With pretty painted cottages, overflowing verdant balconies and street names such as Rue Lavaud and Fleur Lane, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have stepped onto the streets of Provence upon arrival in Akaroa. And yet, here you are, in New Zealand’s South Island, less than 50 kilometres from Christchurch.
The French connection stems from 1838, when Captain Jean Francois Langlois acquired the land for six British pounds (and questionable circumstances) from the Maoris. He then travelled home to France in order to bring back anyone who might want to join him in his new life. However, during his travels, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed (signatories included two Akaroa Maori chiefs) and New Zealand's first Governor, Hobson, declared sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand. Thus when Langlois and his settlers arrived back, they were faced with a choice: either return home to France or stay on. They chose the latter, and their legacy prevails.
There are many stunning places on the coast of New Zealand, but none of them can quite hold a candle to Akaroa. Visually, it is stunning. Surrounded by natural wonders, the town (Maori for “Long Harbour”) stands on a peninsula formed by two volcanic cones, and is self-styled as nature’s playground. Such a moniker might seem superlative for other destinations, but not here: sheep graze almost right to the water’s edge, dolphins are regularly spotted in the many small, secluded bays and Lord of the Rings grandeur stretches as far as the eye can see.