If you’ve never had the chance to visit France then the next best thing can be found in Akaroa, Canterbury. Akaroa has a decidedly French feel at any time of the year – it was the only French settlement in New Zealand and is situated only 75 kilometres from Christchurch.
Ever since French whaler Captain Langlois first decided that Akaroa would be a great base for his whaling ships in 1838, the town has had a distinctly French feel to it. After first deciding to settle in Akaroa, Langlois returned home to France to arrange for a group of French and German families to head back to Akaroa and form a French colony. Sadly for Langlois, by the time he returned in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi had already been signed (including two Akaroa chiefs) and New Zealand’s first Governor, Hobson, had declared sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand.
Undeterred, Langlois and the group of families decided to stay on anyway and today the charming harbour town still retains many of its French roots from the street names to the colonial cottages to the French ‘boulangerie’ which bakes authentic French breads and treats every day.
The Akaroa French Festival
So, history lesson over, what’s the deal with this French festival??
Well, Akaroa is a town that has fully embraced the history of the town’s early settlers and each year the Akaroa French Festival comes to town. Held over three days from the 9-11 October, the event is a celebration of all things French and starts on the Friday night with the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Light) street party.
The streets come alive with entertainment and music and it is a great time to sit out and enjoy some fantastic French cuisine in the restaurants in and around the town. Throughout the evening you will be dazzled by the amazing light show which include fire projections.
How does that sound as a starter for ten??
If the Fête des Lumières didn’t sound French enough for you, try day two on for size and ‘Le Jour du Marché ’ – sounds pretty impressive right? Well, Saturday is what we Kiwis more commonly know as market day and these French certainly know how to put on a good market.
Before you get too excited though, there’s a bit of history first! The day kicks off with the landing re-enactment, parade and opening ceremony which is pretty cool to be fair and not like the boring history stuff. After that, French Fest really kicks into gear over at the Recreation Ground with market stalls, French performers and a chance to try your hand at pétanque (that’s French for boules – which also sounds pretty French!) – either way, you basically have to land your big balls closest to the small ball – easy!
This year the French Festival will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of the French settlers arriving in Akaroa so Saturday night will be party night with a stunning fireworks display to round things off. Tres bien!
Netball or Touch rugby – you decide!
The final day, Sunday 11 October sees the annual Ki-o-Rahi tournament which is a traditional Maori ball game that was taught to the French settlers. It basically involves two teams on a circular pitch which uses similar skills to those found in netball and touch rugby. It’s a great opportunity to join in with the fun or spectate and you can decide if it’s more like netball or rugby!
Getting to Akaroa couldn’t be simpler as it is located only 75 kilometres from Christchurch. You can either make the trip each day by car which will take you about an hour or there is also a special Red Bus service on Saturday only which leaves Christchurch at 9.30am and returns at 5.30pm – you will miss some of the activities though so why not rent a car and the world is your oyster – there’s loads of other stuff to do around the Banks Peninsula if everything get a bit too French for you and it is a great place to explore.
If you are heading to French Fest, we would love to see your photos from the event – some of the GO Rentals team do like to head on over to the festival but we always love to see photos from our lovely travellers – if you enter our GO Snap Happy competition you might just win back the cost of your car hire too – can’t say fairer than that!
Find out more on the Akaroa.com website – http://www.akaroa.com/akaroa-french-festival-2015