Of all the places we went to in New Zealand my favourite place was the charming town of Akaroa on the South Island. In this guide we round up the best things do in Akaroa New Zealand from dolphin cruises, how to see penguins and much much more!
A Bit About the History of Akaroa
Akaroa is a beautiful bay town on the South Island of New Zealand. In Maori Akaroa means long Harbour which perfectly describes this town! It has a history of a whaling community when it was found by the French! Today Akaroa still has a charming quaint French feel about it especially in its cafe and along the high street!
The town itself is small with under 1000 residents but during peak season the town population can swell with backpackers and cruise ship tourists!
How to do an Akaroa day trip from Christchurch
Very few people stay in Akaroa itself and it is more commonly visited as a day trip from Christchurch!
Akaroa is the perfect day trip from Christchurch! The best way to do an Akaroa day trip from Christchurch, like anywhere in New Zealand is to have your own vehicle! It takes an hour and a half to get from Christchurch by car!
If you do decide to drive and want to stay overnight in Akaroa there are plenty of accomodation options including some really charming B&Bs!
Best Things to Do in Akaroa New Zealand
See the Akaroa Dolphins – the World’s Smallest Dolphins
The one thing that drew us to visiting Akaroa was to see the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins – the Hector’s Dolphins! These These are the only dolphins endemic to New Zealand and are a must for any New Zealand Bucket List!
These dolphins are extremely curious and when you are out on the water you will find these species will happily approach the boat so you will get a really great view!
To see the dolphins close up you will need to go on an organised tour into the bay!
My preference is always to go on Eco Friendly – low impact wildlife tours – a great example of this is this wildlife sailing cruise!
However those travelling with children will need to go on one of the larger organised tours such as this as the sailing cruises will only accommodate children over 5!
For the more adventurous among you there are also options to go swimming with dolphins! I personally do not like the swim with dolphin enclosures that you find in theme parks etc however this is an example of where you can get in the water with the animals in the wild! The numbers of people are limited to 12 per vessel and have a maximum of 45 minutes in the water to protect the animals!
If you would like to swim with the world’s smallest dolphins check out the details here!
Please note: this activity is only available to those visiting Akaroa in Summer!
And See Akaroa Penguins – the World’s Smallest Penguins
On top of seeing the world’s smallest dolphins, Akaroa is also home to the world’s smallest penguins! Known as Pohatu Penguins or Little Blue Penguins or Fairy Penguins and in the native Maori language as Korora! These penguins are adorable and were a highlight for my penguin obsessed daughter!
In my opinion Akaroa is one of the best wildlife destinations in the world!
Again the best way to see these creatures is to take a wildlife cruise!
Kayak the Bay
The water in the bay around Akaroa is actually pretty still and is a great place to go kayaking! There is even a chance you will to see some wildlife from your kayak!
Click here for more information about Kayaking in Akaroa!
Have lunch in a French Bistro
The French influences in Akaroa are still going strong and there are many charming French influenced cafes where you can stop for lunch! We ate at the Sweet As French Bakery which was delicious and a perfect place to stop for lunch in Akaroa!
If French food isn’t your thing the town also has a great reputation for fish and chips!
Explore the town
The town of Akaroa itself is charming with its overt French influences! Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to explore the charming town and stop for a coffee on the harbour front!
Spend Time on Akaroa Beach
Akaroa has a small but well formed beach! If you are lucky enough to get good weather on your day in Akaroa (which let’s face it is never guaranteed in New Zealand) be sure to head down to the beach to catch some rays!
Go For a Hike
There are many hikes that are easily accessible from Akaroa! Depending on whether you are just doing a day trip or if you have more time to spend in Akaroa there are hikes of varying lengths and difficulties!
For more information please see the Banks Peninsula website!
See the Akaroa Lighthouse
The Akaroa Lighthouse is one of the Akaroa attractions on your list! The Lighthouse is actually located inside the bay as the lighthouse was saved from demolition and bought into the bay by lighthouse enthusiasts!
From the centre the hike to the Akaroa is really simple and can be done with kids! It only takes about an hour as a round trip and the lighthouse offers some great views of the town!
Tips for Visiting Akaroa with Kids
If you are travelling to Akaroa with kids you needn’t worry there are plenty of things to do with them in town!
My top tips for visiting Akaroa with kids are
- Be sure to check the wildlife excursions you are taking to make sure there are no minimum age requirements
- If you want to take a hike with kids in Akaroa then check the Banks Peninsula website which has a variety of child friendly hike options!
- There is a playground near the secondary smaller dock in town! This playground is lovely and positioned close to where the smaller boat company excursions leave and next to some French cafes!
The Perfect one Day Akaroa Itinerary
If you are looking for the perfect one day Akaroa itinerary – whether you are spending time there or are simply doing an Akaroa day trip from Christchurch this itinerary will work for you!
Grab a coffee in one of the beautiful harbour front cafes before heading off on a hike!
The hike will take you roughly one hour round trip to the Akaroa lighthouse – one of the must visit Akaroa attractions! You will be rewarded with great views of the town!
Once back in town explore the town at your leisure!
Grab lunch at one of the French Bistros and Cafes in town! We ate at Sweet As and really enjoyed our lunch and would recommend it!
I would pick from one of the following three wildlife excursions dependent on what you are most interested in:
Have you been to Akaroa? Did you do Akaroa as a day trip from Christchurch or did you stay there? What was your favourite things to do in Akaroa New Zealand