There's a rather off-putting, winding hill road between Christchurch and Akaroa - but the scenery is wonderful and you shouldn't let a few steep twists and turns deter you from visiting this little French-inspired whimsy on the shores of Akaroa Harbour.

From the time you reach the breathtaking setting of the Hilltop Café & Bar (tel. 03/325-1005), a country pub overlooking Akaroa and the harbor, you'll be seduced by this dramatic volcanic landscape. Jean Langlois, an early French explorer, took word of it back to France, and in 1840, two ships and a handful of settlers arrived to colonize the site. They were too late - the British had beaten them to it when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi the year before. The French abandoned their plan, but the settlers stayed on, casting about names such as Le Bons Bay, Duvauchelle, and French Farm. Today, you'll still find "rues" here, not streets.

In recent years, the community of about 1,000 residents has pulled up its promotional socks, and you'll find a growing number of excellent lodgings, restaurants, and shops. The Maori word akaroa means "long harbor," and that's exactly what dominates the village and its activities.