If you’re looking for a compact tourist town full of historic sights, awesome short walks and waters teeming with dolphins, you’ll want to add Akaroa to your New Zealand itinerary. Akaroa is most famous for its French influence, but there are heaps of other fun things to do in Akaroa. The hills above town are home to heaps of walks and viewpoints and you’ll struggle to find a better dolphin watching experience anywhere in else in New Zealand.
Explore the Old Town
One of the best things to do in Akaroa is also the easiest – exploring the old town on foot! You’ll notice the French influence straight away, especially the street names and the way some of the business are decorated. I don’t think many of the buildings actually date back to the French settlement origins, but the atmosphere makes up for it.
There’s a museum to check out (it doesn’t take too long to look around) and the old lighthouse down by the waterfront is nice too. Other than that, there isn’t much else to specifically seek out, just wander the streets and enjoy the vibe!
Eating and Drinking
There are some great cafes and restaurants in Akaroa, as well as really good French deli. You’ll find your typical French food options but there are plenty of cafes and restaurants that don’t lean into that side of things.
Dolphin watching is easily one of the best things to do in Akaroa and is the main reason to visit outside of the old town. Dolphin watching trips depart almost every day and you have a great chance of seeing dolphins (we saw a dozen or so on our trip). The cruises also give you a good look at the scenery near Akaroa, and you might spot some seals and maybe a penguin.
Walks in Akaroa
There are lots of walks in and around Akaroa and most of them are fairly short and easy. I listed some of the most popular ones below, but they aren’t the only ones.
Newton’s Waterfall is only a short walk or drive from town and is quite different to other walks in Akaroa. The waterfall itself is pretty, if low-key, and the walk to get there takes you through the forest and is quite relaxing.
The Hinewai Reserve is a 15-minute drive away from Akaroa. I only did a short section of the track (and the view was awesome) but it’d be worth descending into the bush if you have the time.
Children’s Bay Walkway
Children’s Bay Walkway is one of the closer walks to downtown Akaroa and it features something a little out of the ordinary. The walk itself is straightforward (and there are some nice views of Akaroa from the top) but it’s the big animal statues that will catch your eye. I saw a little group of giraffes on the way and there’s a big metallic rhino at the top. If your kids can handle a bit of uphill hiking, they’ll love the animals!
Otepatotu Scenic Reserve
High on the hills above Akaroa, the Otepatotu Scenic Reserve is one of the best places to see this beautiful area in all its glory. The view from the car park is great, but it’s even better from the top of the track (it should take around an hour to walk there and back).
Onawe Pa Walk
This small peninsula / pa (fortified settlement) is a short drive from Akaroa (it’s just before Akaroa on the main road from Christchurch) and there’s an easy walking track which takes you to the end. There are great views from several points along the Onawe Pa Track and it’s an easy undertaking.
Scenic Roads and Viewpoints
As well as the walks I’ve mentioned, there are heaps of little viewpoints on the roads above Akaroa. Some are proper places (Akaroa Heritage Park) but some of the best views are when you pull over by the side of the road. These are some of the most scenic coastal roads in New Zealand and there’s heaps to explore (stay tuned for my post about the drive from Christchurch to Akaroa for more info).
Beaches near Akaroa
There are several beaches and bays near Akaroa and it’s worth checking out one of two of them as you drive the scenic hilltop roads. I haven’t been to all of them, but I hear the ones below are some of the best (as well as Hickory Bay and Flea Bay).
There’s a cave, a museum and a lovely stretch of beach at Okains Bay. It’s a short drive to get there (the roads are winding though) and it’s a good place to add to your itinerary if you’re also keen to explore some of the other places above (it’s close to the Hinewai Reserve and the Otepatotu Scenic Reserve).
Le Bons Bay
Le Bons Bay is pretty similar to Okains Bay (not sure you need to visit both) but a little quieter. It’s great for a late afternoon stroll!
The waterfront area in Akaroa is a good place to be on a nice day. There are plenty of places to sit and there’s a path running a long much of it. There’s also an old lighthouse to look at and there are some hotels which take advantage of the nice views.
Other Things to Do in Akaroa
There are a few other things to do in Akaroa, including galleries, kayaking and penguin spotting tours and the two popular places listed below.
Garden of Tane
I visited this place in winter, so it wasn’t really at its best, but it’d be a good place to visit in the warmer months. There’s a lot to explore and there are some decent views in some areas. It’s also a short walk from town and is close to Newton’s Waterfall.
Duvauchelle is a tiny town on the way to Akaroa featuring an old hotel and some colourful boat sheds. There’s also a camping ground there which would be an awesome place to stay in the summer. You’ll turn off at Duvauchelle if you’re doing the Onawe Pa Walk, which is a few minutes drive from the hotel.
I haven’t been to this quirky little garden thing, but I’ve heard it’s worth checking out. Let me know if you’ve been and whether you recommend it for our readers!
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