17 Best Things To Do In Akaroa For The Adventurous

Nestled into the folds of a dormant volcanic crater, Akaroa and the encompassing Banks Peninsula are a must-visit destination for the adventurous. There are countless things to do in Akaroa, a tiny harbour town with a French twist, that you’d need over a week to explore each cove, cute shop and walking trail weaving through the rugged terrain.

We spent three days in Akaroa on our recent trip to New Zealand’s South Island and it was nowhere near enough! But it was enough time to fall in love with the quirky town and the surrounding landscape, making us determined to return again to finish off the remaining activities on our bucket list.

Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, Akaroa is well worth the 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch – even just for the insane views along Summit Road! In this post, you’ll find a list of the absolute best things to do in Akaroa, including some off-the-beaten-path activities for the adventurous!

Akaroa Harbour at Sunset

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17 Adventurous Things To Do In Akaroa And Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

1. Search For Seals At Akaroa Heads Scenic Reserve

Seal swimming on the rocks at the akaroa Scenic Reserve

Climb the winding Lighthouse Rd out of Akaroa and follow it south to Akaroa Heads Scenic Reserve, where you can wander along the rugged coastline and search for seals sunbaking on the rocks below.

The most iconic feature of the scenic reserve is an enormous natural arch adorning the headland to the north. But while most visitors simply stop at the lighthouse and admire the arch, continue walking toward the mouth of the inlet to find a waterfall and a ladder leading to the rocky shore.

Rock Arch off the coast of Akaroa Heads Scenic Reserve in New Zealand
Waterfall at Akaroa Heads Scenic Reserve an off the beaten path thing to do in Akaroa

The slightly eroded track winds to the mouth of the inlet, allowing you to get a better view of the natural arch, and ends at a ladder that was once part of the landing used to bring in supplies for Akaroa. The ladder now provides access to the seashore below, where we found New Zealand Fur Seals happily lazing on the warm rocks.

Not only is the the Akaroa Heads Scenic Reserve slightly off-the-beaten-track, but it’s also one of the best things to do in Akaroa for free.

Note: Lighthouse Rd becomes a narrow gravel road 4 km from Akaroa. You’ll find signs indicating that this road is suitable for 4WD only, however, the only reason for this is its steep and narrow nature. We found it easily doable in a small campervan but if you’re nervous about passing on narrow roads, perhaps leave this activity out.

2. Double Up The Adventure With An Electric Mountain Bike & Sea Kayak Tour in Akaroa

Mountain biking down the rolling hills of Akaroa on an E-bike while touring the lush mountainside
Image sourced from Viator

For the ultimate adventurous thing to do in Akaroa, combine a pedal and a paddle with the Electric Mountain Bike and Sea Kayak Tour. The tour is run by the eco-friendly Akaroa Guided Sea Kayaking Safaris, who offer two options that vary in challenge.

The Sunrise Sea Kayak Safari & Coastal Cruise E-bike Tour is the best option if you’re after a casual ride and the best conditions for kayaking. But if you’re looking for more thrill for your mountain bike experience, then we suggest choosing the Crater Cruiser Sea Kayak Safari & Lava Loop E-bike Tour. This option takes you to the top of the crater overlooking Akaroa Harbour and ends with a fun and flowing descent on deserted gravel roads.

Both tours take roughly 5.5 hours and require a good level of fitness and experience riding a mountain bike (not necessarily an e-bike). The Lava Loop E-bike Tour is a little more challenging and demands a slightly higher fitness level compared to the Coastal Cruise Tour.

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3. Swim At Flea Bay / Pohatu

Swimming at Flea Bay in Akaroa, a unique thing to do in Akaroa

Enjoy a secluded swim with a view that will leave you just as breathless as the crisp blue water of Flea Bay / Pohatu. The grey-sanded beach is located to the northeast of Akaroa Heads Scenic Reserve, protected by crumbling cliffs on one side and a band of trees on the other.

While you can visit for the day and access the beach, the best way to experience Flea Bay is to stay at the Pohatu/Flea Bay Farmstay. The Farm Stay includes a complimentary night penguin tour (more information below), private walking tracks and discounts on their sea kayaking tours.

If you choose to visit Flea Bay / Pohatu for a swim only, we recommend doing the walk at Akaroa Heads first before backtracking to the intersection of Lighthouse Rd and Flea Bay Rd and taking Flea Bay Rd down to the beach. On your way back, stop just before the intersection at Misty Peak Reserve for a beautiful 360-degree view of the ancient volcanic landscape.

Note: Flea Bay Rd is another unsealed road that is recommended for 4WD only. It was a little steeper and more exposed than Lighthouse Rd, but if you’re confident on steep winding narrow roads then you should be fine in a 2WD. However, we don’t suggest driving this road in a large campervan or with a caravan.

4. Find The Pohatu Penguins

Pohatu Penguin Swimming in the ocean off Akaroa on a penguin tour
Image sourced from Get Your Guide

Join a Pohatu Penguin Tour to learn about the adorable Little Penguins and witness them going about their business in their natural habitat.

Pohatu / Flea Bay is a beautiful little cove on the southeastern edge of Banks Peninsula. The cove is home to the white-flippered penguins, Canterbury’s variant of the Australasian Little Penguin. Pohatu is also the largest Australasian Little Penguin colony on mainland New Zealand.

This 3-hour family-run evening tour begins in Akaroa, with a stunning drive into the bay before you arrive at the Pohatu Marine Reserve. Here, you’ll be welcomed by conservationists who will guide you through the reserve, monitoring nesting sites, collecting data, and making sure that the birds are doing well.

The best time of year to see the penguins in their natural habitat, socialising in the water before making their way back to their nests, is between September and February.

5. Take A Scenic Drive Along Summit Road

Akaroa Summit Drive, an awesome thing to do in Akaroa for the best views of the coastline

Akaroa can be accessed via State Highway 75 (Christchurch Akaroa Rd) which follows the coastline, passing through the small bay towns along the way. Or you can take the scenic drive along Summit Road which weaves across the rugged ridgeline high above the bays.

Luckily, you can experience both of these beautiful drives on your visit to Akaroa. But we recommend choosing the winding ridgeline road when you have ample time to stop and absorb the many panoramic lookouts. You might even be tempted to branch off and explore some of the eastern bays or scenic reserves along the way.

6. Beach Hop To The Eastern Bays

Okains Bay, the first stop on your eastern bay drive in Akaroa, New Zealand
Okains Bay

While you’re enjoying the views from Summit Rd, take a few detours to the picturesque bays tucked into the eastern coastline. Our four suggested detours are Le Bons Bay, Okains Bay, Little Akaloa and Pigeon Bay.

Along with a wide-open beach perfect for exploring and swimming, Okains Bay has a general store and a museum. Pigeon Bay has a newly finished walk called the Pigeon Bay Walkway, which is a 14 km return track that takes you out to the point. Both of these bays have a paid campground, with Pigeon Bay’s being our favourite. 

Campervan parked on the shore of Pigeon Bay Campground in Akaroa
Pigeon Bay Campground

Little Akaloa has the best views in my opinion but the beach is a little rocky compared to the rest. But no matter if you visit all or just one, each bay offers a calm and stunning beach to while away an afternoon of swimming and lazing on the dark grey sand.

Even if it’s too cold to swim, the drive through the rambling farmlands overlooking the craggy coastline is the perfect thing to do in Akaroa for free when it’s raining or you need a rest day.

7. Swim With The World’s Smallest Dolphins

Hector's Dolphins swimming in the ocean off Akaroa
Image sourced from Black Hat Cruises

For a truly magical experience, jump on an eco-cruise with Black Cat Cruises and swim with the world’s smallest dolphins – Hector’s dolphins – in their natural habitat. The sea surrounding Banks Peninsula is frequently visited by the endemic Hector’s dolphins, which are a rare and endangered species easily recognisable by their distinct black facial markings and a black, round dorsal fin.

On this 3-hour tour with Black Cat Cruises, you get to cruise around Akaroa Harbour in a jet-powered catamaran and a highly trained guide will teach you to safely swim and interact with the wild dolphins. The best part about this tour is that part of your ticket sale goes towards the research and education of Hector’s dolphins.

8. Walk To Skyline Beech Lookout For Sunset

Skyline Beech Lookout, overlooking Akaroa Bay

Enjoy the sunset over Akaroa from the Skyline Beech Lookout, a short 1.6 km walk from Brocheries Rd Car Park. Situated 650 m above sea level, the lookout provides sweeping vistas of Akaroa Harbour and the surrounding ancient volcanic peaks.

In spring, the gorse bushes peppered across the mountainsides come alive with yellow flowers. And in the soft haze of sunset, they provide a stunning foreground for photographers.

The leisurely 20-minute walk to Skyline Beech Lookout begins at a clearing on Brocheries Rd where you’ll find a car park and a toilet – this is marked on Google Maps as the lookout. You’ll follow the Curry Track north through a scraggly forest to Browntop Saddle, which arguably offers the best views, and continue northeast along the Skyline Beech Track to the lookout.

9. Visit Akaroa Lighthouse

Akaroa Lighthouse looking over the Harbour

Sitting prettily on Cemetery Point, the Akaroa Lighthouse is a photogenic lighthouse with an interesting history. It was first built out at Akaroa Heads in 1879, but in 1977 the lighthouse was replaced by the automated light which now sits on the headland.

The original Akaroa Lighthouse was cut into three pieces and transported over the rugged hills to its new location, where it now serves as a beautiful landmark and an iconic spot for photographers.

You can either park at the Akaroa Lighthouse or walk from Main Wharf along Beach Rd. We recommend getting up early to catch the sunrise from the lighthouse, watching the soft yellow glow hit the bay below. And as this is one of the most popular things to do in Akaroa, getting there early will also allow you to avoid the majority of the crowds.

10. Explore The Hinewai Falls Loop In Hinewai Reserve

Hinewai Falls flowing calmly on the Hinewai Waterfall Loop Walk in Akaroa

Hidden in the folds of the mountains between Akaroa and Long Bay, you’ll find 20 km of walking tracks that weave through native bush, uncovering pretty little waterfalls and offering glimpses of the turquoise blue bays and distant peaks along the way.

Hinewai Reserve is a private nature reserve on the Banks Peninsula that was established in 1987 to help the native forest regenerate and now covers 1,250 hectares of land. A beautiful half-day walk that encompasses some of the best parts of the Hinewai Reserve is the Hinewai Falls Loop.

Otanerito Bay Lookout on the Hinewai Waterfall Loop in Akaroa

The 4.6 km circuit begins at the Hinewai Reserve Car Park, where you’ll wander down to the Visitor Centre and grab a paper map before starting on the West Track. You’ll pass by four waterfalls, some of which require a detour to reach, and walk through stunning forests – with convenient signs on the native trees informing of their native and common name.

The walk ends with a steep climb out of the gully, but the peaceful and relatively easy walk is worth the final burn. For more information on the Hinewai Falls Loop in Hinewai Reserve, read our detailed hiking guide next.

11. Walk The French Inspired Streets

Shop fronts along the main street in Akaroa
Harbour Walk along the Akaroa Bay in New Zealand

Akaroa is the only French settlement in New Zealand with a colourful history that you can learn about at the museum. You’ll feel the French presence in the street names and quaint colonial cottages – even some of the restaurants specialise in French cuisine.

The best way to explore Akaroa’s streets is by taking a stroll through the town. Begin at the visitor centre, where you can grab a map and brochures to help you pick where to go, and take your time wandering past the historic buildings and stopping in at the array of little shops along the way. 

12. Visit The Banks Peninsula War Memorial

War Memorial in Akaroa

On your walk through Akaroa’s beautiful streets, make a stop at the Banks Peninsula War Memorial and Grounds. The memorial was built to commemorate those who fell in World War I, and additional plaques were added to remember local soldiers who died in the South African War and World War II.

13. Go On A Sunrise Wildlife Sea Kayaking Tour Through Akaroa Marine Reserve

Sunrise Kayaking tour in Akaroa
Image sourced from Akaroa Kayaks

Catch the beautiful morning light from the water as you paddle along the Akaroa coastline, searching for seals, dolphins and many birds. There are a few kayaking tours that you can do in Akaroa but the Sunrise Wildlife Sea Kayaking Tour is our top pick for three main reasons…

First, you get to enjoy the water before any of the boat tours drown out the peaceful sounds or disrupt the wildlife. Second, the harbour is often the calmest in the mornings and the light is absolute perfection for photographers. And lastly, the environmentally friendly tour only allows small group numbers to ensure low impact on the fragile natural areas. 

The Sunrise Kayak Tour runs daily, leaving at 7:30 am and returning at 10:30 am after 2 – 2.5 hours on the water. You’ll begin with a 20-minute safety and instruction briefing and have a skilled guide with you the entire time. Beginners are welcome on this tour, with only a good level of fitness required.

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14. Walk Out Onto Onawe Peninsula

Onawe Peninsula is a volcanic plug that juts out from the Akaroa Harbour between Barry’s Bay and Duvauchelle. It holds a dark history, once being a Maouri village for the Ngai Tahu tribe before the Ngati Toa chief, Te Rauparaha, ambushed the village and slaughtered over 200 of its inhabitants.

Today, you can walk out onto the rocky peninsula at low tide and imagine what it might have been like as a village. The walk is 2.9 km return, with plenty of protected spots to swim and rocky ridgelines to explore.

15. Go On The Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise

Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise by Black Hat Cruises
Image sourced from Black Hat Cruises

For a more budget-friendly tour option, explore the Akaroa Harbour on a 2-hour Nature Cruise with the eco-friendly Black Cat Cruises. The tour cruises along the volcanic crater, with the skipper offering interesting commentary about the landscape and its historic past.

As you sip free coffee and tea on the luxurious 60-foot catamaran, you’ll have the chance to spot the New Zealand fur seals and Hector’s dolphins as you pass by sheer volcanic cliffs, sea caves and the majestic volcanic amphitheatre of Scenery Nook.

16. Learn About The Blue Pearls At The Blue Pearl Gallery

Blue Pearl Gallery on the docks in Akaroa

While you wander the streets of Akaroa, stop in at The Blue Pearl Gallery to learn about their pearl farm in the harbour and the journey it takes to create the beautiful jewellery adorning their shop windows.

Granted, this isn’t a very adventurous thing to do in Akaroa, but we surprisingly enjoyed learning about the pearls and browsing the wide range of jewellery that they can make with a single shell and pearl.

17. Search For The Bronze Animals On The Children’s Bay Walk

For a fun little afternoon walk on the edge of town, explore the Children’s Bay Loop and search for the bronze animals along the way. This is a great walk for families, where the kids can try to find all the animal statues scattered throughout.

The main attraction of the loop is the Rhino at the top of the hill – which also provides beautiful views across the Akaroa Harbour. The loop is 5 km long and takes roughly 1.5 hours, making it a great option for sunset.

Final Thoughts

Driving on the windy, unsealed and steep roads of the Akaroa Eastern Bays

We didn’t expect to stay as long as we did in Akaroa, and certainly didn’t realise how much we’d fall in love with the cute French-inspired town and its surrounding volcanic landscape. But we found so many varied things to do in Akaroa that we are already planning a return trip!

We hope this article has given you some inspiration for your visit to Akaroa. But remember, don’t just stay within the quaint streets, take a drive or a walk and explore the unique mountain range and the countless bays surrounding Banks Peninsula.

Happy Adventuring 🙂

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