Sailing up the strait into the Port of Akaroa in New Zealand is a not-to-be-missed experience, with green towering hills topped with craggy rock from a long extinct volcano. It reminded us of a smaller version of the Norwegian Fjords -- simply stunning.
Akaroa is a Maori word that means 'long harbour'. The tiny town is a former French settlement that oozes Gallic charm, from its French street names to its pretty painted timber cottages that house an abundance of galleries, local crafts, coffee shops and restaurants.
Home to about 700 locals, Akaroa blossoms to a bustling 1,500 over the summer season -- and a cruise ship visit can double that.
There is something to suit all the family. Swimming with dolphins, sailing, fabulous nature walks, penguin encounters, motorbike tours and historical walks are just a few of the activities on offer.
If you are not one for tours just enjoy the quaint village, as you can happily explore Akaroa in an hour or so. Once that's done you are free to grab a coffee or glass of local wine, sit back and take in the picture-perfect vista of sparking harbour waters surrounded by green rolling hills.
Akaroa is a tender port and it is a just a couple of minutes' walk to the town centre.
Take a self-guided historical walking tour of Akaroa and immerse yourself in the rich history of the town. Audio guides are available from the Akaroa Adventure and Information Centre (80 Rue Lavaud) and cost around NZD$10 (AU$8.95).
For those looking for a spot of adventure, the Akaroa Adventure and Information Centre has a great array of activities on offer: hire a kayak and take to the harbour in search of the local pod of Hector's Dolphins. Try out paddle boarding, hire an electric skateboard or a bike and take to the hills. The Akaroa Adventure Centre is open from 9am - 7pm in summer and 10am - 4pm in winter.
Akaroa's pesky seagulls can be a real pain if you are trying to enjoy your fish and chips on the waterfront. Expect to lose a few chips.
Akaroa is a very small town and one that you can easily explore on foot. In fact, it takes only about 20 minutes to walk from the bottom of the town to the top.
The currency is the New Zealand dollar. The Bank of New Zealand has an ATM at 73 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa.
You certainly won't go hungry in this little town. Whether you are looking for a top-notch bistro, great fish and chips, gourmet sandwiches or even Thai cuisine, this town has it all. Locally sourced seasonal produce takes pride of place on menus -- whether it's your upmarket bistro or street cafe. And best of all are the spectacular water views.
The Little Bistro: If you are yearning for a spot of fine dining try The Little Bistro on the esplanade. The menu is small but delicious. Entrees from NZD$9.50 (AU$8.50); mains from NZD$30 (AU$27); and desserts start at NZD$15 (AU$13). (open Tuesday to Saturday from 5.30p.m.; 33 Rue Lavaud; 03 304 7314)
The Hill Top Tavern: For great pub grub and a spectacular hilltop view over the bay, head to The Hill Top Tavern. Burgers and woodfired pizza are the must-have here. This tavern is about a 20-minute taxi ride from the town but it is certainly worth it. Pizza starts at around NZD$23 (AU$20.50); burgers NZD$21 (AU$18.79). (Hours vary; 5207 Christchurch Akaroa Rd, Little River; 03 325 1005; www.thehilltop.co.nz)
Peninsula General Store: Looking for a good coffee and delicious homemade treat? Pop into the Peninsula General Store. This cute store has plenty of shelves packed full of organic and gluten-free produces and is a great place to peruse while you wait for your order. And yes, you will find this little store on the main drag, too. (open Monday and Thursday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 40 E. Rue Lavaud; 03 304 8800; www.penisulageneralstore.co.nz)
You will find exquisite New Zealand blue pearl jewellery in the galleries in Akaroa. There is also a wonderful range of local artwork to be snapped up.