Nature and conservation
Banks Peninsula was formed over six million years ago, following the violent eruptions of two volcanoes. Craters form the harbours of Lyttelton and Akaroa with many smaller bays indenting the coastline.
The original Banks Peninsula forest had similar plants 20,000 years ago as we find today. Much of the remaining forest was felled or burned during the first 50 years of European occupation.
Forest remnants provide refuges for native forest birds, including bellbird/korimako, wood pigeon/kererū, silvereye, pūkeko, fantail/pīwakawaka, tomtit/miromiro, grey warbler/riroriro, riflemen/tītitipounamu, and brown creeper/pīpipi.
A marine mammal sanctuary around Banks Peninsula protects the rare Hector’s dolphin/upokohue, while the Akaroa Marine Reserve and nearby Pohatu Marine Reserve in Flea Bay protect marine sea-life.
Visit Akaroa Marine Reserve and Pohatu Marine Reserve.
History and culture
Banks Peninsula is commonly known to Maori as Horomaka. It's also known as Te Pataka o Rakaihautū, meaning the storehouse of Rakaihautū, who was a legendary explorer.
Waitaha, Ngāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu all lived in or moved through the area. By 1820 Ngāi Tahu had many settlements and pā around the peninsula. In the 1820’s fighting between hapū (family groups) began. Known as the Kai Huanga feud, it continued until the threat of Te Rauparaha in the early 1830’s brought the families back together.
In 1840 French settlers arrived at Akaroa, which had just been claimed by the English under the Treaty of Waitangi. As the site of the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand, Akaroa is unique.
Some of the first European settlements in Canterbury were whaling stations.
Banks Peninsula is near Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island. Its many reserves are scattered all over the peninsula and best accessed by car.
Akaroa, 83 km from Christchurch is situated on the edge of a deep harbour. Allow 1.5 hours driving as the Christchurch to Akaroa Highway climbs and turns steeply.
The roads on Banks Peninsula are winding, steep, narrow and not all are sealed. Some are four-wheel drive only. Parking is limited for some reserves. Drive cautiously.
Pick-ups and drop-offs near the ends of the Summit Walkway can be arranged through the two local bus services.
There are two bus services to Akaroa: Akaroa Shuttle (0800 500 929) and French Connection (+64 3 366 4556).
Know before you go
It is recommended that you purchase a map of the area. The NewTopo map The Port Hills and Banks Peninsula (1:60 000) is a good guide.