In 1840, when the French sea captain Jean Francois Langlois sailed into Akaroa Harbor, he planned to establish a French colony on the south end of the Banks Peninsula. After all, on his previous visit, he had made arrangements with a Maori chief for a provisional purchase of the land. To the surprise of Captain Langlois, however, his utopian port on the South Island of New Zealand had already been claimed by the British. After a lengthy bout of negotiations, it was determined that both the French and the English would agree to share the coastline.
Today, when visiting Akaroa as part of a tour from Christchurch, this unique fusion of French and English influence is apparent as you stroll through the town. Walk the length of Rue Lavaud and grab a table at an outdoor café, or stop and marvel at the Victorian homes which sit tucked at the base of the hills. It’s almost as if the Banks Peninsula—itself formed by an ancient volcano which is now deeply and dramatically eroded—acts as a barrier that keeps the modernity of Christchurch from creeping over the hills.
More than just the town itself, however, the beauty of a tour to Akaroa begins the moment you leave Christchurch behind. On the 90-minute drive between Christchurch and Akaroa you will pass by cheese shops, wineries, and coves. You will weave your way through a rural landscape that looks much the same as when the French first arrived, and considering the beauty and level of history, this is one of the best ways to spend a day outside the city.
As if the scenery and setting weren’t enough, however, many of the Akaroa tours from Christchurch also involve motoring out into the harbor. The Akaroa Harbor is a protected inlet which is actually the caldera of an ancient volcano, and not only is the water refreshingly calm, but it’s also home to Hector’s dolphins which frolic in the harbor by the dozens. As long as the dolphins aren’t actively mating or calving their newborn children, you’ll have the chance to slip on a wet suit and swim with the playful wildlife.
When you combine the adventure with the rural surroundings, as well as the relatively short distance of travel, a tour to Akaroa when staying in Christchurch should be a highlight of a South Island itinerary.