Akaroa is 84km by road from Christchurch and is at the end of State Highway 75. It has a population of about 600 but in peak tourist time this can rise to about 7,000. The town sits on a large sheltered harbour and is surrounded by the remains of an ancient volcano.
While settled by the British, Akaroa’s claim to fame is its French history. In 1838, a year before New Zealand was claimed by the British, a French Captain made a provisional purchase of land in the Banks Peninsula. On his return to France he advertised for settlers who arrived in New Zealand in 1840 to discover that the peninsula was now British soil. They established a small settlement in August 1840 which was known as Port Louis-Philippe.
The area around Akaroa still has a French influence as seen in the many French place and street names.
On the way to the harbour town of Akaroa the Hill Top Tavern offers more than food and drink. The views of the Akaroa Harbour from the carpark are fantastic. Even better - enjoy a drink or a meal in the beer garden and soak in the view.
Governor's Bay is the name of a small town and bay on Lyttleton Harbour about 10km to the west of Lyttleton. It has a picturesque jetty and an historic hotel and is a favourite place for a weekend drive.
The road from Lyttleton is very popular with cyclists and a foot race is held from Governor's Bay to Lyttleton each year.
Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula, is 84 km by road from Christchurch. It is at the end of State Highway 75 which travels along the shore of Lyttleton Harbour before crossing Gebbies Pass. The road then follows Lake Ellsmere and climbs the remains of the ancient volcano to the Hill Top Tavern where you can see spectacular views of Akaroa Harbour. After leaving the top the road takes you through the small towns on the harbour. It is a beautiful drive.
Even more beautiful is the tourist drive along Summit Road. The turn-off to Summit Road is on the left just before you reach the Hill Top Tavern. It is well sealed but very winding and hilly which makes for some magnificent views of Akaroa Harbour. I some places you can even see the mouth of the harbour where it meets the Pacific Ocean.
Lyttelton Harbour is one of two major inlets in Banks Peninsula and the closest to Christchurch. The other is Akaroa which on the other side of the peninsula.
It is almost 15 km in length and apart from the commercial harbour has many delightful coves and bays.
There is a road along the edge of the inlet which takes you to Teddingotn where you will find the trun-off to Gebbies Pass and from there to the rest of the Banks Peninsula. There are also many good walking trails to be taken in the area.
Do not only drive to Akaroa but go on a tour Off the Beaten Path on gravel roads, where you can enjoy stunning scenery, turquoise blue harbours and bays, nice beaches, wildlife.
If you have time for tramping climb Mt. Herbert, the highest peak of Banks Peninsula. From the top you feel like on top of the world and have incredible views over most parts of Canterbury, and you will understand the volcanic history of Lyttelton Harbour, just by looking around.
Please check out my Off the Beathen Path tip in which you find exact information about the route on Banks Peninsula. The trip is the most spectacular thing you can do on a beautiful day while you are in Christchurch.
Update May 2008
I have now relocated my Akaroa tips from my Christchurch page to a new Akaroa page - which I created because I wanted a VT page about Banks Peninsula. I think nobody really searches tips about Banks Peninsula on a Christchurch page, and my Christchurch page is getting too crowded. Places that are located around Lyttelton Harbour but located on Banks Peninsula are still on my Lyttelton page (for example, Diamond Harbour, Mt. Herbert, Governors Bay, etc.).
Visit the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa
Nice contrasts from the plains to the sight from the top of the big extint volcano (that forms the Banks Peninsula), and the sea side village called Akaroa, a French village that still retains its street names, cheese factories... see also the local sealife (seals, cormorant, and the rare Hector dolphins - the smallest dolphins in the world)
There is a road around Lyttle Harbour that connects all the small towns and settlements. The scenery that awaits you as you drive around corners is breathtaking.