"The Magic World of Banks Peninsula and Akaroa" Top 5 Page for this destination Akaroa by Kakapo2

Akaroa Travel Guide: 251 reviews and 628 photos

The Volcanic Wonder of Creation

As Banks Peninsula - just at my doorstep - is not available as a destination on VT, I have decided to sample those tips on an Akaroa page.

I will leave tips about locations dotted around Lyttelton Harbour on my Lyttelton page, even if strictly seen they are on Banks Peninsula. Those places are Diamond Harbour, Purau, Mt. Herbert, Orton Bradley Park, Mt. Bradley, Packhorse Hut, and - as it is not available on VT either - Governors Bay which sits at the end of Lyttelton Harbour, where the Port Hills end and Banks Peninsula starts. Strictly spoken, the Port Hills are part of Banks Peninsula though...

Update Nov. 2012 - still current in 2013/2014

Since the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 most cruise ships that had previously docked in Lyttelton for their Christchurch stop will be anchoring in Akaroa Harbour this season as well, due to damage to the wharves in Lyttelton. This means that the town can be overcrowded when one or even two big cruise ships are in port. We therefore always check the cruise ship schedule and avoid Akaroa on such days, as it is much nicer with less people. At least try to avoid days when two shiploads of passengers are spilled out into the streets of this lovely township.

Info here: http://resources.ccc.govt.nz/files/visiting/AkaroaCruiseScheduleAmended.pdf

I do not just say it because I live here. Every time I look out of the big panorama window, straight over the waters of Lyttelton Harbour, I am enchanted by the beauty of Banks Peninsula. This truly is one of the most beautiful areas in New Zealand, not visited by many tourists because travel writers obviously have not really travelled there yet. Like most visitors they hurry to Akaroa, the peninsula?s biggest town, 85 kilometres from Christchurch, because this is New Zealand?s only French settlement. So they only get a glimpse of this outstanding nature?s paradise.

Even now as I am writing I see those majestic slopes of the highest hills of the peninsula that have been created by several violent eruptions of two later united balsatic shield-volcanoes many millions of years ago. Those folded and rounded slopes, petrified lava streams, are reaching into the water like massive claws of a wild animal. The ochre coloured hills, once covered in dense bush, lie bare from slash-and-burn by Maori, European woodchoppers and 150 years of farming. They look like covered in velvet. When you walk around there ? and the peninsula is fantastic for hiking ? you see that the hills are dotted with tussock grass that has become so typical for the South Island's high country. You see rocks peeking through the grassy surface, testimony of the violent past.

Nature needed three big and many small volcanic activities and millions of years to create Banks Peninsula as it is now, with its innumerous turquoise blue bays and steep slopes and valleys. The peninsula is about 1200 square kilometres in area, and consists of the remnants of two large extinct shield volcanoes together with a number of minor volcanic centres. The volcanoes once formed an island many kilometres off the coast of the South Island. Over time, the two main volcanic centres, Lyttelton and Akaroa, were breached by the sea to form the present harbours.

The first Lyttelton eruption took place about 12 million years ago, with a centre near Charteris Bay (next to Diamond Harbour). About 9.5 million years ago, the activitiy shifted southeast. The final eruptions took place near the summit of Mt. Herbert ? now the peninsula?s highest peak with 920 metres and right across my panorama window, high above Diamond Harbour - 8.5 to 8 million years ago.

Volcanism from the Akaroa centre started about 9 million years ago. The cone was much larger than Lyttelton. It reached a height of about 1800 metres. As the activity over there died out, new eruptions and lava flows occurred from vents in the crater and on the flanks of Lyttelton volcano.

Crater Rim Walks, Summit Roads, Turquoise Bays

Finally the Diamond Harbour area startet rumbling 7 to 5.8 million years ago. The two volcanic cones finally overlapped. When activity stopped, the cones were gradually eroded to about half their original height and deep valleys formed. The harbours at Akaroa and Lyttelton were formed when the sea rose to its present height after the last glacial episode and flooded the valleys.

Be aware when you walk around the harbours, you walk on the crater rims of two ? thank you! ? extinct volcanoes, on the vents of those volcanoes, on rocks they spat out, on lava flows once so hot, they melted the rocks from previous eruptions and formed dikes. The Port Hills that separate Christchurch and Lyttelton are part of this crater rim.

Finally! It took many more years until this volcanic island became a peninsula. The rivers from the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps carried so much silt that it accumulated and formed the Canterbury Plains and finally connected the South Island and Banks Island. When James Cook sailed past the peninsula in 1769 he mistakingly thought it was an island and named it after his botanist Joseph Banks.

There are two places where you can visually learn about the volcanic history of Banks Peninsula: in the shop and the Time Tunnel at the Christchurch Gondola, and in the info centre at Victoria Park, located on the way up to the Port Hills, on Dyers Pass Road, near the Sign of the Takahe in the suburb of Cashmere.

As well as you can walk the whole length of the Crater Rim Walk, from Godley Head to Gebbies Pass, and carry on over Mt. Bradley and Mt. Herbert via the Packhorse Hut, you can get the breathtaking views of city, towns, harbours, plains and Southern Alps easier by driving on the Summit Roads. You can take a rough tour on unsealed roads from Diamond Harbour/Purau to Little River, and after some kilometres turn onto the scenic drive that will lead you to the remote eastern bays of the peninsula and finally to Akaroa.

It always goes steeply up and down, and believe me, there are many, many curves. Sometimes sheep unexpectedly cross your way. There are turquoise blue bays, so picturesque you think their colours must have been enhanced by a magic reality photoshop programme, some with fabulous white sandy swimming beaches like Okains Bay and Le Bons Bay. You will find ancient Maori settlements, the best example at Okains Bay where you also find a Maori and Settlers Museum, and a waka, the Maori war canoe, that is taken to the water on Waitangi Day.

And finally, at some point you will end up in Akaroa, New Zealand?s only French settlement. But really, do not miss get a little deeper into Banks Peninsula when you are in Christchurch, and to not just race to Akaroa and its spectacular harbour and back. If you have a full day there is plenty of time for a great round-trip, and you still do not miss the main attractions. But believe me: Two days are better than one. But one better than none ;-)

Akaroa - a Touch of France

As said, Akaroa is the only French settlement in New Zealand although it has never been French. When on 17 August 1840 a group of French and German families arrived aboard the ship Comte de Paris, the Treaty of Waitangi had just been signed. This meant that the whole of NZ was under British sovereignty, and the British flag was raised at Greens Point between Akaroa and Takapuneke.

Nevertheless, the French settlers stayed in the old whaling station and left their marks. Today the small town is a melting pot of people from many nations. But the French touch remains, as the narrow streets and the wonderfully restored colonial buildings attract tourists. This is why many names of streets, shops and restaurants are French. Many people own holiday homes and weekend retreats in this charming town.

Akaroa can be crowded during the peak season. Some time ago I read a letter in our newspaper in which an Akaroa resident complained about the noise from the cruise ships. I assure you, there are not many, and they are not big. Akaroa's harbour is so lovely and picturesque because on normal days you only see small boats bop up and down in the water. It is totally different to Lyttelton where we also have a working port, with container ships, cars, coal and logs being loaded, and big cruise ships in summer. Akaroa Harbour is purely romantic.

You do not have to book any activity to enjoy Akaroa. Just sit along the pier, or in a café, and inhale the lazy French flair.

However, Akaroa - meaning "long harbour" in the Maori language Te Reo - is famous for its dolphin tours. Watch the dolphins or swim with them. The hector dolphins are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. And there is no better place to see them. Sometimes you can even see some of them play around from your chair in a café.

The oldest historic house is the wonderful Langlois-Eteveneaux House at the corner of Rue Balguerie and Rue Lavaud. It dates from 1841 and has an inspiring French look. It is named after the first owner, Aimable Langlois, and the second owner, Jean-Pierre Eteveneaux who bought it after Aimable Langlois' death. At the moment (May 2008) they have stripped it down and will paint it in its most probable original colour which is creamy... What a pity! I thought it looked spectacular in its green tones you can see on my photos. (Will post a hidden new one when the paint job is finished ;-)

In the evening you can go penguin watching at Flea Bay. There is no public access, so you have to book the tour at the Visitor Centre. Since I have seen a kind of dialogue between a brave sheep and a similarly brave yellow-eyed penguin at Flea Bay on TV I consider it a must-see place - probably only to be disappointed because the two would not communicate every day ;-)

My off-the-beaten path tip for Akaroa is a visit to the Giant's House. Be amazed to see the best mosaic art since Gaudí and Niki de Saint Phalle.

General info about Banks Peninsula and Akaroa:

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Wild natural beauty, remoteness, magic colours
  • Cons:The fact that it is no tourist hotspot is rather a pro than a con
  • In a nutshell:Ever growing love, deep in my heart
  • Intro Updated Sep 17, 2013
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Reviews (72)

Comments (3)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Dec 31, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    You certainly do have some of the best views on the globe to take in daily, and the quaint community around there looks very appealing. Nice presentation.

  • jumpingnorman's Profile Photo
    Feb 7, 2009 at 9:53 PM

    Nice going around Akaroa with you...excellent tips! Hope I'll see it someday, Norman :)

  • allikat's Profile Photo
    May 20, 2008 at 4:06 PM

    I so enjoy your tips Sissi! Wonderful page (and I see there's more to come) I intend to visit the Giants House as I'm just starting to play with mosaic myself. Good memories of a day when I first visited NZ and did one of the Black Cat cruises. Thanks!

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