8 Best Things to Do in Akaroa Cruise Port (New Zealand) | Port Guide

Akaroa Bay

Welcome to Akaroa cruise port, New Zealand!

Akaroa is a small town on the volcanic Banks Peninsula on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island known for its picturesque harbour, stunning nature, wildlife, and beautiful colonial architecture.

Set in a sheltered Akaroa harbour where you can often see rare Hector’s dolphins swimming, Akaroa was the only French settlement in New Zealand. It is known as the main gateway to the town of Christchurch located 82 km/51 miles northwest of the dock. In this Akaroa travel guide, I share with you insider information on:

  • Akaroa cruise port (Akaroa cruise terminal, getting around the port)
  • Top 8 things to do in Akaroa port & Akaroa shore excursions

Visit also our cruise port guides to Milford Sound, Dunedin, Picton, Wellington, Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Bay of Islands

Akaroa Cruise Port

Akaroa port is a tender port, which means that cruise ships drop the anchor in the middle of the bay and use tender boats to transfer the passengers ashore. Tenders will drop you off at the Akaroa Wharf, from where you can explore the town on foot.

Akaroa cruise port - Akaroa Main Wharf, New Zealand
Akaroa Main Wharf. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.
Akaroa downtown
Akaroa downtown. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Getting Around Akaroa Harbour

  • Akaroa Harbour is a small and very “French” settlement boasting unique colonial architecture and a variety of boutiques, galleries, shops and eateries mainly located on Beach Road and Rue Lavaud streets (a 10-minute walk from the dock). Church Street offers several authentic stores offering handcrafted jewelry and one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
  • Akaroa Beach is located right next to the wharf and offers beautiful views of the French Bay and the harbour.
  • At the tender drop-off point, you will see independent vendors running “Swimming with Dolphins” tours and wildlife cruises in the bays of Akaroa.
  • An independent tour operator operates local taxis with free service around Akaroa (tips at guests’ discretion). The loop trip operates every 15 minutes from Akaroa’s Main Wharf and goes to the center of Akaroa (Akaroa Visitor Information Center) and to the end of the town called Akaroa Recreation Ground. Sometimes they stop at the Giant’s House, one of the main highlights of the Harbor.
  • There is also a round trip Akaroa shuttle service to Christchurch (the transport companies “French Connection” and “Red Bus”). The traveling time is 1.5-2 hours one way, shuttles leave from Akaroa main wharf and will drop you off outside the Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue in Christchurch. 
  • Cruise lines also offer round trip shuttle service to Christchurch but it’s more expensive, however, it guarantees to return to the ship on time (and the ship waits for you in case the shuttle is late).
  • All shuttle services are available right where the tender boat drops you off and payment is available by cash only (local currency)
  • The currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and 1 US dollar equals around 1.62 NZD. Only very few shops accept credit cards, so it’s advised to have a local currency. ATMs are available in the town. See the currency converter 
  • Akaroa Hop on Hop off tours that include up to 8 stops in Akaroa are also available at the wharf.
  • There is no wi-fi in the harbour. Computers and free wi-fi access are available at the Akaroa Public Library on Rue Jolie. Some restaurants offer it for an extra fee.
  • English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages of New Zealand.
  • The post office is located next to the Akaroa Adventure Centre, on Rue Lavaud.
  • Christchurch International Airport is the closest airport and is located 86 km/54 miles northwest of Akaroa Harbour.
  • Explore Akaroa tours and activities
  • Try the local ice cream! It is considered the best ice cream in New Zealand!

8 Best Things to Do in Akaroa Cruise Port

1. Swimming with Dolphins

New Zealand tourism is all about wildlife! Akaroa is the only place in the world where you can swim with Hector’s dolphins, the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins endemic to New Zealand! These beautiful mammals can be found around the inshore waters of New Zealand’s South Island and never go far from the place they were born.

The highest population is found around Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula so these are the only places where you can actually see and swim with them. Maui dolphin, the sub-species of Hector’s dolphin, can be seen in the waters of New Zealand’s North Island.

Hector's dolphins,South Island, New Zealand
Hector’s dolphins. Source: Creative Commons

Both cruise lines and independent tour operators offer the Dolphin Swimming Experience and it’s one of the most requested Akaroa tours as you get to swim with dolphins in their natural habitat! Most of the tours include snacks/drinks and are educational so you’ll learn a lot about native wildlife and these adorable mammals!

Kids have to be accompanied by parents or legal guardians during the dolphin experience. Dolphin sightings cannot be guaranteed. No devices are permitted in the water while swimming with dolphins.

Check out Akaroa dolphins tours and activities

2. Wildlife Cruise

Besides Hector’s dolphins, Akaroa harbour is home to seals, seabirds, penguins, and other stunning wildlife! You may see yellow-eyed penguins, white-flippered blue penguins (the smallest penguin in the world) as well as New Zealand’s fur seals sunning themselves on the harbor’s rock. Akaroa nature cruise usually takes you along an extinct volcanic crater that was active 9 million years ago.

Fur seal, New Zealand
New Zealand wildlife. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Wildlife cruises involve a minimum of walking and you need to be able to handle between 2 to 5 steps when embarking on the boat. Wildlife sightings cannot be guaranteed. Closed-toe shoes and a rain/wind jacket are recommended.

Check out Akaroa wildlife cruises 

3. The Giant’s House

The Giant’s House is an outstanding artwork and sculpture display by New Zealand’s notable artist Josie Martin. This historic house featuring original contemporary artworks, terraced gardens with sculptures, mosaics, and ceramics has been awarded 6 stars and is now a Garden of International Significance (NZGT).

The house has many one-of-a-kind features, including a grand entrance hall with a mahogany staircase imported from France, original open fireplaces, mosaic floors, picturesque rooms, artistic furniture and so much more! With its extraordinary mosaic garden full of colorful, unique sculptures, The Giant’s House is a must-see place and one of the most visited Akaroa attractions.

The Giant's House, Akaroa, New Zealand
The Giant’s House. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

The Giants House is located 1.4 km/0.8 miles from Akaroa Harbour and is reachable within a 20-minute walk (or less than a 5-minute drive). The house is located on a hill, so it might be challenging for people with walking difficulties. Closed-toe shoes are recommended.

Check out The Giant’s House tours and activities

4. Lord of the Rings “Edoras”

Embark on a spectacular journey to the Middle Earth and explore the sites where some major scenes from Peter Jackson’s trilogy were filmed! On your way, admire the breathtaking beauty of the Rakaia Gorge and River, the Southern Alps, the high country’s sparkling lakes, blue rivers and mountains!

Ride through the Canterbury Plains to Mount Sunday, a hill overlooking the Rangitata River transformed into Edoras, the capital city of the Kingdom of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although the set and the buildings are not there, the area is so mind-blowing and evocative of the movie that you’ll enjoy it even if you are not a Lord of the Rings fan!

Mount Sunday, Lord of the Rings location sites, New Zealand
Mount Sunday, or “Edoras” from the Lord of the Rings! Source: Creative Commons

Traveling time from the Akaroa wharf to Mount Sunday is between 1 hour 45 min to 2 hours each way.  It is highly recommended you book this tour through your cruise line due to the long distance of the site. Closed-toe shoes are recommended.

5. Christchurch Town

With a population of over 350.000, Christchurch is the largest city in New Zealand’s South Island and the third-largest city in the country. Known for its rich English heritage, Christchurch is the seat of the Canterbury Region also called the “garden city” due to its vast green spaces, beautiful botanic gardens, and a peaceful Avon River meandering through the city.

Christchurch is a bustling city packed with numerous architectural gems, museums, art galleries, innovative venues, and a perfect gateway to the Canterbury region’s hidden gems, spectacular landscapes and a stunning coastline.

Christchurch Tram
The iconic Christchurch Tram. Source: Pixabay.com

Some of the main Christchurch highlights are the futuristic Te Puna o Waiwhetu Art Gallery, Air Force Museum, International Antarctic Centre (with penguins, huskies and simulated Antarctic environment), Canterbury Museum, Hagley Park, Cathedral Square, Botanic Gardens, Christchurch Cathedral (heavily damaged in an earthquake), and many more!

Take a boat ride or a leisurely stroll along the Avon River, hop on Christchurch Tram, ride on the iconic Gondola, or explore the city’s countless restaurants, bars, shops, and a lively sporting and cultural scene!

Christchurch City is located 81 km/50 miles northwest of Akaroa Harbour (approximately 1 hour 30 minutes driving distance, depending on the traffic). Shuttle from Akaroa to Christchurch (and vice versa) is available. Both cruise lines and independent tour operators (“French Connection” transport company) offer it, and there is usually only one daily departure. The shuttle bus pick-up/drop-off point is in front of the Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue (Christchurch) and at Akaroa Wharf.

Check out Christchurch tours and activities

6. Orana Wildlife Park 

Spreading across 80 hectares only 25 minutes’ drive from Christchurch, Orana Wildlife Park is home to New Zealand’s only gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, white rhinos, the native kiwi bird, and other species. The park provides the ultimate animal adventure with lots of exotic and native species of animals, and is highly recommended for families with kids and animal lovers!

Orana Wildlife Park is located 94 km/59 miles (a 1h 30-minute drive) northwest of Akaroa cruise port.

Check out Orana Wildlife Park tours and activities

7. Gondola Ride Experience

Enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of Christchurch town while riding on an iconic gondola rising 1.640 feet (500 meters) above sea level! The gondola is 1000 meters in length and from the summit, you can take in the fantastic views of the Canterbury Plains, the Southern Alps, Lyttelton Harbor, and the Banks Peninsula. The Gondola is ranked as one of the top tourist attractions in Christchurch and is a must-see for all first-time visitors!

Explore Christchurch Gondola tours and activities

8. Pohatu Penguins 

Pohatu Marine Reserve is the largest Little Penguin colony on mainland New Zealand located only 30 minutes’ drive south of Akaroa Harbour.

In this wonderful nature reserve, you can see penguins, gulls, wetas, seals, geckos and also monitor them during the breeding season. The bay is home to two types of penguins: the hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) and korora (little blue penguin), and you will also meet the pet sheep gathered around the homestead while you are there!

Pohatu Penguins, Akaroa, New Zealand
Pohatu Penguin Reserve. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Pohatu Nature Reserve is located on Flea Bay, on the southeast side of Banks Peninsula, and it’s highly recommended to use a 4WD vehicle due to the extremely steep and bumpy roads and cliffs. Kayaking and hiking are two popular activities here.

Check out Pohatu Penguins tours and activities

Also visit our cruise port guides to Australian cruise ports

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