Shandelle Battersby checks into a one-bedroom Seaview Cottage, overlooking the harbour

Getting there:

Akaroa is a 90-minute drive from Christchurch — if you're heading there in winter take your time, as the road (SH75) can be icy and it's pretty windy. The pretty property is 1km out of town back towards Christchurch, about a 15-minute walk.

Check-in experience: Really friendly and low-key — this is a fairly small operation featuring 10 one, two and three-bedroom cottages spread out over 5ha, and if staff are busy refreshing the rooms, you might have to call them to let them know you've arrived.

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Room: I had the Overton one-bedroom Seaview Cottage at the top of the property, with a deck overlooking beautiful Akaroa Harbour; other options look out over native bush. The timber and stone cottage had a woodburner, Sky TV, a DVD player, a separate bedroom, a fully equipped kitchenette and an enormous spa bath. Just what you want on one of the coldest weekends of the year — think clear blue skies and frosty mornings. Good for the soul.

The best bit: I got back too late to bother lighting the fire, but there were two excellent heaters that someone had turned on for me and the place was super-cosy.

Price: My cottage starts from $140 a night, but check the website for two-night specials and package deals. There's often a Relaxation and Romance offer going, perfect for a getaway with a loved one.

What's so good about this place? It's in a really beautiful spot, and is very private.

What's in the neighbourhood? The quaint seaside township of Akaroa, which is steeped in French history, is lovely to walk around, and it has lots of dining options and a pretty good Four Square. I was mostly in town to do a few wildlife activities — in two days I saw penguins, dolphins, alpacas, seals and some rather fetching romney sheep — but it is also a mecca for sailors and trampers. History buffs should make time to see some of the landmarks such as the lighthouse (1878-79), and also worth an hour or two is The Giants House, a heritage home with a terraced garden decorated with sculptural mosaic installations and wild topiary.

Toiletries: Heritage Hotels' Manuka Spa line.

Food and drink: A continental breakfast ($15), cheese platter ($35) and bottle of bubbles ($20) are available by request, there are tea and coffee-making facilities — otherwise it's strictly BYO.

Free Wi-Fi: Yes

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Perfect as: A relaxing base from which to explore Akaroa and its surrounds, which is suitable for couples, groups or families. This is one part of New Zealand you should definitely have on your radar to visit, which shines in any season.

CHECKLIST

The Heritage Collection Akaroa Cottages are at 6888 Christchurch Akaroa Road, Akaroa. Phone: (03) 304 7195.