurch, Akaroa is a historic settlement of French origin. Nestled right in the heart of an ancient volcano, the colourful seaside village is full of craft stores and cafes, a Giant’s House and the world’s smallest wildlife. Here’s how you can make the most of it.
Day 1: Explore Akaroa From the Water
Get on board a nature-cruise to see the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins. The Hector’s dolphins are only found around the inshore waters of the South Island, with Akaroa Harbour and Banks Peninsula hosting the highest population in one location. They have a territorial range of 52 kilometres and never travel far from home.
As a result, you have a 98% chance of spotting these rare dolphins and even possibly swimming with them. They are extremely curious animals and will happily approach the boat so you can get a great view! Akaroa Dolphins take out small groups of 10 for a two hour snorkel and cruise. They even have a special dog Murphy, who goes on the cruises and can hear the dolphins before you can see them. He has a cartoon book written about him following the adventures of Murph the Dolphin Dog. Guaranteed to be a hit with the kids.
Arriving back at the wharf, you’ll be ready for lunch and spoiled for choice in Akaroa. We’re a fan of grabbing fish and chips and eating A la carte by the water. But options for Thai, café food and burgers are also on offer.
Beyond seeing the world’s smallest dolphins, Akaroa is also home to the world’s smallest penguins! Known as Pohatu Penguins, Little Blue Penguins or Korora in the native Maori language, these penguins are a hit with animal-obsessed children. Join a guided trip to spot them around the coastline, or go exploring and penguin spotting solo. You’re most likely to see them coming ashore during the evening in May and June to prepare their nests.
Day 2: Explore Akaroa from the Land
Start your day at the happiest place on earth, cuddling some Alpacas with us. Shamarra Alpaca Farm is located just 20 minutes’ drive from Akaroa and set overlooking the stunning harbour and surrounding volcanic hills. Meet local celebrities Rising Sun, Austin, Mikado and Equador and get a chance to feed and take a photo with these cuddly creatures!
Tours include a guided walk around the private farm, a visit to the onsite shop where you can buy a range of beautiful alpaca fleece blankets, wraps and beanies as well as enjoy a beverage and homemade cookie at the end of your visit.
Don’t miss a world famous Fish n Chip lunch at Murphs in Akaroa or choose from the numerous restaurants along Akaroas waterfront with many varied menues. Good food not to be missed. An easy walk from the Akaroa waterfront up Rue Balguerie is the Giants House. This historic two-storey villa has been lovingly restored and converted into an artwork and B&B by owner Josie Martin. Josie started 20 years ago by using pretty bits of china she'd dug up while gardening to make a mosaic doorstep – and it evolved from there. Now there's a full-size grand piano outside the main entrance, along with an accompanying band, a sailing ship, a pool and fountain. The garden is a spectacular of sculptures and mosaics, and has been awarded 6 Stars in the 2018 Garden of International Significance!
From here enjoy a short walk to the Akaroa Lighthouse. This lighthouse is one of the most photographed areas in Akaroa and is one of the few remaining examples of early lighthouses used in New Zealand. Originally operating on Akaroa Heads, it was saved from demolition and bought into the bay by the Lighthouse Preservation Society in the 1980s. The hike from the centre of town takes just 10 minutes, and you can view the inside on Sundays, and any day cruise ships are visiting Akaroa. The cost is $2.50 for adults or 50c for children.
For other child-friendly walks in the area try the Kaituna Scenic Reserve or Okuti Valley Scenic Reserve for great picnic spots on hot summer days.
Day 3: Christchurch for Kids
Kid-friendly highlights in Christchurch include the International Antarctic Centre and the Margaret Mahy Playground. At the Antarctic Centre, you can experience indoor snow and ice storms, learn about life in modern day Antarctic and Scott Base, and even hang out with some more Little Blue Penguins. Hear the stories and hut legacies left by explorers Scott and Shackleton, and experience the stunning light and sound show of the four seasons of Antarctica. The Antarctic centre provides warm jackets and over-shoes for their storm experience.
Alongside the Avon River and just a few blocks from Cathedral Square you’ll find the Margaret Mahy Playground – the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. Opened in 2015 and named after the much-loved, and local children's author, this is a celebration of the carefree, uncomplicated, physical fun that childhood is meant to be all about. What's even better though is that grown-ups can play on it too. A whole family can fit abreast on the giant slide, two people can race on the flying fox, operating the water channels can be a group effort, and there's enough sand for a castle as big as you!
Just make sure you have something tempting to do afterwards, or you’ll never persuade the kids to leave this playground!
Akaroa is a must-do if you are down near Christchurch, have a look at our other itineraries for more inspiration.