Akaroa: Southern Gallic charm

By Don Donovan

A tiny colonial outpost today exerts a big pull on tourists, writes Don Donovan.

Akaroa's French influences from the 1800s are nurtured and preserved by locals. Photo / File
Akaroa's French influences from the 1800s are nurtured and preserved by locals. Photo / File

Next time you visit Akaroa, and admire the French touches that give this seaside town on Banks Peninsula a special charm, spare a thought for the bold Jean Langlois who made it all possible.

Langlois skippered the whaler Cachalot from Normandy and, after visiting Akaroa Harbour, felt it would be a good base from which France might colonise the South Island of New Zealand.

He negotiated a doubtful deed of purchase with some Ngai Tahu chiefs, then sailed for France where he encouraged the formation of the colonising Nanto-Bordelaise Company and the despatch of 63 migrants to Akaroa in 1840.

The rest is history: no French colony eventuated; the plan was scotched by the pre-emptive establishment of British sovereignty upon the signing of the Waitangi Treaty. But the immigrants came and stayed, Jean Langlois's brother, Aimable, among them.

This second Langlois built a delightful dolls' house cottage on the corner of Rues Lavaud and Balguerie that is now part of the Akaroa Museum.

Said to date from between 1841 and 1845, it could be the oldest house in Canterbury.

It may have been semi-prefabricated in France and it certainly looks Gallic, being well proportioned, and its fine, shuttered windows are old world elegant.

By 1845, Amiable Langlois had left for Honolulu. He died about 1857 near San Francisco and the following year his brother sold the house to Jean Pierre Etevenaux, one of the original settlers from France.

The Etevenaux family owned it until 1906, and so it became known as Langlois-Etevenaux House - a suitably Gallic name for a very Gallic property.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Akaroa is 82km south-east of Christchurch on SH 75, via Tai Tapu, Little River, Hilltop and Barrys Bay. For bus services see akaroashuttle.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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