The Banks Peninsula was once a volcano, which is why it’s almost island-like in shape. It has many bays and inlets, and a hilly interior, so is a great destination for hiking, mountain biking, boating, or kayaking around the shore. Many travelers visit on day trips from Christchurch, although you can stay for longer if traveling independently. Dolphin, seal, and whale-watching tours are especially popular on the Banks Peninsula, especially to see the rare Hector’s dolphin at the Akaroa Marine Reserve.
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Things to Know Before You Go
- If you’re planning on hiking on the Banks Peninsula, be aware that as parts of it are privately owned farmland, some areas are closed to visitors or foot traffic for several weeks in the spring, for lambing.
- Fans of French food are in luck, because there are a number of French-themed eateries around Akaroa.
- Stop at the interesting Akaroa Museum to learn more about the town’s French heritage, and the standoffs that occurred between the British and French tussling for control.
How to Get There
Cruise ships stopping in Christchurch anchor at Lyttleton, a Christchurch suburb that’s just across Lyttleton Harbour from the Banks Peninsula. So, many cruise ship passengers make shore excursions out to the peninsula. Other travelers can access the peninsula from Christchurch city with their own vehicle, or on a guided tour. Akaroa is about 1.5 hours’ drive from central Christchurch.
When to Get There
Any time of year is good for general sightseeing activities, such as driving tours and visiting Akaroa. To experience the outdoors at its best, visit in the warmer months (October to April). While New Zealand does get a lot of tourists in the summer (December to February), not so many people make it to the Banks Peninsula, so you’re unlikely to find it crowded at any time.
Visit Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora) Just west of the Banks Peninsula is Lake Ellesmere, actually a shallow lagoon, connected to the ocean by a very narrow opening. It’s a culturally important place to local Maori people, and an important wetland area. Like the Banks Peninsula, Lake Ellesmere has some great wildlife-watching opportunities, as Hector’s dolphins and seals can be found here in large numbers, as well as many species of birds.