Discover reimagined Frenchness wrapped in a contemporary Aoteoaroa New Zealand visitor experience. Indulge in a perfect crisp buttery pastry. However you are very unlikely to meet any descendants who use French as their native language or identify as French [apart from the ubiquitous French backpacker]. Unearth the impact of only ten years of official French settlement in New Zealand and the result of an imperial French foray into the Pacific. A pocket gem in one of the major harbour inlets of Banks Peninsula.
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Let’s find some Frenchness?
- French quarter of the cemetery. Early surveys designated a burial ground on the hill overlooking the sea. The burial areas were divided between Catholic and Protestant denominations. The oldest cemetery is the French quarter with its distinctive obelisk marking the grave of François and Justine Le Lievre, well known early settlers. Other prominent names on tombstones bearing names familiar to those acquainted with Akaroa’s history, Bauriaud, Brocherie and Narbey. The memorial stones, the plinths and decorative objects reflect the success settlers achieved in those early years. There are stories of children’s deaths from the infectious diseases of the nineteenth century such as diphtheria. Drownings and horse accidents figure as causes of death. The cemetery is tucked behind a bustle of shops with spectacular views of the harbour. Most graves are organised in an east-west orientation.
- The French identity has survived in the design of buildings. The delightful Akaroa Museum is housed in a collection of heritage buildings. The buildings in themselves are fabulously photogenic, especially with spring roses spilling over picket fences. Langlois-Éteveneaux House is preserved in its original two-roomed form. The museum’s building is now the only surviving house constructed by French colonists in the early 1840s. It is one of the oldest buildings in Canterbury and perhaps the prettiest. Akaroa Customs House, by the waterfront, is notable as an example of local pit sawn totara weatherboards. The wall cavities were packed with clay as readily available insulation material. The building style is not French rather a composite colonial building design that is utilitarian, functional and associated with the Canterbury and Marlborough regions. Another attractive colonial example is the Akaroa CourtHouse was the legal arm of the settlement from 1880 to 1979.
- French influence is much more than a planned settlement in the harbour of Banks Peninsula. French navigators explored the Pacific. Dumont d’Urville of the Astrolabe, who in the 1820s named numerous features around Nelson and Marlborough such as French Pass,Torrent Bay and d’Urville Island. While visitors enjoy a buttery croissant there is the idle moment where we wonder what Aotearoa’s path would have been under French dominion.
- French themed visitor experience highlight is October with Keeping with the French theme, the city likes to embrace its heritage and promotes it once a year during the Akaroa French Festival. Every October, locals and tourists alike dive into a caricature of French culture. “Fromage” and “vin” are served everywhere in a fun celebration of the town’s 19th-century history.
- Food with a decided French twist makes Akaroa a foodie destination. Sweet As Bakery is a crisp, delicious array of bon appetit bites. Forget about roughing it at your campsite, simply visit and stock up with breads, pastries and savoury delights. Accompanied by Barry Bay Cheeses you are sorted. There are even fish n chips Akaroa style with you perched on the harbour’s edge tucking in. Harbour Beachbar and Kitchen has a takeaway menu. It does not get any better than HarBar Beach Bar. Bring on the French influence with a contemporary Pacific injection for a culinary reason to linger in Akaroa.
TIP: Bakery treats, pop into the shop early in morning as you do not want to miss out.
TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION
The name Akaroa is a shortened version of the local Maori dialect name meaning Long Harbour. “In 1830, the Māori settlement at Takapūneke, just east of the current town of Akaroa, became the scene of a notorious incident. The captain of the British brig Elizabeth, John Stewart, helped North Island Ngāti Toa chief, Te Rauparaha, to capture the local Kāi Tahu chief, Tama-i-hara-nui, his wife Te Whe and his young daughter, Roimata. The settlement of Takapūneke was sacked. Concern over the complicity of John Stewart, amongst other lawlessness among Europeans in New Zealand, led to the appointment of an official British Resident James Busby to New Zealand in 1832 – the first step in the British involvement that led to the Treaty of Waitangi.
In early 1832, Te Rauparaha, fresh from his successful three-month siege of Kaiapoi Pā, took the pā on the Ōnawe Peninsula at the head of Akaroa Harbour. There were an estimated 400 Kāi Tahu in the pā and most were killed, with only the strongest taken as slaves.
The earliest European settlers used Akaroa as a whaling base. Akaroa is now one of the few whaling bases in New Zealand that still exists as a town.
An Akaroa street sign showing French-language street names
The Gaiety, Akaroa (built c. 1879)
In 1838 Captain Jean François Langlois made a provisional purchase of land in “the greater Banks Peninsula” from 12 Kāi Tahu chiefs. A deposit of commodities in the value of £6 was paid and a further £234 worth of commodities was to be paid at a later period.
On his return to France, Langlois advertised for settlers to go to New Zealand, and ceded his interest in the land to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, of which he became a part-owner. On 9 March 1840, 63 emigrants left from Rochefort. The settlers embarked for New Zealand on the Comte de Paris, an old man-of-war ship given to them by the French government. The Comte de Paris and its companion ship the Aube, captained by Commodore Charles-François Lavaud [fr], arrived in the Bay of Islands in the North Island on 11 July 1840, where they discovered that during their voyage the British had claimed Banks Peninsula. The French arrived in Akaroa Harbour on 18 August and established a settlement centred on the present-day site of Akaroa.
Given that the French colonists had set out for New Zealand on the assumption that they owned the land, the New Zealand authorities made a grant of 30,000 acres to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, which ceded all rights to the peninsula for ₤4,500.
Before 1840, the area of the current Akaroa town was also known as Wangaloa. The French at first called their settlement Port Louis-Philippe in honour of Louis Philippe I, who reigned as King of the French from 1830 to 1848.
After being informed of the French intention to colonise Akaroa and to further its use as a whaling port, the Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand, Captain William Hobson, sent the ship HMS Britomart to proclaim sovereignty over the area for the British Crown. HMS Britomart arrived in Akaroa on 16 August 1840, although the captain’s log shows the arrival date as 11 August. Captain Stanley raised the British flag, and held a court at each of the occupied settlements, to convince the French that the area was indeed under British control. A monument at the eastern edge of the town commemorates the British arrival.
James Robinson Clough, also known as Jimmy Robinson, had arrived at Akaroa several years before. He acted as interpreter for Captain Owen Stanley at the flag-raising of 1840, and was the first European to travel up the Avon River in 1843. Clough’s descendants are still prominent on the Peninsula today.
British immigrants settled in both Akaroa and German Bay (Takamatua), along with many German farmers, who set up dairy, sheep and cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) farms. The great majority of the artifacts currently held at Akaroa Museum are of the early farming community and their way of life at the time.”
The journey is worth it.