23 Things to Do in Akaroa, NZ South Island | 2024 (with Photos)

James A. Smith

James A. Smith - Chief Editor

Last Updated: April 1, 2024

Things to Do in Akaroa, NZ South Island

Banks Peninsula is a small, volcanic peninsula located on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Sitting in the center of this mountainous landscape is Akaroa Harbour and the small town of Akaroa.

It is a beautiful spot to visit and often overlooked on the fastest of road trips through New Zealand. But we think it is well worth it to spend a day or two here, particularly for those who like scenic drives, wildlife experiences, and the charm of a small, coastal town.

In this article, we'll take you on a journey through Akaroa and its surroundings, based on a tour which the Travel-Lingual team took with Black Cat Cruises.

Get ready to discover the magic of this hidden gem nestled amidst the stunning landscapes of the South Island.

From encountering playful dolphins to savoring French-inspired cuisine, there's something for every traveler to enjoy in Akaroa.

Join us as we explore the wonders of this picturesque corner of New Zealand.

1. Watch Hector's Dolphins with Black Cat Cruises

Black Cat Cruises

Embark on a thrilling adventure with Black Cat Cruises to witness the playful antics of Hector's Dolphins, one of the world's smallest and rarest dolphin species, frolicking in Akaroa Harbour.

Established and managed by a fifth-generation Banks Peninsula resident, these cruises are run by the longest-running nature cruise operator on the peninsula. 

They prioritize safety, customer experience, conservation, and passion in all their endeavors.

Step aboard the harbor's largest, most spacious, and stable catamaran as you glide through the heart of an extinct volcanic crater.

2. Dolphin Swimming on a Harbor Cruise

Fox II Sailing

For a more immersive experience, dive into the crystal-clear waters of Akaroa Harbour and swim alongside these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

Black Cat Cruises offers a 3-hour cruise where you can swim with Hector's dolphins, as well as a very similar 2-hour nature cruise.

Tours at Black Cat Cruises depart from the Main Wharf, Beach Road.

3. See Little Blue Penguins

Pōhatu penguins

Exploring the Pōhatu Penguins is among the top attractions in Akaroa. These evening tours guide visitors to the largest colony of Australasian little penguins and their nesting sites on mainland New Zealand.

Participants have the opportunity to engage in the monitoring program and gain insights into the white-flippered penguins (Eudyptula minor albosignata), which represent the local Canterbury variant of the Australasian little penguin, as we.

Discover the area's rich history, native flora and fauna, and the distinctive penguin conservation efforts of Pōhatu on this tour of the penguin colony.

4. Watch New Zealand Fur Seals in Their Natural Habitat

New Zealand Fur Seals

Observing New Zealand fur seals in their natural environment is a delightful experience, as these creatures exhibit playful behavior that never fails to captivate, making this one of the most unique things to do in Akaroa, New Zealand.

Akaroa's seal colony is a prime example of this enchanting spectacle. To witness these seals in action, consider joining wildlife cruises like the Black Cat Nature Cruise and Coast Up Close, departing from the Akaroa wharf.

Departures for cruises are from Akaroa Wharf.

5. See White Flippered Penguins

White Flippered Penguins

The penguins residing near Akaroa at Pohatu are truly unique. Known as White-flippered penguins, they are a distinct variant of the Little penguin species.

Distinguished by the white leading and trailing edges on their flippers, they bear a slight height advantage over their counterparts, the Little Blue penguins, found in various regions of New Zealand and Australia.

6. Sea Kayak from Akaroa Harbour

Akaroa Guided Kayak Safari

Akaroa stands out as a premier destination for sea kayaking in New Zealand.

Its neon blue and green waters, along with its pristine marine reserve, make it a highlight of numerous travel itineraries across the country and one of the best things to do in Akaroa for anyone.

The importance of small group sizes cannot be overstated, as they allow for visits to fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas.

Rest assured, kayaking in this marine reserve is conducted in a low-impact and environmentally responsible manner, ensuring peace of mind as you explore.

7. See the Akaroa Lighthouse

Akaroa Lighthouse

Include the Akaroa Lighthouse in your itinerary for a splendid vista of Akaroa and its harbor. Perched atop a terrace, it offers a magnificent viewpoint of the town.

Before being retired, it was 10km away on the Akaroa Heads, at the entry to the harbor.

Access to the Akaroa Lighthouse is free, and ample parking is available. However, do note that the lighthouse has limited opening hours, typically only a few days per week.

If timing doesn't align, relish the panoramic view from the vicinity of the lighthouse instead.

8. Visit The Akaroa Museum

Akaroa Museum

The Akaroa Museum showcases displays detailing the rich history of Banks Peninsula.

Housed within the historic Langlois-Eteveneaux cottage, the Akaroa Court House, and the Custom House, it offers insights into the area's past.

Admission is free, and a typical visit lasts around 30 minutes.

9. Visit The Giants’ House

The Giants’ House

This cool mosaic garden, newly acknowledged as a 'Garden of International Significance,' brims with artistic ingenuity and charm.

Within the bounds of The Giants House, you'll encounter a diverse array of vibrant sculptures, some of which boast interactive elements and concealed delights.

The Giants’ House evokes a sense of childlike wonder in all who visit, offering a picturesque setting for memorable holiday photos.

10. The Hinewai Reserve

Hinewai Reserve

The Hinewai Reserve stands as a privately owned ecological restoration initiative accessible to all visitors at no cost.

Encompassing 1,250 hectares in the southeastern region of Banks Peninsula, it lies just east of Akaroa township.

Within the reserve, numerous walking tracks wind through its expanse, catering to varying levels of difficulty and offering an immersive experience in the natural splendor of the area, with the main attraction being Stony Bay Peak.

11. Sample Cheese at Barrys Bay Cheese

Barrys Bay Cheese

A delightful stop for food enthusiasts traveling to or from Akaroa is a visit to Barrys Bay Cheese factory store.

Indulge in tasting sessions featuring handcrafted, award-winning New Zealand cheeses, including beloved varieties such as Havarti, Maasdam, Aged Gouda, Rinded Cheddar, and Peninsula Blue.

On weekdays, witness the skilled cheesemakers in action through the viewing window of their factory shop.

You can also explore a selection of local wines, craft beer, preserves, and other culinary delights available for purchase.

A visit to Barrys Bay Cheese is an experience that combines savory flavors with a glimpse into the artistry behind artisanal cheese production.

12. Explore The Misty Peaks Reserve

Misty Peaks Reserve

Encompassing more than 500 hectares (1,236 acres), the Misty Peaks Reserve conceals the picturesque Newton’s Waterfall.

This easy 30-minute stroll is conveniently accessible from the town center and offers a tranquil escape from bustling crowds, making it an ideal afternoon activity and one of the most enjoyable things to do in Akaroa.

To reach this destination, take Lighthouse Road from Akaroa. Approximately halfway along the route, the paved road transitions into gravel. During our journey, we found the gravel road to be adequately maintained, although there were occasional potholes and rough patches.

13. Explore Newton’s Waterfall

Newton’s Waterfall

Embark on a delightful stroll to Newton’s Waterfall, reachable in just a short 10-minute walk.

The trail is gentle, making it accessible for children and individuals with varying fitness levels.

In the summer months, this charming 9-meter-high waterfall may exhibit minimal water flow or even run dry.

Its most spectacular display occurs following a substantial rainfall or during the late autumn to early spring seasons.

14. Discover Unexpected Delights on the Children’s Bay Walkway

Children’s Bay Walkway

An essential excursion, particularly for families, is the Children’s Bay Walkway, which offers more than its name suggests, including surprising encounters with "wildlife."

Dubbed the "Rhino Walk" locally, this route leads you up a headland on a one-hour return walk or three-hour circuit, where you'll soon understand the nickname.

Revel in picturesque views of Akaroa Harbour and its surrounding bays while keeping an eye out for metal sculptures nestled in the tall grass.

Related Article: Exciting Things to Do in New Zealand

15. Hike the Te Ara Pātaka

Te Ara Pātaka

Embark on the Te Ara Pātaka/Summit Walkway for an exhilarating ridge hike, though challenging, promises rewarding vistas.

Enjoy sweeping panoramas encompassing the entire peninsula, the vast ocean, and stretching as far as the Southern Alps.

This 2-3-day trek boasts several huts along the route, which require advance booking.

Note that seasonal restrictions apply, with the track closed for lambing from 8 August to 15 October annually.

16. Meet the Alpacas at Shamarra Alpacas

Shamarra Alpacas

A delightful surprise awaits visitors in Akaroa at Shamarra Alpacas, where tours offer encounters with their charming herd of irresistibly cute and fluffy alpacas.

The farm tour begins with a brief introduction to alpacas and their endearing quirky habits, followed by a visit to the barn to meet an alpaca for a safety briefing and to experience the luxurious softness of their wool.

Venture out to the paddocks to interact with, feed, and pet the herd, and perhaps even witness the heartwarming sight of adorable baby alpacas to experience one of the most unique things to do in Akaroa, New Zealand.

17. Play Mini Golf

Akaroa Mini Golf

For families traveling with children or those seeking some entertainment within the town, Akaroa boasts its own miniature golf course.

This unique attraction features a Jurassic SteamPunk theme, setting it apart from conventional mini golf courses, although the greens themselves maintain a standard design.

While we may not consider it among the top miniature golf courses in Aotearoa, it offers a pleasant diversion for those with extra time to spare in this charming township.

18. Explore the Ōnawe Peninsula

Ōnawe Peninsula

The Ōnawe Peninsula, protruding into Akaroa Harbour, offers the opportunity for a scenic hike. Once home to a Maōri village, it now serves as a captivating site for exploration.

Accessible via Ōnawe Flat Road, a narrow dirt track with stunning harbor views, a small parking area awaits at the peninsula's base. From there, visitors can embark on the hike, enjoying solitude amidst the natural beauty.

To return to Akaroa, travelers can drive around the peninsula via Ōnawe Flat Road, which offers similarly breathtaking vistas.

19. Enjoy a Promenade Along the Akaroa Waterfront

Akaroa Waterfront Motels

Taking a leisurely stroll along this picturesque stretch is a delightful activity, with opportunities for lunch or dinner in town.

You can find fish and chips at Akaroa Fish & Chips, an enjoyable dining experience. More recently, we savored dinner at Bully Hayes Restaurant, situated adjacent to Akaroa Fish & Chips.

Along the waterfront, visitors can also explore the Akaroa Visitor Centre, indulge in shopping, or dine at various other restaurants. Harbar Beachbar & Kitchen, a waterfront cocktail bar, offers a prime location for unwinding amidst the scenic views.

20. Visit Banks Peninsula War Memorial

Peninsula War Memorial

Constructed to honor the fallen soldiers of the Great War from 1914 to 1919, the Banks Peninsula War Memorial also commemorates those who perished during the South African War and World War II.

Situated along the waterfront in Akaroa, this memorial stands as a solemn tribute to the sacrifices made.

Admission is free, allowing visitors to pay their respects at their leisure.

21. Check Out Ethel's Cinema, Café & Bar

Ethel's Cinema, Café & Bar

While it may seem unconventional to recommend a movie theater, New Zealand's cinemas offer a unique experience. Ethel's Cinema, Café & Bar is no exception.

Here, you can indulge in delectable fare, such as warm chocolate brownies with ice cream and hot sandwiches, all within the cozy confines of comfortable seats. Plus, you can enjoy beer or wine while watching the film.

On a rainy day in Akaroa, Ethel's Cinema is a top choice for entertainment, providing an enjoyable escape from the weather.

22. See That Damn Square

That Damn Square

This may seem like an unusual recommendation, but it's worth noting as you journey towards Akaroa.

The Damn Square refers to a peculiar sight: a perfectly square patch of trees growing on a hillside near Motukarara, along State Highway 75. You'll likely encounter it on your way to Akaroa.

While it may not be worth a special detour, it certainly provides a curious break in the drive. Visible directly from the road, you can pause for a quick photo if you're intrigued.

23. Visit the Akaroa Craft Distillery

Akaroa Craft Distillery

The creators behind Akaroa Craft Distillery assert that their gin embodies the rich heritage of the region.

If you're intrigued by this type of history lesson, pay a visit to their Tasting House where you can sample their distinctive concoctions crafted from indigenous botanicals like bladder kelp, cherry blossom, lavender, and pinot noir.

FAQs Relating to the Best Things to do in Akaroa & Banks Peninsula

Here are also some of the most frequently asked questions about the best things to do in Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula

How do I spend a day in Akaroa?

Spend a day in Akaroa by exploring its charming township nestled on the south-east side of the picturesque Akaroa Harbour.

Start with a leisurely stroll through the streets lined with historic buildings, followed by a harbor cruise to admire the ancient volcanic landscapes of Banks Peninsula or visit the Pōhatu marine reserve.

Indulge in French-inspired cuisine at local eateries, visit boutique shops, and unwind with scenic walks along the harbor.

What is Akaroa famous for?

Akaroa is renowned for being the only French settlement in New Zealand, offering a unique cultural experience amidst the stunning landscapes of Banks Peninsula with an endemic ancient forest and amazing local wildlife .

Its special point of difference lies in its rich history, evident in the preserved French architecture, French cuisine and heritage.

Also, Akaroa is celebrated for its picturesque Akaroa Harbour, formed within an ancient volcano, making it a popular destination for outdoor adventures or a harbour cruise.

What shops are in Akaroa?

Akaroa boasts a variety of charming shops catering to different interests. Visitors can explore boutique stores offering local arts and crafts, souvenirs, clothing, and gourmet food products. Additionally, there are specialty shops featuring French-inspired goods, including delicacies such as cheese and pastries.

Why is Akaroa important?

Akaroa holds significance as the only French settlement in New Zealand, lending it a distinctive cultural identity on the shores of Banks Peninsula.

Moreover, Akaroa's location within the ancient volcanic crater of Akaroa Harbour adds to its allure, making it a significant destination for tourism and exploration of the region's natural beauty.

Summing Up: Best Things to Do in Akaroa

Akaroa stands as one of New Zealand's top destinations, offering a blend of French charm and fairy tale landscapes set amidst the magnificent natural beauty of the Banks Peninsula.

From exploring the historic French settlement to embarking on outdoor adventures in the great outdoors, there's no shortage of things to do in Akaroa.

Whether you opt for a leisurely stroll along the harbor and historic town, a lovely day trip around the Banks Peninsula, or venture into the surrounding countryside for hiking and wildlife encounters and stunning views, Akaroa promises an unforgettable experience.

So, take the time to explore Akaroa and its enchanting streets, soak in its picturesque scenery, and immerse yourself in the captivating atmosphere of this seaside gem.