Exploring the beautiful Banks Peninsula

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Now things were starting to look very familiar.

Over the previous month we had slowly headed down from the top of the North Island, which meant that – despite our trip being called “Travel With A Local” – several of the places we went were new to me as well. So much for being a tour guide, really, although with a bit of vowel-flattening I was at least able to speak the local lingo.

“Sux buts of fush and chups” indeed.

Now that we were in the middle of the South Island, though, things were different. This is where I grew up – over twenty years of my life were spent on those dry Canterbury Plains. Long summer days down by the river in Ashburton, freezing winters as a university student in Christchurch, family holidays in Hanmer Springs – they form the backdrop to memories of my younger days.

As, too, does the Banks Peninsula.  This large piece of land that juts out into the Pacific Ocean is one of the more beautiful parts of the country, all volcanic hills and quiet bays. French-influenced Akaroa, the largest town, is becoming busier by the year, but there is a barely a soul to be found anywhere else on the peninsula.

Banks Peninsula road

We headed over the hill from Christchurch one afternoon, the driving time of little over an hour extended by several photo stops.

Akaroa from the Hilltop

One of my favourite parts of going to Akaroa happens well before you get there – a break at the Hilltop Tavern along the way.  It’s the perfect place to stop for a drink and admire the view on a sunny day, which was exactly what we intended to do. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones with that idea – a bus full of drunks rolled into the carpark just after we did, the guy take a piss in the bushes in broad daylight paying perfect homage to the name of the transport company.

We decided to raincheck that beer.

Hilltop Missing Link

Akaroa is a lovely little town, especially once the tour buses have packed up their human contents and taken them somewhere else.  Pubs, cafes and restaurants stretch sporadically along the harbour wall before coming together in a cluster at the southern end of the main road.

We found ourselves in a a garden bar as the evening rolled around, an acoustic two-piece band keeping the punters amused. It took us quite a while to realise that this was Assembly Required, the same guys that we had seen playing rather more loudly at a pub in Christchurch the night before. Small world … especially this part of it.

Assembly Required

The unamplified version was perfect for that summer evening, and one drink soon become two, and then three. There was no hurry, after all, and it wasn’t until the sun started to set that we finally drained our beers, finished the last mouthfuls of pizza and wandered slowly back along the waterfront towards home.

Dusk over the harbour in Akaroa

The following day we went for a little drive. With no set plan in mind, we wandered aimlessly along one road, and then another, following the ridgeline all the way over to Le Bons Bay.

Le Bons Bay

The low cloud that had sat around all afternoon finally started to clear as we parked, leaving only a strong breeze and the warm glow of the evening sun in its wake.

Le Bons Bay

We spent ages on that little beach, exploring the grassy dunes and avoiding the surging waves around the rocks as the tide came in. We weren’t the only wildlife getting soaked by the pounding seas, mind you.

Shells on the rocks

With the light starting to fade we turned around and headed for home. As we neared Akaroa once more, we emerged from the shadows and out onto the Summit road. Suddenly I pulled over to the side of the road, slamming on the brakes and stopping in a cloud of dust.

The view was just too good to keep going.

Banks Peninsula road in the evening

The last of the sun lit up the hills beyond, bathing everything in a gloriously warm glow.

Banks Peninsula hills in the evening

Doing a short hike the following day, I turned around at one point to take a photo of a nearby rhino sculpture (as you do), and just … stopped. Even though I’ve seen some version of this vista countless times over the past few decades, it still managed to take my breath away.

Akaroa view with rhino

Akaroa, and the rest of Banks Peninsula, is simply a gorgeous part of New Zealand. Give yourself an night or two in the South Island to just drive around and explore the area – you’ll be richly rewarded if you do.


5 Responses to “Exploring the beautiful Banks Peninsula

  • That pic looking down into the bay with the curving road to the right is tops. Nice one Dave!

  • Its a lovely part of the world. We were over there again just recently – unfortunately it rained the whole weekend but it didn’t dim the pleasure of being there again. Great photos!

  • Love that rhino – can’t believe I didn’t see it as we spent ages in that area!

  • Nice pics Dave! I spent 1 months working in Akaroa during my work and holiday stay in NZ, and you’re right, it truly is a fantastic part of the country!

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