Things to do in Akaroa, New Zealand: Vive la difference

Vive la difference

There is a mysterious vortex just south of Christchurch on the Banks Peninsular. Either that or our driver has taken a wrong route…  by about 18,000 kilometres, because somehow, we appear to have pulled up in France.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m a Francophile from way back and am quite happy to find myself strolling down the Rue Lavaud, munching on a croissant I nabbed from L’Escargot Rouge in ridiculously pretty Akaroa, a picture-book town that is so overtly French, it’s hard to reconcile that it is only 75 kilometres from Christchurch, a city that is more “British than Britain”. 

So how did a little town, built alongside a deep, sheltered harbour in the eroded crater of an extinct volcano in the South of the Island of New Zealand, get so French?

Whales. You see, in the early 19th century, Akaroa was a provisioning port for the many whaling ships that operated off the island until, in 1838, French whale boat Captain Jean François Langlois decided that Akaroa seemed like a tres jolie place to set up a French colony and in a rather dubious deal persuaded the local Māori people to sell him the entire peninsula for a couple of bucks.

 Akaroa New Zealand

He returned to France to make it happen and sailed back with 53 colonists in 1840, only to find the English had claimed the entire South Island of New Zealand as a British colony under the Treaty of Waitangi three months earlier, and the Union Jack had been raised at Akaroa’s Green’s Point six days earlier. Merde! 

But in an unsual plot twist, rather than waving them au revoir, the British granted the French colonists the right to stay and they formed a French enclave on the Banks Peninsula.

Today there are plenty of things to do in Akaroa with a French flavour as it’s picturesque foreshore is lined with timeless cafés, restaurants, galleries and boutiques, many run by the descendants of the first settlers.


The French flag waves proudly and the streets all bear French names like Rue Jolie and the aforementioned Rue Lavaud, where I leap head first into a little butchery, where amongst the local salmon and manuka honey smoked hams are an array of European charcuterie, French-style terrines, pâtés, and confits and shelves of crusty baguettes.

Akaroa New Zealand: Akaroa Butcher & Delicatessen

I immediately order up a loaf of the crusty bread, a jar of pork rillettes and a little pate because je suis un glouton.

Akaroa Butchery & Delicatessen

I pack up my little paper bagful of French delights and head straight to the waterfront, passing a cute kids playground and wisteria clad gardens to a pretty jetty.

Wisteria clad gardens at Akaroa New Zealand

I sit amongst a gaggle of cranky seagulls to scoff my Gallic goodies and soak up the views of the blue harbour, framed by the lush green and gold of the Peninsula’s bluffs.

Akaroa Harbour New Zealand

It is so blindingly beautiful, even the driftwood is pretty.

Akaroa Harbour, Akaroa New Zealand

In fact, the entire town is like something out of a fairytale, utterly charming yet without a hint of contrived tourist guile. This place is the real deal.  And there’s much more to it than baguettes.

Akaroa New Zealand

There’s a fantastic museum a that delves deeper into the area’s colourful past. And visitors can see a little of it for themselves simply by exploring the town’s streets of pretty historic buildings, some of the oldest in New Zealand.

Akaroa New Zealand Patrick's Catholic Church

From the Old Lighthouse and whitewashed wooden churches to the Giants House, a historic home packed with original artworks, psychedelic terraced gardens with whimsical sculptures and mosaics, each is as storybook perfect as the last.

Akaroa’s beautiful bays and harbour are a marine mammal sanctuary and home to Hector’s dolphins, the world’s rarest and smallest marine dolphin.  You can head on a dolphin watching cruise, SUP, sail or sea kayak alongside your new friendly flippered friends and it’s the only place in the world where you can swim with the playful dolphins in the wild.

Penguin lovers are equally well catered for as Akaroa’s Flea Bay, along with Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula further south, is home to one of the country’s largest penguin colony, and the largest blue penguin colony on mainland New Zealand.

Adventurous types can hike around the crater rim of the extinct volcano or through Nikau Palm Gully, a pocket of forest where along with exploring the diversity of flora and fauna you can visit the top of a stunning waterfall that drops down onto an inaccessible beach.

And, if all that seems like too much hard work, you can join me kicking back with a bottle glass of local wine or the finest French bubbles in one of the many quaint cafes.  Santé!


Disclosure: Mama Eats World visited Akaroa courtesy of Emirates on the A380 Service from Sydney To Christchurch  however all croissant and baguette noshing, and opinions remain her own.

16 Comments on Things to do in Akaroa, New Zealand: Vive la difference

  1. nathalie salcedo
    November 19, 2017 at 4:33 pm (7 years ago)

    I like the idea of having to swim with the dolphins 😀 I think that would be a great experience too.
    Given the opportunity, I’d like to hike as well with your recommended site 😀 truly informational. Thanks!

      November 20, 2017 at 11:19 am (7 years ago)

      Thank you so much. I didn’t get to swim with them this time but will definitely be back to just that next year

  2. Medha Verma
    November 19, 2017 at 5:38 pm (7 years ago)

    Wow, New Zealand is gorgeous and it is great always to stumble upon hidden gems. This French town in the middle of NZ looks absolutely charming, with such amazing scenery! Your pictures are fantastic.

      November 20, 2017 at 11:19 am (7 years ago)

      Thank you. It is a gem.

  3. Marvi
    November 19, 2017 at 7:15 pm (7 years ago)

    Akaroa is so charming! Love the laid back vibe of the town including those seagulls! I wouldn’t say no to swimming with the dolphins, too! 😉 And that history! Imagine acquiring an entire peninsula for a couple of bucks! 😀

      November 20, 2017 at 11:20 am (7 years ago)

      The history is fascinating and yep, a few bucks for a peninsula is pretty good by today’s prices LOL

  4. Shivani
    November 20, 2017 at 5:47 pm (7 years ago)

    A French town hidden right in the middle of NZ is something of a place I would love to explore. Although NZ has its own charm, a little village with a different tone is to look forward to! Impressive that they’ve kept the French charm alive in those houses, churches and those bakeries, I miss authentic croissants already 😀 These pictures make me want to pack my bags and grab a ticket 🙂

  5. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    November 20, 2017 at 7:30 pm (7 years ago)

    Wow he must have been very persuasive to be able to negotiate both those deals! I’ve heard so much about Akaroa but not the story behind it.

  6. Food Shot
    November 21, 2017 at 1:55 pm (7 years ago)

    I would love to visit New Zealand (even though it’s only a 3 hour flight from Sydney), and when I do I have some places to tick off thanks to you Aleney!

  7. Kate
    November 21, 2017 at 4:46 pm (7 years ago)

    This is so interesting! I had no idea that there was a little French enclave in New Zealand. The scenery as usual is gorgeous, but I feel like that’s consistent across the whole country. Do they speak French there or is it just more of the cultural influence?

  8. Jitaditya
    November 22, 2017 at 4:20 am (7 years ago)

    I love the sheer combination of French influence and typican Kiwi landscape! I won’t go so far as to say that I am also a Francophile I do have an ineterst in them. Sadly, I have mostly seen the French through films and literature rather than in real life. That is why I would like to be in some place like this.

  9. Ami Bhat
    November 23, 2017 at 12:06 am (7 years ago)

    I think I like this whole mix of cultures and that is what makes the place charming. Besides that there seems to be plenty to do…as you said, I am the adventurous one and would love that hiking trail. Of course, the glass of wine is always welcome after I am done ; )

  10. Debra Schroeder
    November 23, 2017 at 1:15 am (7 years ago)

    Akaroa looks adorable and who can resist freshly baked baguettes. We’re hoping to get to New Zealand next year and have added it to our list. Nike Palm Gully sounds like a great spot for awesome photos.

  11. TYRA
    April 8, 2019 at 5:06 pm (5 years ago)

    This place is the real deal. And there’s much more to it than baguettes.

  12. Abdi
    July 28, 2021 at 9:11 am (3 years ago)

    I like your article, thank you

  13. Nicole
    August 6, 2023 at 1:25 pm (11 months ago)

    Just wondering if you’d mind my using the top image including the jetty and driftwood for a painting I’d like to do for a friend?


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Hey, I’m Aleney! A mum, award-winning travel writer, magazine editor and gallivanting glutton. He’s Raff, the “boy” in boyeatsworld, and a fearless foodie, adventurer and eco-warrior. Along with his all-singing, all-dancing, all-adventurous sister, Sugarpuff, we’re exploring the world’s colour, culture and cuisine on a food safari for the junior set.

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