Background

Having the Tuesday off from work for Melbourne Cup day provided a great opportunity to get a 4-day long weekend with only one day off work.

Flight details

As it was our wedding anniversary, we thought it would be fitting to spend it in New Zealand, which is where we got married.

Flights were cheapest to Christchurch, I bought the flights around 5 weeks before the trip after watching the prices fluctuate for a few weeks, I knew $330 return on Virgin Australia was too good of a deal to miss. As we often do, to minimise time off work, we took the 6.35PM VA99 flight from Melbourne and the 3.50PM return flight VA96 from Christchurch on the Tuesday afternoon.

Flying Virgin Australia was enjoyable, with baggage, seat selection, a meal and beverage service included. Unfortunately, the in-flight entertainment system, which requires you to download the app onto your iPhone or iPad before the flight did not work on either flight. It’s best to download a few shows you like on the Netflix app to watch in these circumstances.

After a slight flight delay, we landed in Christchurch just after midnight and picked up our car from Hertz.

Christchurch

The drive from Christchurch airport into town is a short trip down a tree-lined avenue. We booked into an Airbnb in central Christchurch, ensuring that it was self-check-in due to our late arrival. We were probably a bit too central for our liking as there was a bit of noise during the evening, into the wee hours of Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning we woke up and headed towards the Antigua Boat Sheds. We got on street parking and used coins to pay for the parking meter, but there was also a card option. We walked along the river, into the botanic gardens and through the Custodian’s lodge.

Spring is a beautiful time in Christchurch and the Botanic Gardens, Hagley Park and the Avon give a great glimpse of the original Christchurch I know and loved. Growing up it was a fairytale town and I remember nothing short of an idyllic childhood taking ballet classes in the Arts Centre, roller blading in Hagley Park and playing on Sumner beach.

Next we headed to C1 Espresso, which is an absolute must visit. This part of the city is still under construction, but much of the city has reopened – like the new area in Oxford Terrace.

After brunch with our friends we looked around some of the cute suburbs of Christchurch like Merivale, so I could show Karl where I grew up. We then drove up to Cashmere to have an iced tea at The Cup cafe before heading on to Akaroa.

Akaroa – Getting there

You’ll want a car to get to Akaroa. There are a few options for your drive to Akaroa. The length and scenic-ness are directly correlated.

  1. State Highway 75 (SH75) – 1hr10m
  2. Gebbies Pass plus SH75 – 1hr30m
  3. Gebbies Pass plus Summit – 1h55m

The most direct route is via SH75, this is not very scenic until you hit Little River. If you don’t mind some winding roads, the best way to drive would be to take Option 2 one way and Option 3 the other way.

Akaroa

Akaroa is a quaint little town nestled within Akaroa Harbour on the Banks Peninsula. It’s really a tiny little town which swells in size during the summer months or on cruise ship days.

If you want good food, tranquility, nice nature walks and the ability to see unique wildlife, Akaroa is an excellent holiday spot.

Because of its popularity with the holidaying, weekend and summer crowds, this little town is spoilt with excellent tour options, restaurants and accomodation.

There are dramatic hills surrounding the town, with driving, hiking and mountain biking being popular options to explore the different areas of the peninsula.

Akaroa accomodation

Akaroa has plenty of motels, b&bs, Airbnbs and other accomodation options. We stayed at the historic Blythcliffe house – built in 1857!

My husband and I enjoyed a wonderful few days staying in this historic manor celebrating out first wedding anniversary. Lesley and John, the hosts, have created a beautiful b&b experience. Not only is Akaroa a peaceful and beautiful town, but Blythcliffe is a private oasis within the already divine surrounds. The birds chirping, the smell of the flowers in the verdant garden and the calming sounds of the creek created a constant sense of bliss. Our hosts went out of their way to accomodate our every request from breakfast, to assisting dinner reservations and booking a dolphin swim. John welcomed us with open arms and showed us many interesting aspects of the property. Lesley marked out all the various things we might like to do on a map over breakfast and we proceeded to follow her suggestions, including a beautiful hike right by the property.

Every morning we enjoyed a indulgent breakfast of croissants, fruit, yogurt, cereal as well as a cooked breakfast (salmon omelette or traditional cooked breakfast) with fresh coffee and orange juice. We stayed in the Rose Room but got a glimpse of the Willow Room and the Stables. If you love having a view of the water, stay in the Rose Room. We loved the balcony and staring out the windows at the lovely treetops while reading a book. All the rooms looked lovely and seem to have their own benefits.

We didn’t realise when we booked that the Rose & Willow room share a wonderful little tea room with complimentary tea, biscuits, fruit and some basic kitchen items like plates, cups, chopping boards and utensils which allowed us to have a lovely DIY cheese plate and champagne on the balcony one afternoon. This is a thoughtful addition which adds to the luxury of the experience.

Restaurants, tours & things to do

Our favourite restaurant in Akaroa was definitely Rona’s. We enjoy the food at Little Bistro but the service wasn’t quite up to scratch. Ma Maison and Harbar were also good.

We hiked up to Purple Peak Saddle which was a short but challenging afternoon hike. There were so many wonderful hiking options, but we really needed the chill out time, reading and relaxing at Blythcliffe. The best way to reach the start of the Purple Peak saddle without adding to our hike was to drive straight up Rue Balguerie (where Blythcliffe is), keep left at the fork and drive until the road stopped!

In short: Akaroa is a peaceful little town near Christchurch and perfect for dolphin swimming, relaxing, hiking and eating at Rona’s.

Akaroa Heritage Park has gorgeous views and some short strolls if your legs aren’t quite up to a long hike. You can drive right up to the park and leave a donation for its upkeep.

We were recommended to visit the Museum and Meniscus Winery.

There were sailing options, kayaking options and SUP tours available. We initially wanted to go sailing but the boat we wanted to sail on was being serviced in Lyttelton so we ended up booking in to a dolphin swim instead.

Dolphin Swim

The highlight of our trip was certainly the Dolphin Swim with the Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa Harbour. We booked in with locally owned and run company EcoSeaker.

We wore our swimsuits under out clothes and walked straight down Rue Balguerie from Blythcliffe towards the Harbour. We met the owner at the famous Akaroa Pier and were fitted into our thick wetsuits and wetsuit boots before heading onto the rigid-inflatable boat (RIB). The best thing is that the inflatable parts of the boat allow you to lean right over and see the dolphins swimming and playing under the hull of the boat.

Once of the boat, we learnt about the harbour. dolphins and safety for our swim. It didn’t take long to spot our first pod of these playful dolphins. Along the way we also saw penguins, seals and shags (a type of bird). After the dolphins showed some positive reactions, our guides decided it was a good opportunity for us to swim with the dolphins.

The wetsuits keep you super warm but our hands were a little bit chilly. Lucky it was a sunny day and the water was refreshing.

In the wild you don’t swim or hold dolphins like those dolphins held in captivity. Instead, you hop in the water, very buoyant from the thick wet suits and hope the dolphins take an interest in you.

Throughout our tour we had several “passes” where the dolphins came really close to us. Being in the water and seeing these clever creatures up close was truly special, but if you’re not comfortable going in the water you would still enjoy just doing a cruise to see them. The water is extremely clear and you get a great view of them from above deck.

We enjoyed a hot chocolate and biscuit on the boat before heading back into Akaroa.

Conclusion

We drove Summit Road home and marvelled at the views. It was sad to leave such a tranquil paradise and head back to work in Melbourne but it felt like we had been away for at least a week!

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