31 best things to do in the central North Island
Dominated by the enormous Lake Taupō and a trio of volcanoes including Mount Ruapehu, the Central Plateau is sporting a plethora of natural ...
This sweet, picturesque seaside village is a gorgeous holiday destination, settled by the French in 1838 and retaining a unique continental charm you won’t find anywhere else in New Zealand. Just an hour’s drive from Christchurch, Akaroa feels like a whole other world, with local art and crafts, on-water activities, wildlife, and delicious food and drink to discover.
This historic homestead’s beautiful gardens and stunning architectural features are a wonder in themselves, but it’s so much more than that. Artist Josie Martin has turned the Giant’s House into a playful and spectacular art attraction, with mosaicked sculptures adorning every corner of the gardens and the house itself doubling as a contemporary art gallery. The garden is now officially a Garden of International Significance and is only a short walk uphill from the town centre – not to be missed.
Akaroa Harbour is one of the only places you can spot Hector’s dolphins – the world’s smallest dolphin and also the rarest. Black Cat Cruises and Akaroa Dolphins both offer nature cruises to see the dolphins, penguins, fur seals and coastal birds. Black Cat Cruises also runs dolphin swimming expeditions, getting you face to face with these playful ocean mammals for an experience you’ll never forget.
Venture out into the bay on a paddleboard lit from below, admiring the sunset and then the lights of the township from the water while all manner of sea life comes to play around you, attracted by the light of your board. Night SUP Akaroa will fully induct you, so this is an activity suitable for complete beginners. The team also offer paddleboard hire during the day.
A leisurely stroll along the main street at one end of the village and around the waterfront to the other end will take you past a good few top-quality galleries and boutiques selling locally made goods. Start Ça Bouge for gorgeous designer clothing, footwear and accessories, and check out the gifts and homewares at Potpourri while you try to decide which flavours of fresh house-made fudge to take home (we recommend the passionfruit). Take a jaunt down the jetty to check out the stunning, unique treasures at the Blue Pearl Gallery, and carry on around to find local art, jewellery and beautiful things galore at Lava Gallery.
Taking in the beautiful scenery of Banks Peninsula is easy to do around here – scenic walks range from gentle bush tracks to full day hikes. The walk from Childrens Bay up into farmland and over the ridge has more to reward your efforts than just the sweeping views in all directions – keep your eye out for some interesting and surprising sculptures along the way! The walk to Newton’s Waterfall is also a beautiful and relatively easy track, and Woodills North and South are two scenic pastoral tracks featuring beautiful patches of native bush and views of the valley and harbour – about one and a half to two hours each or can be combined for a two-to-three-hour loop. The Banks Track private walk is a stunning two- or three-dayer taking in coastline, native bush, waterfalls and farmland that is widely regarded as one of the best private walks in the country.
Enjoy a special boutique cinema experience and support local while you’re at it by catching a film at this sweet little two-screen complex. The snacks are next level here, with savoury and sweet treats baked fresh daily, and the café and bar serves toasties, platters and a full menu of Italian pizzas. Settle in to the plush seats and enjoy a coffee or glass of wine with your movie – the cinema shows a selection of arthouse, classic, foreign and blockbuster films.
Climb aboard a kayak and set out on an adventure with Pohatu Penguins to explore the Pohatu Marine Reserve and meet its various inhabitants, including little blue penguins, fur seals and Hector’s dolphins. A sea kayaking safari doubles as a scenic tour of this beautiful stretch of coastline, with unbeatable views of the dramatic cliffs, rock stacks, sea caves and the impressive arch of Flea Bay Island.
A legendary name on the Banks Peninsula and all around the country, you won’t want to miss the chance to visit the Barrys Bay Cheese factory. Get a look behind the scenes to see exactly how the magic happens, whet your appetite with a tasting or two, and buy direct from the source at the on-site shop. You can even browse offcuts for a slightly less symmetrical but just as delicious piece of your favourite cheese at a discounted price.
If you’re driving over the hill from Christchurch, the Hilltop Tavern is an obligatory stop, with one of the best views looking out over the bay and peninsula. Say hi to the resident goat, and sustain yourself with good beer and classic pub food such as woodfired pizza, burgers, and Akaroa salmon. The tavern regularly plays host to live music, and offers safe transport back to your accommodation for koha if you want to make a night of it.
Tucked away on the hillside and boasting stunning views to enjoy along with your French-inspired wines, the Meniscus Wines vineyard is a great stop for a tasting or to take a bottle home. We recommend the award-winning Pinot Noir. French Peak Wines is known for its aromatics, particularly the Provence-style rosé, and is the oldest vineyard in Banks Peninsula. You can enjoy a glass or two in the tasting room or even stay onsite in boutique accommodation.