French-influenced harbour town Akaroa offers an abundance of charm, character, attractions, and eateries, making it the perfect retreat for a romantic weekend. Located just a 90-minute (very pretty) drive from Christchurch, it is a must to include in your itinerary the next time you visit the garden city.
Where to Stay: FRENCH BAY HOUSE – This classic Bed & Breakfast is a fine example of Akaroa’s Carpenter Gothic style architecture, with picturesque wisteria adorning the porch. Host Jacqui offers a warm welcome, an excellent breakfast, and an honesty bar. Most guests have flown in from Europe, adding to Akaroa’s continental feel. If you’re in a social mood, the communal sitting room offers a wood burner, books, and board games.
If not, retreat to your romantic room featuring ornate wood panelling, a large bay window, and a gleaming tiled ensuite. From the flowers to the sheets and towels, everything in our bright room feels fresh, crisp, and clean. Located in the heart of town, next to Ethel’s Cinema, it is ideal for visiting the famed Giant’s House and waterside restaurant Aihe. frenchbayhouse.co.nz
Where to Eat: MANDALA – Mandala is the Akaroa restaurant that everyone is talking about. If the weather is good, grab a table in the pretty courtyard and prepare to take your taste buds on a journey. Hailing from Fiji hosts Muni and Shomika are reimagining Indian recipes with a Pacific flair.
Everything on the menu is spectacular, but to really have your mind blown, opt for some of the more unusual dishes like the Dhal Salad (a textural treat), Pani Pani (a visual feast), the tender spiciness of wild-caught Goat Curry, or the veggie nourishment of the Grilled Paneer Curry with beetroot rice and turmeric coconut sauce. mandalaeats.co.nz
Where to Drink: AKAROA CRAFT DISTILLERY – The perfect place for a pre-dinner aperitif or afternoon cocktail. Akaroa Craft Distillery specializes in gin tastings, paying homage to locally produced Hector’s gin and its foraged natural ingredients.
There are three very different gins to try with tonic pairings, plus a rather naughty cocktail menu that has us agreeing to ‘just one more!’ The Tasting House shuts by 7 pm every evening, so if you’re looking to make a night of it, head to the Harbour Beachbar afterwards. akaroacraftdistillery.com
Out On The Water: AKAROA DOLPHINS – Dolphin watching has always been one of Akaroa’s prime attractions, and Akaroa Dolphins offers the most environmentally friendly and sustainable way of doing this.
The definition of a family business, we pick up our tickets from Mum at the ticket booth, her daughter is helping a customer locate his lost phone at their main office, and Dad helps operate the boat. Onboard, we see some of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins, the adorable Hectors, and become alerted to their presence when the family dog jumps up and wags his tail! We are also treated to a visit to the caves around the harbour that attract white-slippered penguins and fur seals. akaroadolphins.co.nz
Up in the Hills: SHAMARRA ALPACAS – If you thought the dolphins were a cuteness overload, prepare yourself for fluffy cuddle Heaven, located at the top of Akaroa’s once volcanic rim. Shamarra Alpacas not only offers the most spectacular 360-degree view over the harbour and Banks Peninsula, but their one-hour farm tours also let you meet, feed and cuddle hundreds of alpacas.
This leisurely informative tour leaves at 11 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm daily, giving you plenty of time to get to know the alpacas’ different personalities and take lots of pics with your favourites. We even got to see a baby alpaca that had only been born that morning. Cute! shamarra-alpacas.co.nz