Akaroa, New Zealand South Island

The French and British settled this harbor-protected waterfront on Banks Peninsula in 1840. This small resort community on New Zealand’s South Island is filled with charm, rare wildlife, boutique shops and historic buildings plus an incredible mosaic sculpture garden.

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1 Introduction to Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa, New Zealand is nestled on the east side of Akaroa Harbour on Banks Peninsula. The small town of less than 650 residents is along the eastern coast of the South Island. The popular resort community is about a 1.5 hour drive 50 miles south of Christchurch. This is also a frequent port-of-call for cruises ships. The name Akaroa means “Long Harbour” in the Kāi Tahu Māori language.

Beach Road & Bruce Terrace, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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2 Main Wharf in Akaroa, New Zealand

If you arriving at Akaroa aboard a cruise ship, you will first sail through an opening between Timutimu and Akaroa Heads then drop anchor about three-quarters into the 10 mile Akaroa Harbour. Tenders will bring you to the Main Wharf. Many passengers immediately board sightseeing excursions to explore the scenery of the 1,170 acre Akaroa Marine Reserve plus enjoy the area’s abundant wildlife. You may see migrating whales, New Zealand fur seals plus rare Hector’s dolphins and white-flipped penguins; both species are the world’s smallest. Flying in the sky are countless seabirds including red-billed gulls, Australian gannets, cormorants and an occasional albatross.

81 Beach Road, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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3 Cannon at Britomart Reserve in Akaroa, New Zealand

After stepping off the Main Wharf, you enter a small, waterfront park called Britomart Reserve. Its namesake is the HMS Britomart, an 1807 British ship commanded by Captain Stanley when she arrived in Akaroa in 1840. The 90 foot naval vessel had a crew of 75 and was defended with six and eighteen pounder guns. This is a Kinman cannon built in 1808. The smooth bore, muzzle loaded six pounder is similar to the two used on the brig of the HMS Britomart. The historic, wheel-mounted weapon has been position here since 1908.

81 Beach Road, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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4 Brief Early History of Akaroa, New Zealand

Polynesians arrived in New Zealand aboard a wooden waka (canoe) around 1250 to 1300 AD and then evolved into the Māori culture. Three distinct settlements – Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Ngai Tahu – occurred on Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū (The Great Storehouse of Rākaihautū). In 1770, British navigator Captain James Cook spotted the area and named it Banks Island, later corrected to become Banks Peninsula. When it became a British whaling center during the 1830s, the Māori people were ravished by decease and warfare. An atrocious example was the massacre of the Takapuneke settlement at today’s Akaroa in 1830. Treaties were signed and subsequently ignored or nullified. The French and British began colonizing Akaroa in 1840. By the end of the 19th century, the Māori lost most of their land to Europeans.

115 Beach Road, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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5 Akaroa Head Lighthouse in Akaroa, New Zealand

This octagonal, 28 foot wooden lighthouse first flashed its beacon on January 1, 1880. Akaroa Head Lighthouse was maintained by a keeper until automated in 1977. A century after it was built, it was moved to its current position in town at Cemetery Point. The original location was at Akaroa Head flanking the mouth of Akaroa Harbour on Banks Peninsula. To visit this former site and the scenic Haylocks Bay, follow Lighthouse Road from Akaroa to the end of the promontory. This .3 mile four-wheel drive or walking adventure is also called the Akaroa Head Scenic Reserve Walk.

Akaroa Lighthouse, Beach Rd, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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6 Old English Section Shopping in Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa is not a mega-center for shoppers. You will not find malls or name-brand retailers. Instead, there are quaint, standalone boutiques emulating from the Main Wharf. These local merchants specialize in quality New Zealand products. A great example is Fire & Ice. Their extensive collection of hand-crafted jewelry features regional gemstones. Across Church Street is Akaroa Woolshed Gallery. They offer a wide selection of Merino, wool and possum clothing. That may not sound appealing. However, once you slip on a Merinomink sweater and feel its incredible softness, you will never want to take it off.

6 Church St, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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7 Bench Overlooking French Bay in Akaroa, New Zealand

The majority of Akaroa’s waterfront is French Bay. At the north end is Childrens Bay, formally called Otahuahua by the Māori. Admiring the anchored sailboats bobbing in the water is the essence of picturesque tranquility. Yet over eight million years ago, this was one of two explosive shield volcanoes that formed the 440 square mile Banks Peninsula. Akaroa Harbour is actually a crater or caldera formed when the magna chamber collapsed.

53 Beach Road, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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8 Sunny Summer Afternoon in Akaroa, New Zealand

One of the best things to do on a sunny summer day in Akaroa is sit back, relax and feel the sunshine on your face. The region’s temperate Oceanic climate delivers about 80 days of ground frost but rarely snow during the winter months of June through August. So when it warms up into the 70s °F from December through March, you can bet New Zealanders are going to savor the warmth.

51 Beach Road, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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9 Coronation Library in Akaroa, New Zealand

A group of Akaroa citizens formed the Literary and Scientific Institute in 1860 as a library and for community education. After years of conducting meetings in the town hall, they commissioned Samuel Farr to design a dedicated facility. In 1911, a significant refurbishment resulted in the Arts & Crafts appearance. The building was renamed Coronation Library in recognition of the new king of the United Kingdom, George V. After the main library moved in 1989, this became a reference library for archival material.

103 Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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10 The Gaiety in Akaroa, New Zealand

This Italianate-style hall on Rue Jolie was the Oddfellows Lodge when it opened in 1879. Then it became the Gaiety Theatre with a seating capacity of 250 people in the gallery and along the upper terrace. Following the Christchurch earthquake, the beloved building underwent repair for five years before reopening in 2016. The Gaiety is now a special events and meetings venue.

105 Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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11 Demarcation of French and English in Akaroa, New Zealand

During the mid to late 1800s, this small community was divided by the origin of its settlers. When the British two-masted HMS Britomart arrived on August 16, 1840, Captain Owen Stanley declared Wangaloa (today’s Akaroa) to be the property of the English Crown. Two days later, the Comte de Paris disembarked 64 French immigrants based on the belief the land had been purchased in 1838 by French Captain Jean François Langlois. So, the French immigrants lived in the north and called it Port Louis-Philippe. The English resided in the south. You can still sense the demarcation while walking along this guardrail on Beach Road. It acts as the barbell handle separating the two populated ends of Akaroa.

Beach Rd & Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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12 Beaches in Akaroa, New Zealand

Most of Akaroa’s waterfront is scenic yet rocky. There are two delightful sandy exceptions ideal for sunning and swimming. These tourists are lounging and strolling along the wide shore closest to the main town. It runs parallel to Beach Road just south of Daly’s Wharf. Akaroa Beach is further north next to Jubilee Park.

Beach Rd & Rue Benoit, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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13 Banks Peninsula War Memorial in Akaroa, New Zealand

The cornerstone of the Banks Peninsula War Memorial was laid in 1922 and completed in 1924. The engraved marble slab reads, “In sacred memory of those who fell in the Great war 1914 – 1919.” Additional plaques list local soldiers who died during the South African War (1899 – 1902) and World War II (1939 – 1945). The memorial’s Greek Revival design by Henry St Aubyn Murray features four large lancet openings pointing towards the tapered spire capped with a cross. Residents gather here every April 25. Anzac Day is a national event of remembrance for all Australians and New Zealanders who have served and died in war.

Peninsula War Memorial, Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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14 Charles Méryon Statue in Akaroa, New Zealand

Paris-born Charles Méryon spent most of his early adulthood as a lieutenant aboard Le Rhin, a French navy ship. He was stationed at Akaroa from 1843 until 1846. Although a talented artist, he was colorblind. So Méryon pursued etching and became one of the best engravers in the 19th century while producing almost 100 prints. Méryon died in 1868 at the early age of 47 after being committed to a mental asylum, a condition potentially caused by the acidic materials used in traditional etching. This life-size bronze statue of Méryon – curiously holding a paintbrush aimed at a hollow easel – was produced by Don Paterson, a resident of Oamaru, New Zealand.

Peninsula War Memorial, Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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15 Daly’s Wharf in Akaroa, New Zealand

The French settlers built their first jetty near Jubilee Park shortly after they arrived in 1840. It was replaced with Daly’s Wharf during the early 1860s. The namesake was a merchant who managed a store along the foreshore. The pier was refurbished in 1913 and used primarily by fishing boats until the end of the 20th century. Now the shed with the conical red roof seem to be a beacon for curious tourists and local fishermen. The only major ship served by Daly’s Wharf is the Fox II. This 50 foot ketch, two-masted sailboat built in 1922 offers three-hour dolphin sightseeing cruises around the harbour.

2 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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16 Ma Maison Restaurant in Akaroa, New Zealand

It is not surprising to find a waterfront restaurant serving seafood. The perfect combination is local waters brimming with fresh fish, excellent chefs, great service and stunning views of French Bay. That describes Ma Maison Restaurant & Bar, typically rated above 4.5 on a scale of five. Although a bit expensive, it is a great choice for lunch, dinner or just cocktails.

2 Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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17 Māori Stream Names in Akaroa, New Zealand

Several streams and creeks flow down from the hills and pass through Akaroa until they empty into Akaroa Harbour. Current maps show their English and French names. More interesting are the Māori names because they are descriptive and typically convey a historic story. A few examples are Oinako (after a Ngati-Mamoe chief killed here), Waipirau (means bad smelling water) and Hine Pararariki (a women cooked in the boiling sun). This stream is Wai-iti meaning small water.

64 Rue Jolie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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18 Akaroa Recreation Ground in Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa is primarily a resort town. When a cruise ship arrives, the activity level can be busy when tourists outnumber the residents. Yet the locals seem to ignore the bustle, especially the kids. If you want a glimpse of everyday New Zealand life, head towards the Akaroa Recreation Ground. This Akaroa Sports Pavilion is the centerpiece of a large complex featuring sports fields, the Boat Park and waterfront camping. Adjoining it is Jubilee Park and Akaroa Beach.

Akaroa Recreation Ground, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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19 St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Akaroa, New Zealand

In 1836, Pope Gregory XVI formed the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania. He assigned French Marist priests to spread Catholicism in New Zealand among native Māori people and arriving European settlers. Fathers Jean-Baptiste Comte and Jean Pezant were the first to welcome early German and French immigrants to Akaroa in 1840. The following year, the missionaries built a small church and then a larger one a few years later. In 1860, Melbourne-based Bishop Philippe Viard sent two Marist priests to Christchurch. In turn, Father Chataigner commissioned architects Benjamin Mountfort and Maxwell Bury to design St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Builder John Patrick Cullen used indigenous totara trees to construct the simple tower and façade with fretwork ornamentation. The parish church – part of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch – was consecrated in 1865.

29 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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20 Orion Powerhouse Gallery in Akaroa, New Zealand

This brick façade at the base of L’ Aube Hill contained a hydroelectric generator when it was built in 1911. Together with a gas engine added later, the power plant operated until the mid-1950s. In 1970, Patricia Bosshard converted the abandoned building into a concert hall and a gallery for Banks Peninsula artists. The venue was renamed Orion Powerhouse Gallery when the Christchurch electric company Orion New Zealand Limited became a significant benefactor.

1 Rue Pompallier, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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21 Trinity Presbyterian Church in Akaroa, New Zealand

The Presbyterian community was small in Akaroa during the latter half of the 19th century so their places of worship were humble. The first services in 1857 were conducted in Mrs. Brown’s kitchen and sitting room. Three years later, the parishioners built the Bon Accord church at this corner of Rue Lavaud. However, they were without a minister until 1874. In 1886, the current Trinity Church was constructed. During summer weekends and when a cruise ship is in port, the property hosts a small craft and farmers market.

39 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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22 French Section Shopping in Akaroa, New Zealand

Do not dismay when you quickly run out of shops to explore in the old English section of Akaroa. Simply walk north along Beach Road until you reach the former French settlement. Along Rue Lavaud are five more blocks of retailers plus a few restaurants and cafes. Go slow. Take time to peek inside. Discover the unique merchandise and experience the smiles of Akaroa shopkeepers. A great place to indulge is Peninsula General Store. Sample their gourmet foods and bakery items along with coffee and tea served in real china cups.

40e Rue Lavaud, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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23 Bank of New Zealand Building in Akaroa, New Zealand

Since the Bank of New Zealand was founded in 1861, the Auckland-based financial intuition has grown to become the country’s second largest with over 175 branches. The first BNZ office in Akaroa was established in 1865. Ten years later, they moved into this Italianate structure. The second level was added in 1905. This BNZ branch on Rue Lavaud is designated as a Category II Historic Places Trust Registered property.

73 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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24 St. Peters Anglican Church in Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa’s first Anglican church was built in 1851. As the community of English parishioners expanded, so did the need for a larger church. Surprisingly, St. Peters was constructed in the French section of town in 1864 based on architect Arthur Purchas’s modest Gothic Revival design. Transepts were added in 1877 to expand the Totara timber structure. The Category 1 New Zealand Historic Place is referred to as a Selwyn Church because it was commissioned by the Most Reverend George Selwyn, New Zealand’s first Anglican bishop from 1841 through 1868. St. Peters is now multidenominational serving both Anglican and Presbyterian parishioners.

10 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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25 Giant’s House Sculpture Garden in Akaroa, New Zealand

Welcome to Giant’s House, a masterful mosaic sculpture garden perched atop the hill on Rue Balguerie. Justifiably called “the happiest garden on earth,” this visual wonderland is the twenty-five year passion of Josie Martin, a contemporary artist, talented sculptor and trained horticulturalist. The centerpiece is this lovingly restored 1880 home with a unique planter piano in front. Inside are an art gallery of her paintings plus a café and the Linton bed & breakfast. Outside is a mental playground of whimsical characters and animals accenting walkways and staircases among terraced flowers and plants.

68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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26 Josie Martin’s Style at Giant’s House in Akaroa, New Zealand

Josie Martin’s sculptures at the Giant’s House are incredibly unique. Her style seems inspired by famous Catalonia artists. She has the unbridled imagination of Salvador Dalí, the engaging creativity of Pablo Picasso and the mastery of mosaics that would be the pride of Antoni Gaudi at Park Güell in Barcelona. Her larger-than-life sculptures radiate with color, nuance, personality and animation.

68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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27 King and Queen Sculptures at Giant’s House in Akaroa, New Zealand

There are so many wonderful mosaic sculptures within “The Artist’s Garden” at Giant’s House that you can mistakenly flitter from one to the next in your eagerness to see them all. Slow down and savor. Each scene is filled with entertaining intricacies. Notice the queen’s scalloped wings. The king’s scepter capped with a jester. And what is the meaning of the lurking purple ghoul with the sinister yellow eyes?

68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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28 Adam and Eve Sculptures at Giant’s House in Akaroa, New Zealand

The Biblical exchange of the forbidden apple is portrayed at Giant’s House in the inimitable creativity of artist Josie Martin. Adam resembles an Egyptian pharaoh while Eve seems Caribbean. Both don crowns of sliced watermelons. When visiting Akaroa, you must experience the fanciful, fantastic and fascinating Giant’s House.

68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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29 Evening Attire Staircase at Giant’s House in Akaroa, New Zealand

Each delightful ensemble at Giant’s House is open to your own enjoyable interpretation. For me, these fashionably attired ladies and gentlemen are reminiscent of the Roaring 20s “well-to-do.” They would inspire Fred Astaire to tap dance “up and down Park Avenue, on that famous thoroughfare, with their noses in the air…Puttin’on the Ritz.”

68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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30 Place des Amis at Giant’s House in Akaroa, New Zealand

At the top of the driveway at the Giant’s House is a concave seating gallery of visual fun. Beneath the watchful eye of a personified cat and dog are a gaggle of folks who invite you to join them beside the fountain. In the middle of Place des Amis is an open spot reserved for you. Go ahead, have a seat and then introduce yourself. From right to left are Ruby Delicious, Jimmy, Henrietta, Rosa and another Jimmy. The embracing couple on the end is the nameless, silent type.

68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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31 Woman Eating Berries Sculpture at Giant’s House in Akaroa, New Zealand

Josie Martin has had a 40 year successful career as a contemporary painter and has been an art resident in 20 countries. The inspiration for a mosaic sculpture garden happened by accident when she dug up broken china on her property. Soon she was assembling, painting and transforming shards into flamboyant designs while cultivating her terraced grounds. Yet even tireless artists need an occasional moment of repose. Contentment is sitting in a garden alcove on a gorgeous New Zealand afternoon eating fresh, succulent strawberries.

68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa 7520, New Zealand
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