Boats in and out of the water of Akaroa Harbour. © Alex Tok

Akaroa: where French heritage, colonial architecture and a passion for fine food combine

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Charming: an overused word, perhaps, but the best possible description of the tiny township of Akaroa.

Well, it has a small permanent population of under a thousand, but that swells to 15 times that size over summer, when we all descend to soak up those charms, and a few things besides.

Located in the ‘long harbour’ (literal translation) of the same name, this was the country’s first French settlement. The French street names remain, as do a few descendants, and there is a Gallic scent in the air. Being French, there’s more fine food on offer than an initial reconnaissance might normally suggest — more croissants than cronuts, to be fair. Being so early settled there is some utterly outstanding architecture, including one of New Zealand’s oldest houses.

The Giant’s House, with its mosaics and artistic pieces and gorgeous terraced gardens is also a must see and, like most of the great and the good in this thriving little town, is easily accessible on foot.

With the region being a historical coming together — not always peaceful, it has to be said — of Maori, French and English, the museum offers a great perspective and some incredible artefacts from all three claimants on this quiet corner.

If you need further adventure, the sheltered harbour is a magnet for dolphins — a couple of companies offer the opportunity to swim with the friendly Hector’s variety, though whether they reciprocate will depend on their mood on the day. Play nicely, now. There are great guided tours of the surrounding areas, be they wet or dry, and whether your choice of transport is bike, boat or biped. And it’s a short and easy drive from Christchurch, so get up early and seize the day, Renée. Allons-y!

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