Kia ora: Akaroa

Serene and beautiful. You'll love this place, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Akaroa brings a little taste of France to New Zealand.
Akaroa brings a little taste of France to New Zealand.

Where is it: On Banks Peninsula, in Canterbury, 84km from Christchurch.

Origin of name: Akaroa means Long Harbour in Maori.

Population: There's a permanent population of 624, but it can increase to about 5000 in the summer - 80 per cent of houses are holiday homes.

Town slogan: Formerly "The Riviera of Canterbury", now it's "The jewel in the crown of Canterbury".

Town mascot: The French flag.

French connection: In 1838 Jean Francois Langlois, commander of the whaling ship Cachalot, embarked on a grandiose scheme for establishing a French colony at Akaroa.

New business: Since the port of Lyttelton was damaged in the earthquakes, cruise ships now dock at Akaroa - 75 ships are expected this season.

More business: Being a seasonal tourist town there's no excuse for local kids not to have a job over summer

Big business: The area is enormously popular for weddings and honeymoons because it's so stunning and there is a wide range of accommodation.

Famous locals: The remarkable Frank Worsley was captain of the ship on Shackleton's 1914 transantarctic expedition and there is a permanent exhibit about him at the Akaroa Museum. Sir Bob Parker lived here for many years and was mayor of Banks Peninsula before becoming mayor of Christchurch. Today Fiona Farrell (author) and Hugh Wilson (botanist) call the place home.

Best website: akaroa.com.

Main employer: Tourism, hospitality and retail. Foreigners work here seasonally, giving the place an exotic feel.

Source of pride: The environment, the peace and beauty. With no McDonald's, Starbucks or high-rises along the waterfront, it's like stepping back in time.

Town fiestas: The French Fest every two years in October; Akaroa Harvest Festival celebrating local produce in April; the garden tours are amazing.

Yum: Thanks to the Mediterranean microclimate, some of the country's best olive oil is produced here and there are delicious herbs, lemons, walnuts, wine and cheese. Picnic sorted.

Best reason to stop: You have to stop - it's the end of the road.

Best place to take the kids: Aside from the beach, The Giant's House Sculpture and Mosaic Gardens are stunning.

Frank Worsley was captain of the ship on Shackleton's 1914 transantarctic expedition and there is a permanent exhibit about him at the Akaroa Museum.
Frank Worsley was captain of the ship on Shackleton's 1914 transantarctic expedition and there is a permanent exhibit about him at the Akaroa Museum.

Best place to get a drink: Anywhere along the waterfront. The views are superb.

Best food: There are more cafes and restaurants per capita than anywhere else in New Zealand. Try The Little Bistro with its rickety chairs, great food and atmosphere. Vangionis Trattoria & Bar for Mediterranean-style tapas, Or grab fish and chips from the world famous Akaroa Fish & Chips shop, best eaten on the waterfront, but watch out for greedy gulls. Or there's also Bully Hayes, The Trading Rooms and Pantry, La Thai - you're spoiled for choice in Akaroa.

Best flat white: Every place that serves coffee can be trusted.

Best bakery: L'Escargot Rouge, a little deli on the waterfront, does great food with a French twist - croissants, pain au chocolat plus seafood chowder, great pies and sausage rolls.

Best museum: Akaroa Museum, right in the heart of town, is great for a glimpse into the area's history. Or visit Okain's Bay Maori and Colonial Museum, one of the best private collections of artefacts outside Te Papa.

Best walk: Banks Peninsula Track is a privately owned two-to-four-day hike with incredible scenery and great accommodation. Stony Bay has outdoor baths, Onuku has a farm hostel, Flea Bay is where you'll find the penguin colony, and Hinewai is a stunning reserve that's been reforested over the past 28 years by Hugh Wilson. Tree-mendous.

Best view: From the crater rim, on the road that runs along the top of the volcano, extraordinary sights for sore eyes. Even locals never tire of the views.

Best swim: Okains Bay and Le Bons Bay. Sure, it's convenient to swim in Akaroa, but the best beaches are on the other side of the bay.

Best adventure: Swimming with dolphins is, understandably, very popular, as are the harbour cruises. Or to get the adrenaline pumping, the Akaroa Adventure Centre will drop you and a bike at the top of the hill for a 13km downhill ride so fast your eyes will water.

Best place to pull over: Barry's Bay Cheese Factory is the oldest remaining cheese factory in the South Island, still making cheese the old-fashioned way. Handily, it also sells wine.

Here for a short time: Stroll around the town admiring the quaint cottages and lovely gardens. Dine on the waterfront and marvel at the mosaic garden.

Best kept secret: The dawn chorus - the birds are so chatty that you may need earplugs.

Most fabulous item of wildlife: Tui have been reintroduced and are doing particularly well. The largest mainland penguin population in Australasia is here with 1300 breeding pairs, making for penguins galore. Take a tour of the Pohatu penguin colony if you don't believe me. Hectors dolphins, one of the world's smallest dolphins, call this place home, as do loads of seals.

When a local has visitors staying: They take them to meet the neighbours because everyone in Akaroa is delightful and interesting.

Safety warnings: Because locals know everyone they're always waving when they drive, so beware those flapping hands when they're off the wheel.

Locals say: Akaroa - it's paradise.

Visitors say: Where's the real estate agent?

Merci beaucoup Hollie Hollander de Akaroa District Promotions pour sharing l'amour.

- NZ Herald

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