Welcome to the Banks Peninsula - a very special place!
Unless you have ever had the opportunity to fly into Christchurch on a clear sunny day with a good window seat and had time to look outside, you might never guess what natural gem lies hidden so close to the South Island’s largest city.
Unlike the flat Canterbury plains, gorgeous Banks Peninsula (Horomaka) was formed by two giant volcanic eruptions about eight million years ago, which explains the mountainous nature otherwise atypical of the Christchurch area. Nowadays, of course, it has become a mecca for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and dolphin watchers!
The waters around the Banks Peninsula are home to the smallest and one of the rarest dolphin species, Hector’s Dolphin, found only in NZ waters.
A large Marine Mammal Sanctuary now also surrounds much of the peninsula and Eco-tourism is based around the playful and rare dolphins.
You will likely spot these beautiful creatures while exploring our tramping trail along the coast, but nothing beats being up close and personal to such rare sea life, including others such as the rare white-flippered penguins, or Orcas and different types of seals.
This is why we HAD to include a boat tour in Akaroa harbour as part of your Banks Peninsula tramping experience. Of course, it is all-inclusive - see here.
The quaint historic town of Akaroa, starting point of our track and boat tour, is also a highlight in itself, as is the beautiful drive along Summit Road around the edge of one of the original craters. Due to the abundance of mahinga kai (foods of the forests, sea, rivers and skies) found on the peninsula, three waves of early Maori settlement took place here before the first Europeans set sight on the peninsula during Cook's first circumnavigation of New Zealand in 1770. Cook promptly mistook it for an island and first named it "Banks Island" in honour of the ship's botanist, Joseph Banks.
Alas, over the next 100+ years a series of significant historic and often notorious events ensued. Your guide will love telling you about them in front of a cosy hut fire, including some of the more shocking stories and legends!
There was the British meddling in tribal wars, the kidnapping of chiefs, and an incident contributing directly to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
Meanwhile, a French whaler decided that Akaroa harbour would make the perfect French settlement.
However, by the time he "purchased" the peninsula in a dubious land deal with the local Māori and established a settlement with a group of French families, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and New Zealand had just been claimed by the English! Nonetheless, the French influence, as well as many of its nineteenth-century buildings, remained, and this is what
gives Akaroa its unique character to this day.
Along with the European settlement came farming, and while estimates suggest that native forest once covered 98% of the peninsula, only a fraction remains and countless reserves have been established to allow for native forests to regenerate (see our blog article about Hinewai Reserve). This makes it possible to once again walk these hills and be surrounded by an abundance of native forest birds, including bellbirds, wood pigeons, silvereye, pūkeko, fantail, tomtit, grey warbler, riflemen, and brown creeper.
There is all this and much more - we can’t wait to give you a holiday to remember for years to come. Welcome to Christchurch and welcome to Banks Peninsula!