New Zealand is home to so many beautiful places, it can be hard to choose which places to go to, having only limited time. As we just started our adventure, exploring Canterbury and the South Island, we would like to dedicate this story to perhaps a lesser-known place - just South of Christchurch. We always like to put the underdog in the spotlight. So let us introduce to you: the surprising Banks Peninsula.
We left Christchurch early that morning to hike the Bridle Path Walk. Many Christchurchers love to go here for a walk during the weekends and we gladly add this place to our weekend-walk-trips. The walk is short, but quite steep, which increases its difficulty by quite a bit when the sun’s out, but the view is very rewarding. From the top, you have a stunning panoramic view over Christchurch with soaring snowy mountain peaks and the endless blue ocean. And on the other side of the summit, you look out over Lyttelton and the Banks Peninsula.
Completing the hike before noon, we took off to explore more of the peninsula. The road from Lyttelton took us along the first (of many) blue bays and the small uninhabited Quail Island - a highly recommended place for a day trip, which we will save for a later date.
After a quick lunch by the ocean, we headed up the mountains toward Port Levy. The windy, but fairly accessible road takes you through lush mountain ranges with wide-open farmlands and, of course, heaps of sheep. Port Levy is a sleepy village at the bay with just under a hundred inhabitants - a very serene place indeed. However, we decided to move on and find another place to set up camp.
The road we found ourselves on after we left Port Levy took us by a bit by surprise. Our car struggled as we quickly gained elevation and before we knew it, we were driving one of the deadliest roads. The asphalt turned into loose gravel and the two lanes turned into one VERY narrow one. Steep drops, some more than a few hundred meters, with no guardrails showed up on our sides. A very exhilarating, scenic drive with stunning views over the peninsula. And although this may not be for the faint-hearted, definitely take this road IF your car is up for the challenge.
We found a cute campground near the fishers town of Pigeon Bay. Many campgrounds here work with a so-called honestly-system: visitors are expected to pay their camping fees via a letter in an honesty box. A night here would cost us only 10 NZD. The town itself is very small. It’s got a little church, two guesthouses, two small campgrounds and a boating club. However, if you like to be away from it all, this is definitely the place for you. We pitched our tent between two big trees just a few meters off the shore, opened a bottle of Pinot Noir and enjoyed the sunset with the soothing sound of waves.
The night was very cold in our little tent, but we kept ourselves warm with several layers of clothing, good sleeping bags a thick blanket and some alcohol. We did a quick fresh-up and continued our way to Akaroa via the inland route. This road took us from down the bays to the very summit of the south Banks Peninsula, some hundred meters above sea level. We were amazed by the ever-changing scenery. Yellow flowers bloom atop of the green mountains, with blue bays in every direction you look.
Akaroa is a more popular spot and we understand why. A quaint little town with a lot of French influences, appetizing bistro’s and probably the most impressive of the many bays that Banks Peninsula boasts. Plus, Akaroa is famous for spotting and swimming with the rarest and smallest dolphin in the world: Hector’s Dolphin. If you are into that stuff, we recommend you to book via Ecoseaker, a family-owned business who only take small groups and do a great part in protecting these amazing animals.
We left Banks Peninsula via Little River, where we talked to the friendly people of the ecologic Silostay, to learn more about their views on sustainable tourism and responsible travel. More on this later.
Explore the outer coast of Pohatu Marine Reserve and marvel at its spectacular towering cliffs, rock stacks, reefs, and deep sea caves. Observe the diverse wildlife and marine species such as penguins, seals, various sea birds and possibly the world’s smallest dolphin!