Located on the east side of the South Island of New Zealand, in the Canterbury Region, the Banks Peninsula, also known by the Maori people as Akaroa, is a peninsula that sprawls for around 1,150 square kilometres just south of Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city.
The Peninsula is a truly stunning area that boasts some of the most spectacular outer coast scenery in all of New Zealand.
On Banks Peninsula, towering, rugged cliffs are punctuated by beautiful sandy beaches, some of which, are among the country’s best swimming beaches and camping areas.
The peninsula has been the site of three different Maori settlements, with the Waitaha, Ngati Maomoe, and the Ngai Tahu all having lived on the peninsula at some point in its history.
In 1840, despite the area having just been claimed by the English under the Treaty of Waitangi, French settlers arrived, making the Banks Peninsula the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand.
The Peninsula is home to a variety of birds, as well as the nearby Pohatu Marine Reserve, which protects the area’s diverse marine life.
The Banks Peninsula truly is where history, wildlife, and stunning natural scenery all come together to create one beautiful destination.
BANKS PENINSULA: What to Do
Quite possibly the most famous attraction to the Banks Peninsula are the Hector dolphins that frequent the Akaroa Harbour.
This is the only place in the world in which people can get up close and personal with these dolphins. Hector dolphins are the rarest dolphin species in the world, thus making this a very unique experience.
While the dolphins are small in size, they are extremely friendly and playful.
There are a variety of tours that will take you out on a boat to areas that the dolphins often pass through. If you don’t feel comfortable swimming with them, not too worry, there tours strictly for dolphin viewing as well.
Of course if you have a boat of your own, you might not even need a tour to find them.
If you want a different wildlife experience, then head to Flea Bay.
Flea Bay is a marine reserve that is home to the largest little penguin colony on the mainland. It boasts over 2,000 penguins within the confines of the reserve.
The penguins largely breed and live on private property.
However, there are tours available for visitors who want to see, and learn more about, the penguins. Beyond the penguin, Flea Bay is home to some of the most spectacular coastline on the Peninsula.
Visitors can take it in on kayak too should they desire as sea kayaking tours are available in the area.
Within the township of Arakoa, there is even more to do, with sailing, fishing charters, sea kayaking, golf, bike riding, horse trekking, hiking, and more all on offer.
On top of that, there are a variety of historic sites and buildings for visitors to pursue and learn more about the diverse history of the area.
The area is also home to a few wineries and vineyards that can make for a more relaxed afternoon out for visitors.
When you are done checking out the dolphins, maybe head to one of the many swimmable beaches on the Banks Peninsula. Okains Bay and Le Bons Bay are two of the country’s best.
Both offer wonderful beaches and, arguably, even better camping areas.
Okains Bay also has a fantastic museum that displays an impressive collection of Maori heritage items.
The museum also has a wonderfully restored set of salvaged huts, cottages, and shops from the early days of European settlement.
Walking and tramping is another popular pastime on the Banks Peninsula. The walks on the peninsula are divided into a few different regions.
Here is a quick guide to everything you need to know in order to enjoy a walk during your visit to the Banks Peninsula.
1) Town Walk to Magazine Bay: This is a 30-minute walk from the Lyttelton Information Centre to the Coastal Path at Magazine Bay.
2) Coastal Path at Magazine Bay to Pony Point: This walk takes about 45-minutes, each way, and passes along the water and the swimming bays of Corsair and Cass to Pony Point.
3) Lyttelton Town Harbour View Walk: This is a one-hour loop that takes visitors around the town of Lyttelton.
4) Bridle Path: This walk will take around 2-hours one way. It is a historic track that goes from Lyttelton to the Canterbury Plains. Suitable for bikes.
5) Major Hornbrook: A one-hour, each way, walk that is very popular among visitors and boasts great views.
6) Crater Rim Walkway – Mid Section: 4-hours one way. This walk is just the mid-section of the much longer Crater Rim Walkway.
7) Stan Helms Track: 1-hour, one way. This track connects Lyttelton to the Crater Rim Walkway.
8) Urumau Reserve: 1-hour, one way. This path takes visitors through the Urumau Reserve to the Crater Rim Walkway.
1) Boardwalk to Children’s Bay: 10-minutes, one way. This walk offers wonderful views.
2) Akaroa’s Bush Backdrop: 30-minutes – 3-hours, one way. This path links all the bush reserves in Arakoa township.
3) French Cemetery: 45-minutes, loop track. Passes through a historic cemetery.
4) Stanley Park: 30-minutes loop. This is a rural walk on a working farm.
5) Garden of Tane: Up to 1-hour, loop. A great walk for families through native bush.
6) Garden Graveyards: 1-hour, loop. A walk through historic cemeteries and native bush.
7) Lighthouse and Monument: 1-hour, loop. A walk out and around a historic lighthouse and monument.
8) Audio Guide; 90-minutes, return. This is a self-guided audio tour of the area.
9) Akaroa Civic Trust: 90-minutes – full day. These are five historic walks within the Akarao township.
10) Woodills North: 2-hours, loop. This can be combined with Woodills South for a 2 ½ hour walk.
11) Woodills South: 1 ½ hour, loop. Can be combined with Woodills North.
12) Heritage Park: 20-minutes, loop. This walk boasts excellent view and commemorative trees.
13) Round the Mountain via Curry Track: 4-hours, loop. This walk takes visitors through the Purple Peak Curry Reserve.
14) Skyline Circuit: 4-7 hours, loop. This track allows foot access to the Hinewai Reserve.
15) Misty Peaks: 3-hours, return. This is a there and back ridgeline walk, or a full day circular walk from Akaroa.
16) Newton’s Waterfall: 1-hour return. This walk takes visitors out to the beautiful Newton’s Waterfall.
17) Children’s bay Farm Walkway: 3-hours, loop. This walk provides visitors with wonderful views of the Arakoa headland.
Governors Bay Walks
1) Coastal Walk from Governors Bay Jetty to Allandale Reserve: 1-hour, return.
This is a calm walk along the foreshore. This trail boasts excellent birdlife and is great for birdwatchers.
2) Sandy Bay to Maori Gardens: 30-minutes, return. This short walk culminates at the beautiful and secluded Maori Gardens beach.
3) Jetty Road to Sandy Bay: 15-minutes, one way. This is a short walk to Sandy Bay. The track is quite rough.
4) Governors Bay Heritage Trail: 1-2 hours. This track is a great way for visitors to be introduced to the history of Governors Bay.
5) Cass Ridge: 40-minutes, one way. This is a relatively short walk through native bush.
6) O’Farrells Track: 2-hours, one way. This track gently winds through the hills.
7) Ellas Track: 40-minutes, one way. This track offers access to one of the area’s excellent nature reserves.
8) Bush Road: 45-minutes, one way. This is part of the Ohinetahi loop route.
9) Watlings: 30-minutes, one way. This is an alternative route to the beautiful Ohinetahi Reserve.
10) Dukes Street: 15-minutes, one way. This walk contours around a hill.
11) Kanuka Track: 20-minutes, one way. This is a pleasant trail through mature kanuka forest.
12) Wai-iti Track: 40-minutes one way. This track is littered with blackberry bushes, making it one of the more delicious trails on the Banks Peninsula.
13) Crater Rim Walkway – West Section: 3 ½ hours one way. This is the western portion of the longer Crater Rim Walkway.
Diamond Harbour Walks
1) Quail Island Discovery Trail: 1-hour, loop. This walk covers all the historic sites on Quail Island.
2) Quail Island Track: 2 ½ hours, loop. This walk circumnavigates all of Quail Island.
3) Orton Bradley Rhododendron Walk: 15-minutes, loop. This short walk allows visitors to enjoy the beautiful Rhododendrons in bloom from September through December.
4) Orton Bradley Arboretum: 30-minutes, return. This walk takes visitors through the arboretum featuring significant trees to the area.
5) Orton Bradley Big Rock: 1-hour, return. This walk provides visitors with stunning views from Big Rock.
6) Black Point to Yacht Club: 30-minutes, return. This short walk passes Hays Bay swimming beach as well as a short walk to Black Point Summit.
7) Coastal Path, Church Bay to Purau: Up to 90-minutes, one way. This path follows the coastal path, with various entry points along the way.
8) Purau to Charteris Bay: up to 90-minutes, one way. This is a coastal track along quiet back roads.
9) Orton Bradley Magnificent Gully: 2-hours, including lookout spur. This walk is an easy return loop through Hunter’s Gully and up to the Lookout.
10) Orton Bradley Waterfall Track: 2-hours return. This track takes visitors through the bush to the beautiful Orton Bradley Waterfall.
11) Orton Bradley Tablelands Loop: 2 ½ hours, loop. This loop walk takes visitors through the Orton Bradley Tablelands.
12) Orton Bradley Packhorse Hut: 6-8 hours, return. This walk takes walkers to the Orton Bradley Packhorse Hut via Orton Bradley Park.
13) Orton Bradley – Mount Herbert: 6-8 hours, return. This walk allows visitors to climb to Mount Herbert from Orton Bradley Park.
14) Mount Herbert Walkway: 7-hours, return. This walk offers stunning views from the highest summit on the Banks Peninsula.
15) Diamond Harbour – Mount Herbert: 6-8 hours, return. Walk from Diamond Harbour to the summit of Mount Herbert.
16) Gebbies Pass – Packhorse Hut: 4-hours, return. Walk from Gebbies Pass to the Orton Bradley Packhorse Hut. Great first overnight walk for children.
17) Packhorse Hut to Mount Herbert: 2-hours, one way. Pass below Mount Bradley to Mount Herbert.
18) Mount Herbert – Port Levy Saddle: 5-hours return. This is the easiest access to Mount Herbert, the highest peak on the Banks Peninsula.
19) Monument Track – Little Mount Herbert: 90-minutes, one way.
Greater Banks Peninsula Walks
1) Crater Rim Walkway: 9-10 hours, one way. This walk traverses the entire Crater Rim between Godley Head and Ahuiri Reserve.
It is a truly stunning walkway that can be broken up into smaller pieces, should you not be up for the whole track at once.
2) Banks Peninsula Track: This is a longer, multi-day 35 kilometre adventure. The track includes wonderful volcanic coastline, native bush, waterfalls, and sandy beaches. It twice crosses the crater rim, providing wonderful, elevated views.
The trail can be done solo, or, there are a variety of tour operators who offer Banks Peninsula Track walks over 2-4 day periods.
The guides on these tours are very knowledgeable and will take visitors to all the best spots along the way. There are cottages and huts along the way that are available for rental should you want.
This is one of New Zealand’s most popular walking holidays.
3) Te Ara Pataka: 2-3 days. This walk provides wonderful views over the Banks Peninsula, the Canterbury Plains, the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. It is about an hour from Christchurch.
The Banks Peninsula is loaded with accommodation options, ranging from campgrounds, to backpacker’s hostels, to vacation rentals, to cottages, to hotels, to luxury resorts.
No matter your taste or your budget, there is something for you on the Banks Peninsula.
Travelling from Abroad?
The Banks Peninsula is located just south of Christchurch.
Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city and has an international airport, thus making the Peninsula and easy place to access for visitors from abroad.