The small waterside town of AKAROA (“Long Bay”), on the eastern shores of Akaroa Harbour, 85km southeast of Christchurch, comes billed as New Zealand’s French settlement. Certainly the first settlers came from France, some of their architecture survives and the street names they chose have stuck, but that’s about as French as it gets. Nonetheless, the town milks the connection with a couple of French-ish restaurants, some French-sounding boutique B&Bs and a tricolour fluttering over the spot where the first settlers landed.
Still, it is a pretty place, strung along the shore in a long ribbon easily seen on foot, with attractive scenery all around, plus a smattering of low-key activities including a unique dolphin swim, and easy access to the Banks Peninsula Track. But Akaroa primarily pitches itself to those looking for gentle strolls followed by good food and wine before falling into a comfy bed. These factors make the town a popular Kiwi holiday destination; some two-thirds of its houses are baches (holiday homes), leaving only around 550 permanent residents.
The site of Akaroa was originally the domain of the Ngai Tahu paramount chief, Temaiharanui. In 1838, French Commander Jean Langlois traded goods for what he believed to be the entire peninsula and returned to France to encourage settlers to populate a new French colony. Meanwhile, the British sent William Hobson to assume the role of lieutenant-governor over all the land that could be purchased; and just six days before Lavaud sailed into the harbour, the British flag was raised in Akaroa. Lavaud’s passengers decided to stay, which meant that the first formal settlement under British sovereignty was comprised of 63 French and six Germans.