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On the eastern side of New Zealand’s South Island lies Akaroa or ‘Long Harbour’, a diminutive French town of colonial-style buildings which rests in a sheltered natural harbour amongst a vast landscape of green volcanic hills.
The town lies in the heart of an extinct volcano whose crater eroded and flooded with seawater about 15,000 years ago, forming the natural harbour of Akaroa as it is today. Lying 46 miles from Christchurch, the town offers visitors a unique combination of French, British and Maori culture.
Akaroa enjoys a busy tourist season during the summer months and its population swells considerably during this time. As such there’s a great selection of things for visitors to do:
Found only in New Zealand, this tiny dolphin was named after Sir James Hector, who was the first to examine the species. The dolphin has a distinctive black mask and rounded fin, and since shallow coastal waters form their natural habitat, these friendly, playful but sadly rare animals are never usually far from shore. Some cruise line excursions to Akaroa include the chance to swim with the dolphins or to see them from the deck of a wildlife cruise boat, allowing visitors to see these remarkable marine mammals up close.
Try the Akaroa Musuem for an in-depth look at the history, art, archaeology and wildlife of the town and the surrounding Banks Peninsula. The museum complex can be found on Rue Lavaud in the town centre, and comprises three heritage buildings: the Customs House, the Court House and Eteveneaux cottage, all dating back to the Anglo-French colonial period of the mid-to-late 1800s. The museum’s collections include native Maori weavings and artifacts, as well as objects produced or imported by European explorers and settlers. Costumes, tools, books and art also feature, as well as old postcards and souvenirs from the days when Akaroa was first promoted as a holiday destination. Visitors can also see a film charting the origins of the area from its volcanic beginnings right up to recent historical and cultural developments.
Traditional Akaroa farming
Some cruise lines also offer excursions to see Akaroa’s surrounding farmland, where visitors might get the opportunity to speak with farmers who have held vast acreages in the region for generations – and to hear their stories about living and working in rural New Zealand. Along with the country’s enormous number of sheep comes a rich tradition of sheep herding, and you may get the chance to see sheepdogs rounding up their flock; alongside relaxing walks through farmland and surrounding countryside. Some trips even offer homemade refreshments and walks through adjoining gardens full of native plants – the perfect way to relax in the New Zealand countryside.
Local art boutiques, craft shops and galleries fill Akaroa’s centre, where French street names and architecture sit in pleasant contrast to the surrounding New Zealand landscape. Walk the charming lanes and nearby promenades of this historic town – always in sight of the harbour and surrounding hills – and find wonderful colonial-style wool shops, cheesemakers, galleries and gift shops along the way.
For a town that takes no longer than 15 minutes to cross, Akaroa presents visitors with a fantastic concentration of bars, cafes, restaurants and bistros – many of which are situated by the sea. The emphasis is very much on locally-produced fare, from fresh produce and fish caught or farmed in the surrounding area to cheeses, wines and micro-brewed beer all made on Akaroa’s doorstep. The town has everything for food lovers, from locally farmed salmon or lamb to fresh croissants, fish and chips and locally cured chorizo.
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