If you are heading to Akaroa on a cruise, or even a day trip from Christchurch, then this guide is for you. It is filled with lots of information, facts, and the best things to do in the Akaroa Cruise Port.
What does Akaroa mean?
Akaroa means Long Harbour in Kai Tahu Maori.
Where is Akaroa?
Akaroa is on the Banks Peninsula on the South Island of New Zealand. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean.
Where do Cruise Ships dock in Akaroa?
Cruise ships can’t dock in Akaroa and so anchor off the coast. The tender took us around 25 minutes to get ashore. It was a beautiful and smooth ride over.
Akaroa’s French History
Jean-François Langlois, a French Whaler, thought Akaroa would make a great French base in the Pacific and therefore negotiated with 12 Ngai-Tahu Māori chiefs to buy some land. He then returned to France and gathered together some businessmen and formed Compagnie Nanto-Bordelaise.
In 1839, he eventually obtained a signature of approval from King Louis Philippe. The government gave them the Comte de Paris and 63 emigrants left from Rochford in 1840. While they were at sea, the Banks Peninsula had been claimed by the British. However, as the French settlers had set out from France on the assumption that the land was theirs, the New Zealand authorities made a grant of 30,000 acres to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, which ceded all rights to the peninsula.
Before 1840, Akaroa was also known as Wangaloa. After that, it was called Port Louis-Philippe, named after the French King. The area still maintains a French influence.
How was Akaroa Formed?
Two overlapping volcanic cones were formed between 11 and 6 million years ago. Once activity had ceased, the volcanic complex became eroded to around half its original height, and deep valleys formed. The present harbour was formed when the valleys were flooded as the sea level rose to its present height about 6,000 years ago.
December to March is the best time to visit Akaroa with July being the coldest and also the wettest. As you can see, it was cloudy and rainy when we visited in January.
The cruise ship tenders dock at the main wharf. It’s a short walk up the wharf where you come across the Akaroa i-Site. Cruise Ship passengers can book a tour if you haven’t already. It is in the middle of town with lots of nearby shops and cafes.
Walks and Map
We found the best way to explore the Akaroa cruise port was on foot. Begin at the information center where you’ll find brochures and maps. There are a number of short walks to take and you can view a map of them here.
A larger image of this Akaroa map can be found here.
Things to do in Akaroa Cruise Port
Akaroa’s original lighthouse started operation on the headlands on 1st January 1880. The lantern lens and mount came from France and the mechanism from Scotland. It is built out of wood from Kauri trees. In 1977, an automated lighthouse was installed and this one was relocated to Cemetary Point (now known as Lighthouse Point).
Volunteers man the lighthouse and it costs $2.50 per Adult and 50c per child to go up. The opening hours are 11 am – 2 pm both Sundays and cruise ship days.
This building opened on 22 May 1875 and served as, not only a library but also as a meeting place. In 1911, it was raised on new foundations, the roof repaired and the front revamped. It is no longer used as a public library but a local trust assists with the care of the building and a reference library is kept there.
The Old Shipping Office
Built-in 1895 for the Union Steam Ship Company, the elaborate Italianate facade is made entirely of timber. Due to the improvement of roads, the shipping company no longer needed the office so it was used for other commercial purposes. It has been a holiday apartment since the 1990s.
Saint Peter’s Anglican Church
This wooden church was built in 1863 but has undergone extensive repairs and maintenance both inside and outside.
Fire and Ice
This was built in the 1880s to replace a building that had burnt down. It was originally a bakery that has since closed. It was due to be demolished but a campaign saved it and it is now a gemstone jewelry shop.
From their website:
Surprises everywhere in this glorious garden – mosaic steps, an extraordinary sculptural wall mosaic, welded steel sculptures, and other creations. Colourful gardens of roses vegetables, citrus, flowers.
The cost is $20 per adult and $10 per child but they do have family rates too.
You may want to combine it as part of a guided 3-hour sightseeing tour of Akaroa. You get to explore the township, harbor, and this part of the Banks Peninsula. It includes a stop at a local cheese factory, as well as a guided tour of the Giant’s House.
Hector’s dolphins are common visitors throughout Akaroa Harbour in the summer months. We were lucky enough to see a pod from the ship. You may occasionally see Common and Dusky dolphins too. There are plenty of tours available to take you out to see these beautiful animals like this popular tour with over 1,000 reviews. Find out more here.
Bus from Akaroa to Christchurch
Akaroa is about 86km from Christchurch and there are a few transport options. The most popular choices are Akaroa French Connection and Red Bus. Both of these have connections to Christchurch city, especially for cruise ships.
There are lots of shore excursion options like this one from Viator that includes city sights of Christchurch and visiting a sheep farm.
We mainly use Viator to book shore excursions due to their free cancellation policy and most attractions and they are much cheaper than the cruise lines. However, you do not have the peace of mind that the ship will wait if you are delayed.
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