Dolphins, alpacas and art – A weekend in Akaroa

A couple of months back, Vanessa, Liese and I escaped to Akaroa for a girl’s weekend away. Despite the gloomy forecast and some weather-dependent plans, we were excited and keen to get away.

Historically a French settlement, Akaroa is an enchanting little seaside village that still retains its French flavour. Streets are lined with French restaurants and cafes, shopfronts adorn their blue and red, and street signs continue to bear French names. Nestled in ruggedly beautiful surroundings, there’s something so charming and quaint about it that makes it very European.

We left Christchurch early Saturday morning, made a caffeine stop at The Little River Cafe and arrived at Akaroa Harbour just before midday, ready to hop on a Black Cat Cruise.

Black Cat Cruises operates ‘Swimming with Dolphin’ Tours which take you around the harbour to find Hector’s dolphins that are keen to hang. Native to New Zealand, these dolphins are the smallest dolphins in the world and grow to no more than 1.5m in length. We’re reminded again and again that they are wild and the experience is entirely on their terms.

Unfortunately, with bad weather brought rough waters and low visibility, and though we did spot a few groups of dolphins around the harbour, they weren’t so keen to play once we were lowered into the water. Despite this, it was an incredible experience and watching the dolphins up close completely offset any seasickness.

Photo by Vanessa Ortynsky

Back on land, we spent the next couple of hours recovering and eating pies/pastries. Later that afternoon we headed to Shamarra Alpaca farm for a tour of the farm and panoramic views of Akaroa harbour. Frank gave us a brief introduction to the alpacas, the fleece, the complex breeding process and warned us of the spitting before we were taken out to meet these beautiful creatures.

Our town tour continued the next day with a stop by The Giant’s House. Dubbed “the happiest garden on earth”, it features a garden-full of uniquely sculpted artworks by Josie Martin and is always a work in progress. Some of the mosaics covering the walls and floors are made of bits of broken China collected after the earthquake. Wandering around the garden, I felt like Alice stepping into Wonderland.

The drive back to Christchurch was not without a stop at Hilltop Tavern. Our amazing adventures that weekend could only be concluded with icecream and great views.

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