Although it's located in a former British colony, Akaroa Harbour is decidedly French—down to the baguettes and street names—as this Christchurch enclave was originally founded by pioneering French settlers. Just 90 minutes from Christchurch on the rugged Banks Peninsula, Akaroa drifts along at a pace that's much more rural, laidback—and French—than the South Island's bustling metropolis.
Aside from the welcoming, francophone atmosphere and scenic views, Akaroa is an especially popular spot due to its offering of a chance to spot wild dolphins. Because the harbor is located inside the caldera of a sunken volcano, it's an ideal spot to view the aquatic mammals as they splash and swim in the wild, with some operations allowing you to swim alongside them if you keep a respectable distance.
In addition to dolphins, penguins also live in Akaroa Harbour, as well as colonies of fur seals that frequent the rocks and diving cormorants, or shags. For some added adventure in the area, tour the scenic coastline by kayak and scour the waters for wildlife—you may see a pod of Hector's dolphins, the smallest dolphins in the world.
Akaroa is 46 miles (75 km) southeast of Christchurch, from which shuttles run daily. If driving from the city,. follow the scenic Highway 75 across the peninsula to Akaroa.
The harbor is a marine mammal sanctuary where encounters with wildlife are regulated. No touching or harassment of wildlife is allowed, and in events such as mother animals seen swimming with babies, or dolphins appearing to be feeding, guests can view the wildlife from the boat as opposed to getting in the water.