Sand and Sky: The Lonely Winter Beaches of Christchurch's Pegasus Bay

September 1, 2023
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FROM the New Brighton Spit, Te Karoro Karoro (‘the seagulls chatter’), a long sweep of sandy beaches curves northward past Christchurch to form the roughly 40 km-wide Pegasus Bay.

Pegasus Bay, public domain image by Grutness, 29 September 2005, via Wikimedia Commons. North at or toward the top.

When I visited Christchurch in July 2023, I decided to spend some time on these beaches, even though it was the middle of winter.

A view from the Christchurch Port Hills, showing Te Karoro Karoro or the Brighton Spit, which guards the estuary of the Avon and Heathcote Rivers and is ‘away from it all’ even though it’s in a city. On the near side of the unbridged estuary is another seaside resort called Sumner. We stayed at the South Brighton Holiday Park, on the spit.

Christchurch and its environs, including Banks Peninsula: Cropped from North near top but not quite at top.

New Brighton

The first beach is New Brighton, of which the southernmost part is called Southshore. It includes one of my favourite holiday parks, the South Brighton Holiday Park, on Halsey Street. That was where I parked up my van after arriving in Christchurch: they have a sort of backlot where you can park up vehicles cheaply for a long time even when you’re out of town, something that’s useful to know.

Heading northward, you get to the New Brighton shops including my favourite café there, the book-lined Switch New Brighton in Carnaby Lane.

Like the original Brighton, New Brighton has a pier.

Here’s the local war memorial, which seems to be screened off from potential vandals. Is nothing sacred?

Heading North

Heading north from New Brighton, you get to North Beach, Waimairi Beach, Bottle Lake Beach, and Spencer Park Beach, at which point you come to the mouth of the Waimakariri River at the very bottom of the map I photographed here, with its parade of beaches heading still further north to Waikuku Beach, which is as far as I went, though another beach further north, Amberley, is also very popular.

Kaiapoi and environs in a local info-map by Visit Waimakariri (north toward the top)

The map was in the Kaiapoi iSite. It was made by the local tourism promotion agency, Visit Waimakariri.

Kaiapoi is an important commuter town with some holiday attractions of its own, worth checking out at the local iSite. Oh yes, and you can get a really good cappuccino in the local New World supermarket. Much better than the bad coffee I have had in some fancy cafés!

Kaiapoi town center and iSite

Here’s the office of the modest Woodend Beach Holiday Park.

Woodend Beach Holiday Park Office

At this time of year, there weren’t many people, but things were very atmospheric.

At Woodend Beach

This is my kind of surf lifesaving tower!

Also at Woodend Beach

Tūhaitara Coastal Park, 700 hectares in extent, is just behind Woodend Beach.

Tūhaitara Coastal Park

Tūhaitara Coastal Park is run by a Māori trust called Te Kōhaka o Tūhaitara Trust. I’ve linked to their current website, but they have another one coming soon.

The Pegasus Bay Walkway (10.3 km) begins and ends at Woodend Beach. The Waimakariri District Council has a page on the walks in the area, here.

The Pegasus Bay Walkway

There are also lots of biking trails, such as the Rakahuri Trail in the Ashley Rakahuri Regional Park, the subject of the following video from Environment Canterbury, the regional council, which encompasses smaller district (local) councils like Waimakariri, and which is responsible for regional parks as opposed to local ones.

At one point, I saw horses pulling trotting carriages along the beach! These were probably racehorses being exercised.

Horses and carriages, with Banks Peninsula in the background

Here are some more photos of the beaches in this area, all of them fairly atmospheric. The low sun of winter always gives the best results in that sense.

All of this is dawn, by the way, not sunset, as these beaches face east. But in winter, the dawn is fairly late.

Here are a couple of pictures of signage for the Ashley-Rakahuri River Mouth Reserve, and the Waikuku Beach Holiday Park.

Waikuku Beach Holiday Park

Here’s a sign describing some of the local wildlife in the Ashley Rakahuri Estuary.

I’ve made a video, simply called Pegasus Bay Scenes.

Lastly, here’s a curious photographic effect that came about when I was taking a picture at the South Brighton Holiday Park. Am I inside or outside, and if so, how am I taking a picture of myself? It’s quite surrealistic.

Coming back from the north, if you are heading south like I was, it pays to stick to State Highway 1, which skirts around Christchurch.

Apart from Christchurch itself, the biggest town on SH 1 in this region is Rolleston, a little further southwest. Rolleston, itself, is a good place to stop, with lots of cafés, including another good one in the local New World supermarket if you need to do some more grocery shopping.

If you liked this post, check out my book about the South Island! It’s available for purchase from my website,


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