Christchurch to Akaroa, Returning via Banks Peninsula Bays
A road trip from Christchurch to Akaroa is a must-do if you’re visiting Christchurch, the Garden City. Akaroa is New Zealand’s only French colony, making this a special place of historic heritage, encompassing unique buildings and structures. It takes roughly an hour and a half of non-stop travel to drive to Akaroa from Christchurch, which equates to roughly 85 kilometres distance. Along this route, there are numerous things to see and places to stop, which is why we’ve made a list of highlights along the journey. This guide recommends roughly 3 days’ to experience all highlights along the way, but you can extend or shorten this itinerary to suit your trip specifically.
Start in Christchurch – Half to Full Day
New Zealand's 'Garden City', Christchurch, is where you’ll start your journey to Akaroa. Christchurch is one of New Zealand’s oldest cities, which means there are plenty of historic buildings around this city. This city was hit with devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, meaning major rebuilds around the CBD were needed. Some things to explore in a day include:
- Christchurch Botanical Gardens is a beautiful place to stretch your legs with a walk around the Avon River.
- The Bridge of Remembrance is a war memorial in the CBD, which opened in 1924 to remember soldiers of the First World War.
- Check out the Cardboard Cathedral, a temporary replacement made from 60-metre cardboard tubes.
- The International Antarctic Centre is an interactive museum that holds Haglund rides, a storm dome, 4D theatre and rescued penguins for visitors to learn about Antarctica.
Port Hills – 1 Day
The Port Hills will be one of the first encounters as you leave Christchurch. This mountain range lies between the city and Lyttleton Port, which is how it originally earned the name. The Port Hills is part of an extinct volcano from millions of years ago, which is why deep valleys have formed through the Banks Peninsula. Here are a few activities do to while around the Port Hills:
- There are numerous walking tracks on the Port Hills for many different abilities. One great walking track is the Bridle Path - This track was originally formed in 1850 for horseback travel before there was a road between Christchurch and Lyttleton.
- The Christchurch Gondola runs from the Christchurch side of the hills up to the summit, with 360-degree views of everything from the Pacific Ocean through to the Southern Alps in the distance.
Lake Ellesmere – Half Day
This is Canterbury’s largest lake (named Te Waihora in Maori) and is valued highly by Maori for cultural and environmental values. Lake Ellesmere has no natural outlet to the ocean beside it, however, has been opened to the sea with machinery over 300 times since 1852.
- Harts Creek Track is an easy-access short-walk through native trees to Lake Ellesmere. You’ll find a wildlife management reserve beside the lake, where you can keep your eyes peeled for the 166 different species of birds recorded in this area.
- Have a picnic by the lake and the beach at the same time!
Birdlings Flat – Half Day
This small town was originally named Te Mata Hapuku and is located close to Lake Ellesmere. It is known for its wild seas, eroded cliffs and gemstone hunting, hence great photo opportunities. Spend the day exploring:
- The Gemstone and Fossil Museum is free and shows a vast range of gemstones, fossils and other minerals found in the area and around the South Island.
- The Kaituna Golf Club is located 10 minutes’ drive from the township and is open all year round.
- If you’re travelling with kids, there’s also a playground in this small township that they’re sure to enjoy- you can’t miss it!
Little River – Half Day
Little River is a small and quirky historic township known for its unique accommodation options, arts and crafts, as well as photo-worthy historic sites like its rail station in the town centre. Take some time to visit:
- A gallery on the main street of Little River holds local artists’ artworks, as well as crafts, jewellery and souvenirs.
- If you plan on visiting in January, the Bank Peninsula A&P Show is held in Little River and is one of the most popular shows in Canterbury.
- As you leave Little River, the road will incline until you reach the hilltop. Take a moment to appreciate the view overlooking Akaroa Harbour.
Akaroa – 1+ Days
This township was founded by French settlers in 1840 and is New Zealand’s only French settlement, which is why it holds a French festival yearly in October. This is a slow-paced town with birds and marine life everywhere. While you’re here make sure do these activities:
- Visit the Giant’s House- It’s a Garden of International Significance, with mosaic artworks and gardens throughout.
- Visit the Akaroa Museum to learn more history of Banks Peninsula.
- Take a wildlife tour to see birds, penguins, or even swim with Hector’s Dolphins- There are plenty of tour options to choose from to fit your needs or budget.
- Visit Barry’s Bay Cheese Factory, located at the base of Ōnawe Peninsula. You’ll find a variety of delicious cheeses using local, grass-fed cows.
You could spend days in Akaroa alone, but we’ve just listed a few highlights of the area and places along the way that allow you to make the most of your trip. So, what will you do first in the Banks Peninsula on your way to Akaroa?