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Heather Schiller
/ Categories: NZ blog

Beaches to the Mountains.

The best of Akaroa to Castle Hill


Words by Emma Fenton-Wells

Blog #9 of her solo trip in NZ



The next few days were made up of beautiful contrasts. Leaving Christchurch, I drove to Akaroa - the peninsular reaching into the sea. Along the way, there’s a smattering of beautiful towns, including Little River, home to an excellent cafe and gallery. But don’t eat too much along the way, because a feast awaits you.


View of Akaroa Landscape Photo Credit Michael Jowen


If you’re getting in at a suitable hour, the best view of Akaroa is from Hilltop Tavern. Sit out on the deck and take in the astounding landscapes. It’s such a treat. The drive down to the bay is twisty and turny, but you’ll be rewarded at the bottom with Barrys Bay Cheese.

Barrys Bay is easily the best cheese shop in the country. And I say that, having visited MANY cheese shops across New Zealand. I recommend collecting an array and planning your own cheese spread on the foreshore as the sun goes down. If anything, just go to Akaroa for the cheese.


Duvauchelle Holiday Park


I stayed down at Duvauchelle, where freedom camping is allowed along the beach. There’s loads of options, but research beforehand as there isn’t a lot of signage indicating where. I’d look on Rankers and the Christchurch City Council website. There’s also freedom camping in Akaroa itself, but Duvauchelle is a beautiful spot and about a ten minute drive into town. I ended up staying at Duvauchelle Holiday Park, right on the water. It was an epic spot and very quiet.


Peninsula General Store, Akaroa


Akaroa is known as New Zealand’s own French seaside town. If you like art, food, antiques, and the sea, this is your place. If you happen to plan your Akaroa escape over a weekend, the town is famous for its markets on a Saturday. Bright and early I trekked into town (where there’s loads of camper parking) and had a leisurely breakfast at The Brasserie Kitchen and Bar. Great coffee.


The Giants House, Akaroa
Akaroa Lighthouse walk
Nolasco Collections, Akaroa


A few other highlights:

  • Visit The Giants House. Designed by artist Josie Martin, this garden and cafe is a must do. Walk up there (it’s about 15 minutes from the markets) and prepare to spend an hour or two wandering through her beautiful creations. This is a must do.
  • Walk down to the lighthouse. It takes you through all the enclaves of Akaroa, and is best done with an ice cream in hand.
  • There’s so many excellent boutiques in town too. I particularly liked Nolasco Collections on the main street. Great collection of clothing and only items you can buy in Akaroa.

After hours of enjoying New Zealand’s own french experience, I started my journey towards the mountains of Arthur’s Pass, choosing to spend the night at Porter’s Lodge in Castle Hill.


Woman driving campervan in New Zealand


In winter, Porter’s Lodge is a ski lodge, the rest of the year it’s a wonderful stop along the Pass heading towards the West Coast. The lodge sits at the base of enormous snow capped peaks, littered with mountain bikers in the warmer months - just brave the 5KM of gravel roads to get there (note: it’s really not that bad compared to any number of gravel roads in the North Island).


Campervan parked in Akaroa, New Zealand
Castle Hill, New Zealand


The lodge itself was cosy and had a great menu. It couldn’t have been more different from the few days in seaside Akaroa. Castle Hill is best known for its giant limestone formations that protrude seemingly out of nowhere. These boulders are found between two mountain ranges - Torlesse and Craigieburn - and popular for walkers and bouldering enthusiasts alike. The Dalai Lama once referred to Castle Hill as “the spiritual center of the universe,”  but none of the locals I spoke with didn’t realise that were the case.


Castle Hill, New Zealand
Limestone rocks at Castle Hill, New Zealand


This center is only a seven minute drive from Porters Lodge and well worth a spot. I climbed up to the limestones, beautiful and strange all at once, and then celebrated the minimal athletic activity by cooking up a storm using Barry’s Bay cheeses in my camper.


Woman standing next to rental campervan in New Zealand


The area around Christchurch is so diversely rich in its surroundings; from city to sea, alpine mountains to forests, you can experience a different world each day.


Follow Emma to the stunning Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mount Cook in the next blog from her solo trip


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