Drive out of Christchurch and into the picturesque Banks Peninsula, and you’ll be welcomed by an array of attractions. Whether you’re spending the day exploring the township of Akaroa or venturing further out for the area’s outdoor pursuits, here are 10 local gems everyone visiting this stretch of New Zealand’s Canterbury region should experience for themselves.
If you like to be more hands-on with your wildlife encounters, a kayak trip around the Pohatu Marine Reserve will be right up your alley. The reserve is located on Flea Bay, along the southeastern end of the Banks Peninsula, and is home to white-flippered penguins, a small fleet of yellow-eyed penguins and a seal colony. Hector’s dolphins and orcas are also known to visit. If you don’t have a kayak, Pohatu Penguins offer guided paddling tours around the reserve.
There are quite a few walking tracks around Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula, ranging from short bush walks to scenic day hikes and overnight treks. The Akaroa Head Scenic Reserve walk consists of a narrow road that can only be accessed by four-wheel-drive vehicles, but other than that, the 40-minute return loop is relatively simple. If you’re keen to do a bit of cycling, the Christchurch to Little River Rail Trail is relatively flat and will provide you with a different perspective of the pastures and river quarries that make up the Banks Peninsula. For a multi-day hiking expedition, take a look at Te Ara Pātaka/Summit Walkway. The backcountry path begins at Gebbies Pass and concludes at the Montgomery Reserve, crossing private farmland and various tussock-lined valleys in between.
If you want to learn about the history of the Banks Peninsula, look no further than the Akaroa Museum. Within these small premises lies an extensive collection of historical archives, photographs, artworks, textiles, treasured Maori artefacts (taonga), and technological relics of past centuries. The museum was established in 1964 and has since expanded to include four exhibition galleries and two heritage buildings: the Custom House and Akaroa Court House. The museum is open seven days a week, and admission is free.
Barrys Bay Traditional Cheese is the last surviving factory of the nine family-owned dairies that were scattered around the Banks Peninsula in the 1800s. To this day, the cheesemaker continues to use traditional recipes that have been passed on from generation to generation. During production season (October to May), visitors can watch the entire process for themselves. Head to the factory shop year-round to sample their signature cheeses as well as a selection of locally produced wines and preserves.
Meniscus Wines is a hillside vineyard just off Lighthouse Road, on the southern end of Akaroa. The Wine Lounge is where the enthusiasts will get to sample the various vintages and grape varieties the winery is best known for: particularly Pinot Noir, Riesling and Pinot Gris. No bookings are needed for cellar door visits. Gourmet snacks are also available to complement the wine-tasting sessions, and stunning views of the Akaroa township and surrounding harbour are always a given.
Walk the hills of the Banks Peninsula and explore the native forest at the Hinewai Reserve. This ecological restoration project is privately owned and managed by the Maurice White Native Forest Trust but is open to the public. The reserve includes 1,250ha (3,089ac) in the southeastern corner of Banks Peninsula on the South Island’s east coast. There are several interlinking tracks, with steep inclines and declines, and many include the Big Circle, which features the summit of Taraterehu/Stony Bay Peak and Ōtānerito beach.
The Banks Peninsula War Memorial and Grounds is a site of social and historical significance in Akaroa, built to honour the lives of New Zealanders who fought and died in the South African War as well as both World Wars. This memorial was unveiled in 1924 and is just one of the many memorials around the country that are still an integral part of New Zealand society and at which many people still gather today for ANZAC day.
Additional reporting by Bianca Ackroyd