A Romantic Weekend in Akaroa, New Zealand
What makes for a romantic travel destination? Normally I’d say the place itself doesn’t matter, and that you could have a romantic weekend pretty much anywhere, but a nice setting definitely helps. We recently spent a romantic weekend in Akaroa, one of New Zealand’s most quaint old towns. We dined at expensive French restaurants (Akaroa was founded by the French), proclaimed our love for each other under star lit skies and recited romantic poetry in the Jacuzzi while feasting on oysters and drinking champagne.
Actually, none of that’s true (except for the fact that French people founded Akaroa). Instead, we ate too much junk food (and vowed to go on a diet as soon as we got home), came face to face with tiny dolphins, drove over deserted hills and relaxed in our massive harbour front room. We also ate a crepe and had a spent some time in a spa bath, although it was so uncomfortably hot that I had to get out after about 5 minutes (the bath, not the crepe). All of that combined for a (non cliché) romantic weekend in Akaroa — keep reading for tips on how you can do the same.
Things to do in Akaroa
Searching for Hector’s Dolphins
The most memorable aspect of our trip to Akaroa was spotting the tiny and very rare Hector’s Dolphins. There are several companies that will take you out to the mouth of the harbour and into the path of these incredible creatures. We were lucky to have a dozen of them swimming and jumping around the boat. We got as close to them as you could hope for without joining them in the ocean. The dolphins were the highlight of the tour, but there is heaps more to see on the way out to sea. Waterfalls crashed down cliff faces, seals slept on slippery rocks and waves surged into surreal sea caves. A dog wearing a life jacket kept us entertained the rest of the time. We did the tour with Akaroa Dolphins and it exceeded all our expectations — I definitely recommend it.
Exploring the Old Town
Akaroa is one of the best preserved old towns in New Zealand, but don’t be expecting anything too French. Most of what remains was built by the British. There are some French touches — namely street names, French bakeries and an old cemetery — it adds to the atmosphere and makes it one of the more unique towns in New Zealand.
You’ll see most of the old buildings while wandering around town. Highlights include the museum, the Fire and Ice Shop (unfortunately it has nothing to do with Game of Thrones) and St Peter’s Anglican Church. You could easily spend a day slowly exploring the town and stopping off in some of the cafes and gift shops. There is also an old French cemetery (not as interesting as it sounds) and a lighthouse which was built at the entrance to Akaroa Harbour in 1878 and moved into town in 1980.
Driving along the Hills Above Town
Akaroa is located on Banks Peninsula, a massive landmass created by volcanic activity millions of years ago. The best way to see this spectacular setting is by driving along the hilly roads above town. We first went up Lighthouse Road and saw some great views of the harbour and the rolling hills of the peninsula.
On the way back to Christchurch we drove along the Tourist Drive route, which took us above the other side of Akaroa. This road takes you to several turnoffs for beaches — we made it to Le Bons Bay before the sky clouded over. The whole road is really scenic and there are lots of places to pull over and get photos. There are lots of other bays in the area — you could spend a good few hours exploring them all. The tourist route isn’t too much of a detour — I’d definitely recommend driving back to Christchurch this way (you eventually join up to the main road).
Where to stay in Akaroa
We were lucky enough to be hosted by Shane and Kerry of Akaroa Village Inn. This collection of holiday rental units is right next to the harbour and there are many shops and restaurants nearby. Our room featured a spa bath, a massive sleeping / living / dining area and a deck with prime harbour views. There are lots of holiday rentals in Akaroa but Akaroa Village Inn is easy to recommend — the staff are really friendly, the rooms are well appointed and the location can’t be beaten.
FURTHER READING: Check out a full review of Akaroa Village Inn on my other blog
Eating and drinking
Akaroa’s French origins are the driving force behind the restaurant and cafe scene, but you can find pretty much anything to eat and drink. There are a couple of great fish n chips shops, an excellent French butcher and even a Foursquare (small local supermarket). We chose to make the most of having such a nice room and mostly bought fish n chips, snacks and a few drinks.
Getting to Akaroa
It takes around an hour and 20 minutes to drive from Christchurch to Akaroa, and if it’s a nice day you might want to stop and admire the views along the way. Several buses ply this route with tickets generally costing $30. Akaroa often fills up with cruise ship passengers in the summer and local day trippers on weekends, so it can get busy. Try visiting in winter if you want to see it at its quietest.
There is heaps to do in Akaroa, and whether romance is your goal or not, it’s worth spending a couple of nights there. It’s one of the nicest towns that we’ve been to in New Zealand and we can’t wait to return — next time we’ll do it summer and spend a bit longer exploring the outer bays and beaches.
Would you like to spend a romantic weekend in Akaroa? Let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: I was hosted by both Akaroa Village Inn and Akaroa Dolphins — all thoughts and opinions are my own.