Tourists and locals alike rave about the natural beauty of New Zealand’s South Island. After exploring both islands we’ve concluded that they are simply incomparable! The diverse landscape of Ateorea1 , is home to a tropical climate in the North Island, filled with beaches during the warmer months while the South Island boasts of winter wonders during its cooler months.
During our stay in Christchurch, we took a road trip to Akaroa which is an easy 1.5 hour car ride southeast on the Banks Peninsula. The town is nestled in the Akaroa Harbour with amazing views and a small town charm. We initially visited Akaroa on a day trip right before our 5 Day Tour of the South Island and then later on for an overnight getaway with a few friends. We rented the coziest beach-inspired cottage, fully equipped with a full-size kitchen, living room, bathroom and enough rooms to accommodate five people.
Once you are in Akaroa
The best way to explore Akaroa is on foot! An easy 10 minute stroll takes you directly into the heart of town to quaint cafes, restaurants and gift shops. Short walking trails are ideal for a chance to view the picturesque hills and a closer look at the Akaroa Harbour. If that’s not enough, travelers have the opportunity to view dolphins, penguins and seals on a boat ride or visit the museum to learn about the town’s history. While you’re in town, be sure to stop at the gift shop to grab some fudge!
But the true beauty of Akaroa lies well beyond the outskirts of town. One of the most rewarding experiences was the discovery of the original Akaroa Lighthouse on Akaroa Heads, not to be confused with the lighthouse at the edge of Akaroa Harbour. In 1887, the historic lighthouse once overlooked the Halylocks Bay but was relocated in 1980 to its current location, Cemetery Point (now known as Lighthouse Point). Away from the flurry of tourists, the off beaten destination is the perfect escape to view open pastures that are littered with sheep, rolling hills and a hidden treasurers along the Haylocks Bay.
Getting to Akaroa Lighthouse
From the heart of town, take the Akaroa Lighthouse Road. As a cautionary warning, this drive is only for the most reliable of cars! Our first attempt was with our compact car rental, Scooter, and he barely made the trip! The 7 mile drive (11 km) of partial gravel and dirt road is severely steep, narrow and bumpy. Four wheel drive vehicles are highly recommended.
Once you’ve reached the pinnacle, a sign post prohibit cars from entering past a specific point. Enter the reserve on foot through the gate and follow the descending path to the old lighthouse grounds. But don’t stop there! Keep going along the path for another 30 minutes until the path bends around the cove of Halylocks Bay. Without the slightest disturbance of mankind, you’ll spot a herd of seals playing in a few makeshift pools that are carved naturally from the rock’s cliffs.
Tip: The track difficulty of this walk is moderate- easy on the way down and a moderate to semi-difficult on the return due to the incline. If you need a break on the way back up, just turn around and enjoy the view! We stopped a few times to catch our breath but it was worth it!
Further down the old supply road, the trail ends at an iron ladder which descends to the Bay’s rock shelf. If you are afraid of heights, it’s best not to make the effort but if you’re feeling a little dangerous with an Indiana Jones curiosity, be prepared for an adventure. Being by the edge of the water was both peaceful and eye-opening.
Depending on the time of day, the tide could be low enough for you to venture further into the cove. We managed to beat the tide by timing when it pulled away from the rocks but made a leap at its lowest point. But the tide is a tricky thing as we realized! It not only returned, but rose in depth, soaking our sneakers! We laughed at how unpredictable Mother Nature is, but it was a good lesson- never underestimate the power of water. Needless to say, there is a certain thrill when you realize your back is pinned against the jagged wall of rocks as the rising tide is headed your way. Thankfully, we knew that we weren’t in any immediate danger and the worse would be to fall into the steady waters and wade back to the bank. We realize that travel is meant to provide us with memorable experiences and the moments outside of your comfort zone are ones to be treasured for a lifetime.
Have you been to Akaroa?! If so, let us know your experience in the comments below!
In the meantime, walk in our shoes by watching our travel videos on YouTube!
1. Maori name for New Zealand