The world’s smallest dolphin, the Hector's dolphin, in Akaroa harbour
Photot: Dina Engel ©

Introduction

Akaroa is visited by many marine mammals including the world’s smallest dolphin, the Hector’s dolphin. The Akaroa Marine Reserve lies at the mouth of the harbour and is easy to visit as the township offers numerous water-based tourist activities.

Place overview

Activities

  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Boating
  • Diving and snorkelling
  • Kayaking and canoeing
  • Marine reserves
    Protect our marine reserves

    They are special places that protect the species and habitats within them.

    • No fishing of any kind
    • Don't take or kill marine life
    • Don't remove or disturb any marine life or materials
    • Don't feed fish - it disturbs their natural behaviour

In this section

Find things to do Akaroa Marine Reserve

Filter:

Bird and wildlife watching

It is easy to visit Akaroa Marine Reserve, as the township supports numerous water-based tourist businesses. There are regular boat tours - some offer swimming with dolphins. 

A walk or drive on the cliffs with a pair of binoculars is an excellent way to observe the birdlife. However be aware that the weather can turn very quickly, and the roads are rough.

More adventurous travellers may want to visit nearby Pohatu Marine Reserve, which is home to large seal and penguin colonies.

Kayaking

You can hire kayaks in the township.

Diving and snorkelling

Snorkelers and divers need to be aware of the limitations of people in their party as the reserve is in a relatively isolated part of the harbour, with no cell phone coverage or medical help available nearby.

Sort: A-Z | Popular first

    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    Sheer cliffs dotted with caves form the backdrop of the reserve, and huge room-sized boulders lie in the water at their base.

    There are also numerous small reefs. Giant beds of bull kelp and red algae surround these landforms, which are encrusted with communities of sponges, anemones, sea stars and sea tulips.

    The reef around Gateway Point is of particular scientific interest as it supports an extremely rich and diverse fauna and flora - at least 10% of the benthic species found in this area are 'undescribed'.

    The sea floor is mostly gently sloping between 18-30 metres deep, rising steeply to the rocky platform which fringes the shore. The usual array of burrowing animals inhabit the sandy bottom, mostly various tubeworms, molluscs and bivalves.

    Akaroa is visited by many marine mammals including the world’s smallest dolphin, the Hector’s dolphin. 

    Smaller whale species often visit the reserve, and occasionally larger whales such as humpback, southern right and blue.

    Hector's dolphins can usually be seen throughout Akaroa Harbour in the summer months. Common and dusky dolphins are occasional visitors.

    Seals haul out along the rock platforms edging the reserve, which are also inhabited by white-flippered penguins. Albatrosses, petrels and many other seabirds visit or live in the harbour.

    The township has built a substantial tourism industry around the marine life in its harbour. Akaroa Marine Reserve lies at the mouth of the harbour, comprising about twelve percent of its area.

    Getting there

    Akaroa Marine Reserve lies at the mouth of Akaroa harbour. It is 512.15 hectares, about twelve percent of the harbour area.

    By sea

    There are numerous guided boat tours from Akaroa township.

    If taking your own boat/kayak, please remember to check the marine weather forecast and tides. Always be prepared for bad weather, as this can change quickly. There are public boat ramps at Duvauchelle, Akaroa and Wainui.

    Snorkelers and divers need to be aware of the limitations of people in their party as the reserve is in a relatively isolated part of the harbour, with no cell phone coverage or medical help available nearby.

    Scuba divers driving to the reserve need to be aware that the road over the hills from Christchurch reaches nearly 600 metres above sea level, so you need to plan dives and surface times carefully to avoid developing decompression sickness (the bends) during the drive out.

    By land

    There is land access to the water at Akaroa Heads Scenic Reserve which is at the end of Lighthouse Road. However the road is 4WD, parking is restricted and some distance from the access point, which leads to a rock platform via a steep ladder.

    Those visiting the reserve by car should be aware that the roads are unsealed and quickly become muddy during heavy rain, which is common.

    Know before you go

    Map and boundaries

    View a map and GPS coordinates for the boundaries of Akaroa Marine Reserve.

    Scuba diver warning

    Scuba divers driving to the reserve need to be aware that the road over the hills from Christchurch reaches nearly 600 metres above sea level, so you need to plan dives and surface times carefully to avoid developing decompression sickness (the bends) during the drive out.

    Marine reserve rules

    You are not permitted to take any animal or natural form from the reserve, including fish, shellfish, shells, seaweed, rocks or driftwood.

    If you see whales, dolphins or seals while boating or visiting the coast, a few simple rules will ensure an enjoyable encounter for you and for them. 

    Contacts

    Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 379 4082
    Address:   Co-located with the Christchurch i-site
    28 Worcester Boulevard
    Christchurch 8140
    Email:   christchurchvc@doc.govt.nz
    Full office details
    Back to top