BANKS Peninsula is an eroded volcano, originally an offshore island, which possesses several natural harbours today.
The biggest harbours on the peninsula are Lyttelton Harbour or Te Whakaraupō (‘the harbour of the raupō reed’) just south of Christchurch, which contains the port of Lyttelton, and Akaroa Harbour further east, on the south side, which contains the much smaller village of Akaroa.
Over a long period of time, the plains of Canterbury have grown outward toward the peninsula so that it is no longer an island, just as debris from the mountains has also done at Kaikōura, another former island.
The Port Hills, between Christchurch and Lyttelton, are full of parks and reserves, scenic drives in the form of the Summit Road and Mount Pleasant Road, and rock-climbing cliffs.
They yield stunning views of the city and its port of Lyttelton.
The next photo shows the mouth of Lyttelton Harbour. Its two heads are known, on the western side (to the left in this photo), Awaroa/Godley Head, which is somewhat concealed, and on the east, Te Piaka/Adderley Head.
The island is called Ōtamahua/Quail Island, a historic former quarantine station, nowadays a recreation reserve, which is accessible by ferry from Lyttelton and regarded as very suitable for families to visit.
Near Awaroa/Godley Head, the hills also run down to the sea to form the beaches between the entrance to the Avon/Heathcote estuary on the Christchurch side, and the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour.
These include the rocky Sumner Beach, with its promenade and cafés.
And a smaller beach, known in Māori as Te Onepoto or ‘the short beach’ and in English as Taylors Mistake, after the captain of a little ship who thought he was entering the estuary but wasn’t!
There is even a scenic gondola in these parts.
And various windswept hikes and mountain bike rides that you can do on the tussocky tops and back down into the harbours.
Some of the good places to hike around Lyttelton Harbour include:
Awaroa/Godley Head, which has a three-hour loop track accessible from Te Onepoto/Taylors Mistake. You can read more about this locality on a New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) webpage.
Packhorse Hut (also known as the Sign of the Packhorse Hut). This can be accessed by short walks as well, as shown on a DOC webpage.
Here’s a public information map showing some of the details on the eastern side, which I took a photo of in 2023.
On the western side, the port town of Lyttelton, with its steep streets and taverns on the corners, reminiscent of some British fishing village, is worth spending time in itself.
The next couple of photos show one of the town’s more interesting corners.
The Hotel British is one of the local landmarks, built in the late 1940s in the Moderne style after the older Hotel British was condemned. When I say hotel, I mean, of course, pub. It was badly damaged in the earthquakes of a bit over a decade ago, but restored.
Here’s a quirky ad for the local arts festival!
People sitting out in the sunshine:
‘The Maritime’, a small accommodation place (currently NZ $120 for the first night).
And Wunderbar, an externally industrial-looking but internally cosy pub with lots of deck space that perhaps took over from some of the older ones in town when they were smashed by the earthquakes, especially the 2011 one.
An interesting poster for a performance.
Here’s a video I made, from a point next to the communications tower on the Port Hills.
Here’s a map that shows most of the locations at the southern end of Lyttelton Harbour, both on the west side and on the east. The two main townships here are Governors Bay, indicated by an orange pin, in the west, and Diamond Harbour in the east.
The first thing that can be said is that there are some lovely old historic Victorian villas with gardens on the Governors Bay side, at Ōhinetahi for example. There’s also quite a scenic track, with harbour views, from Governors Bay to Allandale, itself a pleasant reserve.
The much longer but still as yet incomplete Head to Head Walkway between Awaroa/Godley Head and Te Piaka/Adderley Head also runs through here, around the top of Lyttelton Harbour in other words.
Right at the very southern end of the harbour is Teddington, at the corner of Gebbies Pass Road (heading southward into the background of the next photograph), Charteris Bay Road (to the left) and the Governors Bay-Teddington Road (right).
The building on the left is a blacksmith’s shop, established in 1889, opposite the ‘Coffee Barn’ on the right.
Further on around the eastern side of Lyttelton Harbour and heading northward once again, you get to Orton Bradley Park on the shore and, up in the hills, Mt Herbert and the Packhorse Hut.
Not sure where I photographed the following scene, but it’s pretty classic.
And so to Diamond Harbour, the subject of the next four photos.
Banks Peninsula has two Māori names, Horomaka (‘foiling of Maka’), a name that refers to events during an ancient punitive raid, and Te Pātaka o Rakaihautū, meaning the storehouse of a famous Māori explorer of the newly occupied land of New Zealand, Rakaihautū.
Legends also have it that the peninsula was scraped up from a reef, or that the demigod Māui heaped stones over an evil giant or octopus that now sleeps beneath and occasionally cracks the land open when it stirs, a story that’s a little too close for comfort in view of the recent Christchurch earthquakes.
The other big harbour on the peninsula, Akaroa Harbour, is much quieter, but more historic. Its main claims to fame predate the foundation of Christchurch.
At the head of the harbour is the site of the Ngāi Tahu pā of Ōnawe on a whale-shaped peninsula that is an island at high tide.
In the summer of 1831–1832 the pā at Ōnawe was destroyed, and its inhabitants mostly massacred, by two groups of raiding North Island Māori under the command of the notorious warlord Te Rauparaha.
The other great pre-Christchurch foundation event on Banks Peninsula was its colonisation by the French, a small-scale event that resulted in the founding of the town of Akaroa and a few other localities with French names such as Duvauchelle and Le Bons Bay.
The name Akaroa reflects the often non-standard form of South Island Māori dialects (the standard is based on the speech of the more numerous North Island Māori).
It’s a local form of Whangaroa, meaning long bay, with k for ng as is common in the south. And also, the locally rather soft version of the Māori ‘wh’ sound, which is common at the beginning of Maori placenames and usually pronounced like a cross between ‘wh’ in English and an English f, accidentally omitted by the colonists who first recorded the area’s name on paper.
Other such mishearings, in other areas, have given rise to placenames that begin with W- or H- alone, in ways that also obscure the original meaning.
There is pressure to restore the ‘wh’ to all of these non-standard names, which in most cases would require only one more letter and wouldn’t alter the name by much. Though, in the case of Akaroa, the Ngāi Tahu spokesperson and tribal leader Tipene O’Regan concedes that any reform that adds two letters to its name may take time to get used to and shouldn’t be rushed.
By the time the French got to Akaroa, or Whakaroa as it may yet be known, they found that their rivals had run up the Union Jack at nearby Okains Bay and everywhere else in New Zealand, only a few weeks before.
Perhaps if, instead of a village in a remote spot the French had founded a city on the plains where the English would later establish Christchurch, or if they had otherwise just been a bit quicker off the mark, France might have had more luck in establishing a South Pacific equivalent of Québec — c’est la vie.
The local signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, in 1840, was conducted in one of the smaller harbours of Banks Peninsula, at a locality known as Kawatea or, subsequently, Okains Bay.
To the south of the peninsula lies Waihora, or Lake Ellesmere, a vastly larger estuary than the Avon/Heathcote estuary, and held in by an even larger sandspit.
In January 2021, I went for an amazing three-day hike in the hills and down to the coast southeast of Akaroa, at the very extremity of Banks Peninsula. This was the Banks Track, billed as New Zealand’s “original private walking track,” established by local landowners to bolster their conservation efforts such as the saving of penguins, which it under-writes.
I would say that the Banks Track was on par with one of the Great Walks, and it seems to get nothing but raves on the review sites. I did a separate blog post all about this track, called ‘A Walk on the Wildside’:
The Banks Track has its own website, bankstrack.co.nz.
Including the ones I’ve mentioned above, there are many walks on Banks Peninsula today. The Rod Donald Banks Peninsula Trust classifies the walks into five groups by area:
· Akaroa Walks
· Diamond Harbour Walks
· Governors Bay Walks
· Lyttelton Walks, and
· Greater Banks Peninsula Walks
Tracks on the Port Hills right next to Christchurch aren’t all listed on the Trust website, however. These are listed on a Christchurch City Council website: ccc.govt.nz/parks-and-gardens/explore-parks/port-hills.
These include trails and roadhouses created by the eccentric visionary Harry Ell, whose most imposing legacy is the Sign of the Takahē, a restaurant and conference centre constructed in a style probably best described as Persian gothic.
For more on Lyttelton, see the tourist website lytteltoninfocentre.nz.
Sign of the Kiwi Café and Bar: signofthekiwi.co.nz
Sign of the Takahē: signofthetakahe.co.nz
DOC.govt.nz Banks Peninsula page:
Akaroa iSite: visitakaroa.com
Check out, also, Gardens to Visit: gardenstovisit.co.nz. I had no idea that there were so many gardens that you can visit in New Zealand. It is clearly an entire subculture, especially perhaps in some of the more ‘Victorian’ parts of New Zealand such as Governors Bay.
If you liked this post, check out my book about the South Island! It’s available for purchase from this website, a-maverick.com.
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