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Akaroa Tastes Like A Tiny Slice Of Paradise In A South Pacific French Oasis

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Kip Brook
Kip Brook

Sitting up in bed swallowing eggs Provencal I gaze out the large ship-style porthole window to glassy Akaroa Harbour. My moment in paradise is interrupted by the sweetest sound of a native bellbird morning song.

This is the Boathouse room at Maison de la Mer, the best cosy, classy romantic accommodation lodge in the historic French village of Akaroa, about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch international airport.

This is our wedding anniversary and we couldn’t think of a better weekend hideaway. We are in the lap of luxury. By the morning we had shed all our business anxieties when Carol brought us breakfast in bed. We finish our homemade yoghurt, muesli and fruit, wash it down with chamomile tea, then slip under the sheets and relax in romance at the No.1 place to stay in Akaroa, according to Tripadvisor.

We shower, freshen up and head off for a long walk, beyond the old lighthouse to French and early settler cemeteries and monuments. This tiny peaceful harbour resort village at the edge of nowhere in the Pacific was first settled by the French in the early 19th century before New Zealand was officially branded British rule 170 years ago.

Akaroa’s streets have retained their Gallic heritage and charm and some of the early forms of architecture relate to those early days. Often referred to as the Riviera of Christchurch for its bays and cobalt blue waters Akaroa oozed history and is a romantic draw card for a weekend retreat.

We stroll the promenade, drifted through gift shops, sip soy latte in the balmy autumn sunshine and turn down the chance to swim with dolphins in the harbour – we let them be – as this weekend is memorable enough.

We were told the jewel in the Akaroa accommodation crown was Maison de la Mer, the first grand arts and crafts house built in Akaroa 100 years ago, and they were not wrong. Our two night stay was like a tiny slice of paradise in a south Pacific French oasis, just this side of heaven.

Bruce and Carol Hyland spent $300,000 six years ago fitting out the lodge to perfection. It includes an amazing 150 year old elm English kitchen-island server. They bought it from Yvonne Sanders Antiques in Auckland. A Dutch couple were so taken by it, like us, they took screeds of photos and had a duplicate made when they got home.

Maison de la Mer on Rue Benoit features several expensive imported items from France – including be the antique French oak dining table and the antique bed in the Provence suite from Nantes, where the Akaroa French settlers set sail from France to New Zealand. The bed has the most interesting story, because it is from the early 19th century in a place that has a direct connection to Akaroa.

The lodge is warm, serene and loveable; it oozes elegance; art work gracing their walls dove tails beautifully with the building’s stain glass and art nouveau features. But what places Maison de la Mer up with the best is Carol and Bruce's warm and engaging personalities as hosts par excellence. When we arrived, they had written our names on a chalk board at the lodge entrance, welcoming us - and others like Linda and Colin, who are having their 40th anniversary.

Bruce books us into the quaint Little Bistro restaurant where we dined for a romantic meal. Owners Paul and Emma have set a new high benchmark for dining in Akaroa. It’s the place to go. The food comes out quickly, (order the Akaroa cod); and the service is friendly. Back in our $500 a night Boathouse at the lodge we sip on a smooth buttery Framinghams chardonnay gaze in awe upon the majestic harbour sunset; Magnifique! For a time, it felt like being in Akaroa – the movie.

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