For locals and visitors alike, finding new ways to unwind and have fun sometimes requires a bit more effort than it did a year or so ago.
If for now you’ve exhausted the options that Christchurch and Lyttelton have to offer, or just want something different, venture a little further afield to the picturesque seaside town of Akaroa, over the green hills of Banks Peninsula.
Bustling with activity in the summer months, things quieten down over winter in Akaroa, which makes it one of the best times to visit. The sea is often serenely calm and frosty mornings turn into stunning blue sky days.
Things to do in Akaroa include shopping, walking, eating and drinking in fine waterfront cafes and restaurants, and getting out on the water.
Depending on your budget there are plenty of options at both ends of the scale, from fish ‘n’ chips while you watch the boats go by, to gourmet dining accompanied by the best of New Zealand wines.
We took a drive to Akaroa recently and enjoyed working our way down the main street, with a stop by the Akaroa Domain to stretch our legs after the drive and throw a Frisbee, then a meander along the shops at the northern end of town.
First stop was the Peninsula General Store, a favourite place to browse through imported and locally grown goodies, with plenty of organics, gluten free products, pastas, sauces and fresh fruit and veg. We grabbed a smoothie to keep us going on our walk, and headed out to browse the galleries next door.
This end of town also offers up other eclectic delights, including homemade fudge from Pot Pourri, fashion with an international flavour and one or two of Akaroa’s best known restaurants – the Little Bistro and Vangionis Trattoria and Bar.
A potter through the small but perfectly formed Akaroa Museum is a great way to get a handle on the rich local history, from French colonists to whalers and beyond.
Down past the beach and past the famous Akaroa Bakery and Bully Hayes bar and restaurant, then it was time to drop into the Black Cat Cruises office on Beach Street to see if we could get on a
Harbour Cruise in the afternoon. After weighing up the options, we decided to take the plunge and go Swimming with Dolphins instead. Brilliant decision – one of the best experiences of my life and something that’s been on my bucket list for years. For winter there are dry suits available instead of wet suits so you don’t even need to get wet to do it, just wear some warm clothes underneath.
Dinner after our swim was at a favourite spot, the Trading Rooms restaurant, which always lives up to expectations – especially sitting in the bay window overlooking the footpath and the harbour.