Akaroa

There's a rather off-putting, winding hill road between Christchurch and Akaroa, but you shouldn't let that deter you from visiting this little French-inspired whimsy on the shores of Akaroa Harbour.

From the time you reach the breathtaking setting of the Hilltop Tavern (& 03/ 325-1005), a country pub worth a visit, overlooking Akaroa and the harbor, you'll be seduced by this dramatic volcanic landscape. Jean Langlois, an early French explorer, took word of it back to France, and in 1840, two ships and a handful of settlers arrived to colonize the site. They were too late—the British had beaten them to it when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi the year before. The French abandoned their plan, but the settlers stayed on, casting about names such as Le Bons Bay, Duvauchelle, and French Farm. Today, you'll still find "rues" here, not streets.

In recent years, the community of about 800 residents has pulled up its promotional socks, and you'll find a growing number of excellent lodgings, restaurants, and shops. The Maori word akaroa means "long harbor," and that's exactly what dominates the village and its activities.

ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE From Christchurch, follow State Highway 75 to Akaroa, passing through Halswell Village and Little River, up over the hills and down around Akaroa Harbour. Two shuttle companies operate regularly from Christchurch. French Connection (& 0800/800-575 in NZ, or 03/366-4556; www.akaroafrenchconnection.co.nz) charges NZ$20 (US$11) one-way or NZ$40 (US$22) for a day tour. It departs from Christchurch Visitor Centre. The Akaroa Shuttle (& 0800/500-929; [email protected]) charges NZ$20 (US$11) one-way, NZ$35 (US$19) round-trip. Both make the 1-hour trip daily; reservations are essential.

VISITOR INFORMATION The Akaroa Information Centre is in the old post office building, 80 Rue Levaud (& and fax 03/304-8600; www.akaroa.com).

EXPLORING THE TOWN & HARBOR

A small museum, made up of four historic buildings on Rue Lavaud (& 03/3041013; [email protected]), has lively displays and good Maori collections. It's open daily from 10:30am to 4:30pm. The Langlois-Eteveneaux Cottage was partly prefabricated in France around 1846 and is probably the oldest in Canterbury. The Old French Cemetery was the first consecrated burial ground in Canterbury and is just off Rue Pompallier. The old lighthouse, which was in service from 1880 to 1980, is also interesting.

If you're artistically inclined, pick up the brochure for the self-guided Artisan's Trail of Banks Peninsula tf?, which leads to the homes and studios of 11 local artists and craftspeople. You'll need at least a day, as many of them are scattered farther afield in the surrounding bays.

One thing every visitor should do is experience the harbor firsthand. Akaora Sea Kayaks, Foreshore, Beach Road (& 03/304-875), offers guided kayak tours and rentals. Dolphin Experience Akaroa, 61 Beach Rd. (& 0508/365-744 in

If you feel like a break before crossing the hill, stop at the Little River Gallery ($($, Main Road, Little River (& 03/325-1944; www.littleriver gallery.com), where you'll find a wide range of New Zealand-made arts and crafts. And right beside the gallery is the excellent Little River Store & Café: Both are open daily—the gallery from 9:30am to 5:30pm, the store from 7:30am to 7:30pm, and the cafe from 7:30am to 6pm.

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