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Top things to do in Akaroa

Known for extensive marine wildlife and its rich history, Akaroa makes for a culture-rich and adventurous weekend getaway on the South Island of New Zealand. Akaroa, meaning ‘Long Harbour’ in Maori, sits on the Bank Peninsula directly above an ancient volcano, almost 75 kilometres south of Christchurch.

With extensive harbours and bays, the historically French and English settlement offers a range of water activities including diving with dolphins, sailing, and sea kayaking. While you’re not busy out exploring the clear-blue waters, the cafes, markets, the Akaroa Art Gallery, and the colonial architecture at the Giants House, are a must-see.

The vibrant small-town makes for an amazing summertime destination and a romantic winter getaway. It is also a paradise for foodies, where visitors can enjoy the extensive wineries like the Takamatua Valley Vineyard, visit local farms, and indulge in Mediterranean-like cuisine at the local Akaroa Cooking School.

The town also offers amazing hiking and bush trails on the Greater Banks Peninsula for those looking for expansive landscape views of the ocean and rolling landscape.

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Top 10 Things to do in Akaroa

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Experience Oz Staff
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New Zealand’s Akaroa region is nature’s equivalent of your favourite theme park, boasting an unreal amount of natural attractions, wildlife, landscapes and smiling faces (they’re naturally occurring too!).

Nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano, this historic French and British settlement is teeming with life.

The village features beautiful colonial architecture with a variety of galleries, cafés, restaurants, and bars to keep you busy at all hours of the day.

Beyond the village lies a plethora of outer bays, home to some of New Zealand’s most iconic wildlife.

Akaroa portrays its natural beauty in truly dramatic fashion, with the regions astonishing coastline confirming it as one of New Zealand’s most heralded destination.

We have compiled a list of our top 10 must-do experiences Akaroa has to offer.

1. Swim with Dolphins

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Location: 61 Beach Road, Akaroa, New Zealand

If you’re visiting Akaroa, you simply can’t pass up the chance to have a meet and greet with the world’s smallest and friendliest dolphins, the Hector’s Dolphin.

Coming in at number one on our top things to do in Akaroa, and widely considered one of the best marine mammal experiences in the world, Black Cat Cruises’ ‘Swim with the Dolphins Experience‘ is truly a once in a lifetime encounter.

Akaroa is the only place on the planet where you can take a trip out to swim with the Hector’s Dolphin (found exclusively in New Zealand waters), and tours are limited to 12 swimmers per vessel, ensuring there are plenty of chances to see them up close.

"If getting introduced to dolphins isn’t enough, you will also be exposed to some spectacular views of the flooded volcanic crater and awe-inspiring volcanic cliffs, both prominent features of the picturesque Banks Peninsula."

However, with only 12 swimmers per vessel, sell-outs are extremely common and we would strongly recommend booking in advance. The cruise also requires all swimmers to be at least 8 years old, and a parent must accompany all children under 12.

The tour does offer spectator tickets, however, at least one parent will need to remain on board for children under 12.

2. Nature Cruise

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Location: 65 Beach Road, Akaroa, New Zealand

Experience Akaroa’s abundant wildlife from the comfort of Black Cat Cruises’ modern 60-foot catamaran.

Voted the number one wildlife activity in New Zealand, this award-winning cruise takes you on a voyage through Akaroa’s spectacular harbour, complete with an extinct volcanic crater and New Zealand’s very own Hector Dolphins.

The vessel is complete with a bar, two decks, and plenty of covered seating, for shade and shelter.

"Each cruise is also fully narrated by your skipper who is teeming with extensive local knowledge of the nature, wildlife and history of the harbour."

Along with Hector Dolphins, the tour also includes glimpses of the White Flippered Blue Penguin, the smallest penguin in the world.

You’ll also be treated to the sights and sounds of a variety of bird species throughout the cruise, including five different cormorants (shag) species and the endangered yellow-eyed penguin.

3. Pohatu's Penguin Habitat

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Location:2/8 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa, NZ

Visit some of New Zealand’s cutest residence at Pohatu’s Penguin Habitat, home to the largest Penguin colony on mainland New Zealand.

Pohatu Penguins offer evening penguin tours with a scenic 4WD trip to Pohatu, a less expensive self-drive option, or a two-hour scenic nature safari.

"The tour provides an increasingly rare opportunity to see penguins up close and personal in their natural habitat and is the only place in New Zealand where you can easily see penguins gathering and socialising on the water."

For the full penguin experience, there is even an overnight tour, which includes staying in a cosy unit or authentic colonial cottage right in the heart of the colony.

Whichever experience you choose, you’re sure to see plenty of adorable penguins!

4. NightSUP Akaroa

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Location: 58 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa, NZ

If you’re up for doing things differently, NightSUP in Akaroa has reinvented the stand-up paddle board experience with their LED enhanced after dark tours.

NightSUP uses state of the art, purpose built 1,600 Lumen multi-colour LED Lighting Systems, along with super-stable, high quality stand up paddle boards.

"The tours start out with a detailed safety briefing and lessons to ensure even the shakiest first-time paddler can stand up and enjoy the full experience."

After you’ve selected your personalised setup from seven different LED colours and three different modes, you’ll be free to glide across the beautiful shore fronts of Akaroa’s iconic bays, absorbing the scenic surrounds in an entirely new light.

Upon finding your sea legs, your tour group of up to nine paddlers will follow your guide along the picturesque shorelines for a full hour, watching the sea-bed come to life beneath the lights.

This experience is a clever piece of ingenuity for an otherwise typical beachside experience, and with built-in night lights, even those of us still afraid of the dark can enjoy Akaroa’s aquatic nightlife from the safety of your board.

5. The Giant's House

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Location: 68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa, NZ

It’s not every day you can stroll through a backyard that’s been endorsed as a garden of national significance, but that’s exactly what you get with Akaroa’s very own The Giant’s House.

Conveniently located in a secluded cul-de-sac only a few minutes walk from the centre of Akaroa, the house is both grand in size and significance.

"The Giant’s House is a historic Akaroa house with original artworks, terraced gardens, sculptures, and mosaics. It’s a beautifully unique property with expressive displays that exude creativity."

Built in 1880 of totara and kauri, The Giant’s House was the first bank manager’s house in Akaroa. It is designed and decorated in French styling, with a balance of contemporary and historic influences making the house a truly magical visit.

Currently the home of an artist, The Giant’s House is a haven for the creative. So if you’re a bit artsy, or just have a soft spot for the unusual, you’ll thoroughly enjoy visiting Akaroa’s quirkiest home.

6. Akaroa Cooking School

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Location: 81 Beach Road, Akaroa, New Zealand

With every session ending in the consumption of your own self-prepared feast, complimented by a New Zealand wine, the Akaroa Cooking School’s ‘Gourmet in a Day’ and ‘Ultimate BBQ’ classes are great ways to combine a delightfully unique experience with an appetizing lunch (depending on how you go!).

While the classes aren’t cheap (starting at $225 per person) the experience is certainly filling. The school also dabbles in a variety of classes that focus on specific ethnic cuisines, such as A Day in France, Spanish Tapas or Asian Inspirations.

Whether you’re a thorough-bread foodie (I’m sorry), or just interested in picking up something new to try out instead of your typical Monday night spaghetti on toast, taking a class at the Akaroa Cooking School is an unforgettable experience worth adding to any itinerary.

7. Shamarra Alpaca Farm

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Location: 328 Wainui Main Road, Akaroa, NZ

With stunning panoramic views of the Akaroa Harbour and located just a short 20-minute drive from town, the beautiful Shamarra Alpaca Farm is home to approximately 130 domesticated alpacas.

The farm tours provide the complete alpaca experience, including an informative and interactive introduction to the alpaca, the opportunity to handle their soft fleece, and the chance to get up close and personal with some of the farms very own herd. You’ll even have the chance to walk one on a lead!

The tour runs for approximately one hour, with pick ups available for cruise ship passengers and visitors travelling to Akaroa by Akaroa Shuttle or the Akaroa French Connection.

8. Akaroa Lighthouse

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Location: Beach Road, Akaroa, NZ

One of the communities most prized possessions; the Akaroa Lighthouse is a shining example of a man-made attraction perfectly complimenting the natural beauty of its surroundings.

Running daily tours manned by volunteers, the Lighthouse requires a steady flow of funds to be reinvested into its own preservation.

The iconic Akaroa landmark offers picturesque views of the surrounding bay, while the Lighthouse itself is a photogenic piece of history.

The imposing six-sided, wooden lighthouse looks positively captivating atop its perch at Cemetery Point.

First built at the entrance to Akaroa Harbour, on rugged headland more than 80 metres above sea level, the Lighthouse was disassembled and relocated following 1977 when it was replaced with an automatic light.

9. Akaroa Museum

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Location: 71 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa, NZ

If history is more your thing, then the Akaroa Museum, located just a short stroll down the road, provides a fascinating journey back in time with a particular focus on the Banks Peninsula.

Established in 1964, the museum includes three exhibition galleries, a research room, and theatre, along with its own shop. The museum also cares for two additional heritage buildings; the old Akaroa Court House and the Custom House.

The museum’s collections vary from archives, archaeology, and art, right through to zoology. Open seven days a week, 363 days a year, their small team of four permanent staff, along with a handful of casuals and volunteers, will be available to welcome you in and show you around no matter your timetable.

10. Banks Peninsula War Memorial

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Location: 81 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa, NZ

An attraction worth a visit in the middle of town, Akaroa’s very own war memorial, provides a complimentary piece of architecture to an already pleasant setting in the town’s centre.

Beautifully put together and surrounded by an idyllic garden setting, the memorial stands as a reminder of the sacrifices made by the people named there, framed behind the bordering stonewalls.

As an excuse to rest weary legs, the surrounding park provides a lovely spot to take a seat and enjoy a relaxing day in the sun.

On a particularly nice day, you can even set up picnics at the various tables in the areas overlooking the bay, further adding to the spot’s appeal.

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