The biggest event in Akaroa each year is the French Fest in which the town celebrates its heritage. The town becomes a big market place with French food, wine and market stalls, entertainment, fun and the re-enactment of the French landing on the vessel Comte de Paris 1840 in Akaroa.
This year (2008) it takes place on 10 and 11 October (Friday/Saturday).
On Friday (6.45pm) official representatives assemble to raise the flag and open the fest.
On Saturday the fun things take place.
The probably most interesting points are:
11.45am Re-enactment of the French landing (beach front)
12.10pm Street Parade, starting at the landing site
6.30pm - 10pm Dance Party
Most entertainment is free of charge. They also hold French cooking classes which are NZ$ 15 each, admission to the party is NZ$ 10.
A sensible thing to do would probably be to consider transportation from Christchurch on Saturday. The Red Bus will be operating a shuttle service for NZ$ 20 pp return. Departure is at 9.30am from outside the Christchurch City Council building in Tuam Street (parking at the CCC carpark in Tuam Street is free). The return trip from Akaroa starts at 5.30pm.
More info about transportation on the Red Bus website.
Maori people aren't as common to see in the South Island as the North, but if you want to see a little of their culture/architecture in Akaroa, from the Akaroa township, keep driving about 6 kms further down the harbour, and you will come to a small village with both a Maori church and a meeting house (Onuku I believe it is called).
The church was open so we were able to have a look inside and admire the beautiful wod-work. The meeting house was private property so we just admired it from the fence.
A plaque on the whale pot reads: "Whaling Trypot used by Captain Hempleman, Peraki, 1835". Whaling was at one time New Zealand's most important industry. By 1836 at least eleven ships, four of them American, worked the season which began about May when the whales came close to the coasts to calve in warmer shallow waters." Migrating whales were spotted from the headlands and then long boats were used to manoeuvre close enough for them to be harpooned. The whales were then beached at high tide and the blubber reduced to oil in trypots such as this. Today Akaroa harbour is still home to the world's smallest whale - the Hector's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori, or Waiaua in Maori). The Hector's dolphin is most commonly seen in the harbour between November and March." Captain Hempleman's shore based station at Peraki is the first recorded European settlement on Banks Peninsula.
The French cemetery is the oldest consecrated cemetery in the South Island of New Zealand. It is set in beautiful bush in the L'Aube hill reserve above Akaroa. The French colonists arrived in 1840, on board the Comte de Paris. Accompanying them was a naval escort ship, the L’Aube, hence the name of this area.
Henri Citron, Diplome de L'Ecole de Paris was Akaroa's Dispensing Chemist and Druggist between 1877 and 1888. His first shop stood in the corner of Rue Lavaud and Rue Balguerie, but Citron did not own the land on which it stood and so in 1883 he move to larger premises on the corner of Rue Lavaud and Rue Croix. The shop has been a chemist's ever since. His wife ran a Drapery business in Akaroa for a couple of years and it is thought that she conducted business from the small room now used as the dispensary. The shop also stocked stationery. In 1888 George Fawcitt Dodds took over Citron's business and a year later, when Dodds opened a dental surgery in his shop the building became known as the "Medical Hall". George Dodds' son George Fawcitt Dodds (jun.), travelled over from Ashburton on a regular basis to serve as the shop's dentist and the business was later taken over by another of Dodd's sons, John Scott Dodds. The latter ran the shop until 1926 when it was leased to George Davidson and subsequently Charles Clark. Then in 1935, Richard Stewart bought the chemist shop. In 1940, it narrowly missed being destroyed by an aircraft which crashed into a nearby shop on June 15 of that year. At that time the Rue Croix elevation of the building was extensively damaged by fire, but the shop was rebuilt. Richard Stewart served as Akaroa's chemist for over 40 years, and the shop is now run by his son Richard Stewart jun. who took over from his father in the mid 1970's, a remarkable continuity of ownership and use. George Fawcitt Dodds is buried in the Dissenters and Public cemetery.
Italianate detailing upon two storeyed building with hipped roof. Shop front features pilasters supporting cornice between floors. Corner entrance, sash windows. Rusticated weatherboards. Flats upstairs.
Late Victorian classicism - symmetrical façade, Gibbs surround, pediment over arched entrance with prominent keystone, large parapet with central Dutch gable. Lapped weatherboads with elaborate timber façade, iron roof. This building could have been designed as an exercise in stone detailing and built in stone without altering a single detail. The central feature is capped with what could be called a Dutch gable. The parapet with its balustrade is correctly finished with a solid paneled feature at each end. Below this the cornice to the entablature is furnished, in the centre, with a pediment; the windows each have their own cornice supported on brackets of Classical design and the central arched doorway is finished with an imposing keystone. The whole dating 1895 is quite magnificent.
The construction of the lighthouse at the Akaroa Heads was started in 1878 and the lights were first shown in 1880. In 1951 the lighthouse was converted from oil illumination to electric power, which was first provided by a diesel generator and later by connection to mains supply. The light was automated in 1977. The original lighthouse building was moved to Akaroa township in 1980.
The records include daily log books 1880-1959; letter books including monthly reports to the Marine Department 1893-1913, 1922-1932, 1937-1944; general orders 1923-1946; visitors' books, 1880-1915, 1927-1947, 1971-1977; plans of the lighthouse and alterations
Maori, colonial and contemporary displays and a 20 minute film about Akaroa and its history.