Walk 12 - Banks Peninsula Track

Established in 1989, the Banks Peninsula Track is New Zealand's first private walking track. Since it was set up by a consortium of 9 landholders on the south-eastern corner of the ancient volcano of Banks Peninsula, it has developed into one of the more popular tracks in the country. At only 35 km long, it can be walked in 2 days, although most walkers choose to do it in a leisurely 4 days and make the most of the scenery and accommodation, the latter being a special feature of this walk. With numbers limited to 12 per day for the 4-day trip and 4 per day for the 2-day trip, it is essential to book ahead. We did the walk in 2 days because we only had to book one week ahead rather than four.

Evening light over Akaroa Inlet

All trips start in the evening before the first day's tramping; a bus picks the trampers up at Akaroa and takes them on a short ride up to Onuku Farm, where a very comfortable and well-equipped new timber cabin set in manicured lawns and gardens, awaits the walkers.

From the verandah of the cabin you can contemplate the evening light on Akaroa Harbour, 200m below, and read the informative 20 page guide book on the flora, fauna, gelogy and history of the region that serves as your track ticket, as you prepare for the next day's start.

Onuku Hut

Day 1: Onuku to Stoney Bay

True to forecast, the day began with a fog hanging low over the hills of Akaroa and a gentle drizzle falling. Four-day walkers had the luxury of hanging about the cabin until it lifted; we two-day walkers donned our wet weather gear and disappeared into the mist. The rugged volcanic landscape of Banks Peninsula means serious climbing and this track has the philosophy of getting right into it with a 500m climb in the first few km up to the highest point of the walk. The steepest part of this climb is up through the farm paddocks at the very beginning and we were soon removing layers of clothing as the rain eased and exertion warmed us up.

Climbing up into the mist

The locals watch us pass by

Nice touch - a water bubbler in the
middle of a paddock

From the farm, the track took us through a patch of manuka scrub to curiously-named Paradise and the ruins of an old dairy, before emerging onto a broad expanse of grassy slopes. We climbed up through an eerie landscape, as the clouds swirled slowly by, alternately hiding and revealing glimpes of the hilltops about us and the green waters of Akaroa Harbour far below. The occasional mournful bleat floating through the mist accompanied us upwards, as the local sheep curiously watched our passage.

Akaroa Harbour below the clouds

Misty pastoral landscape

The mist clearing over the eastern slopes

Cloud-covered hilltops of Banks Peninsula

Before we realised, we had reached the ridge, and its cover of regenerating Totara. Looking north, the cloud was banking up on the western slopes, leaving us with much clearer views toward the sea as we started our descent down toward Flea Bay.


Cloud banking up on the western flank of the old volcanic rim

Leaving the pasture, we followed a gravel road for a kilometre, before the track led us down into remnant native bush of a deep gully, descending steeply amongst the ferns under the dense canopy of red beech, including a superb 400 year old specimen towering above all others. The babbling stream tumbled down alongside the path, through a series of beautiful waterfalls and cascades.

Leaf-covered track through the beech

Not one .....

..... not two .....

.... but three beautiful waterfalls

In the damp gully forest

As we descended into Forks Gully, the vegetation changed character, with beech being replaced by regenerating vine-covered lowland forest, before finally opening out on to pasture covered flats and Flea Bay Cottage. Built in the 1860s, this charmingly restored wooden cottage would be the accommodation of the four-day walkers - we could but eat our lunch on its verandah before heading on.

Looking back up the gully

Flea Bay Cottage (ca 1860)

Who dat dere looking in my burrow?

Rounding the head of Flea Bay, we started to climb up the cliff on its northern shore. Flea Bay supports a breeding colony of blue fairy penguins and the farmers here encourage them by providing nesting boxes along the steep grassy slopes.

As we passed, beady penguin chick eyes peered out to see if it might be their parents returning from a day's fishing with their dinner. How disappointing that it was only a couple of trampers - the chicks were already quite large and soon would be heading out to sea themselves.

Blue fairy penguins

Looking back over Flea Bay

Moving on, we rounded the shrub and flax covered headland at the mouth of Flea Bay, with superb views over to the 200m sheer cliffs of Dyke Head on the opposite side. From here the track follows a magnificent coastal cliffscape, where the sea has eroded back the old lava flows into a long line of pasture-topped cliffs, undercut by sea-caves and whose history can occasionally be read in layering of black basaltic lava and red iron-rich tuffs.

If you are thinking about switching to digital photography, do it before walking this coastline - you risk using up several rolls of conventional film as one brilliant photographic opportunity succeeds another.

Nook Island

Sea caves undercutting the cliffs

Entrance to Flea Bay with 200m cliffs of Dyke Head in background

Sheer basalt cliffs

Sitting on the seat at the end of Redcliffe Point to absorb the immensity of the natural setting and its history, watching the seals cavort and listening to the echoes of their quarrelsome grunts at Seal Cave; we undertook a slow amble across the headlands and gullies of this part of the walk.

Contemplation on Redcliffe Point

Just another incredible cliffscape

Near Seal Cave

Loo with a view

Crossing the open pastures of a headland

This is what the Banks Peninsula Track is all about

Passing yacht

Finally, the track crossed over the last headland and tunnelled down through a dense stand of sweetly-scented manuka to the aptly named shore of Stoney Bay. Here a special surprise awaits the tired walker. At Stoney Bay, a charming hut complex has developed over the years, with a series of corrugated iron cottages scattered around a "village green", including an outdoor fire-heated bath or semi-outdoor hot shower for the weary body.

From the outside, the huts have an air of primitive 19th century settler, from the inside they exude warmth and comfort, with special touches such as a stained-glass window in each hut and the shower, an outdoor pool table and giant swing.

Arrival at Stoney Bay

This way to Stoney Bay
Enough to make you feel like a beer, followed by a steak with red wine? No worries - just pop down to the village store, put your money in the honesty box and choose your brand and your cut of fresh meat from the fridge. Two-day walkers stayed in the one genuinely old cottage, complete with its wooden picket fence and overgrown cottage garden. It was a setting conducive to socialising and we soon got to know our fellow 2-day trampers, Malcolm and Hilary, Ian and Janet, a lot better; what a great spot, what a great day!

Hot shower anyone?

Two-day trampers hut

Day 2: Stoney Bay to Akaroa

Only the 2-day walkers cabin stirred in the early morning sunshine. Four-day walkers only had a 6 km coastal stroll ahead of them and could afford a good sleep in; we were headed back to Akaroa, 16 km and a 600m high saddle away.

The track wound up through the native shrub on the northern slopes of Stoney Bay before once again emerging into a sheepscape of broad green pastures. From out to sea, a curious sea mist swirled in to wrap the cliffs to the south in a white mantle, while the early morning light silhouetted the cliffs to the north, giving us a very different outlook to the previous day, with even more sea caves, off-shore pinnacles and arches to marvel at.

Silhouette of Pompey's Pillar


Sea mist enveloping the cliff tops

Arch between Stoney and Otanerito Bays

Sleepy Bay - scene of a 17th century Maori battle
The track dropped down to the rich red rocks of Sleepy Bay, scene of a significant battle between two Maori tribes in the 17th century, before climbing up to the next headland, the series of grassy terraces indicating the site of Parakakariki, the fortified village or "pa" of the losing tribe. Interestingly, sheep-grazing helps to preserve these archaeological sites, as it prevents regenerating bush from breaking up the outlines of the village and its fortifications. A nearby sign states "Behold the summer grass; all that remains of the dreams of warriors"; what might some future generation write about us and our vanities and certainties?

Site of Parakakariki pa

Seal basking on a red tuff platform at Sleepy Bay

Black and white banded beach at Otanerito Bay

From the pa site, it was a short descent to Otanerito Bay, through a dense stand of kanuka-dominated native trees, past the curiously bichromic black and white sandy beach to the Otanerito Beach House, a charming weatherboard cottage in immaculate gardens and the overnight stop for the 4-day walkers. The last of this group from two days ahead of us were leaving as we arrived in time for morning tea in the gardens.

Otanerito Beach House
The sea was now at our backs as we headed inland to reach the Hinewai Reserve, a privately managed flora and fauna reserve, and the start of our climb back up the outer flank of the old volcano. At first the climb was very shallow as we followed babbling Hinewai Stream up through the dense lowland forest, passing several giant kahikatea trees. Gradually steepening, the track opened up into an area where native bush was slowly regenerating through a gorse-infested landscape. Oh happy day when the pestilent yellow flowers of gorse are finally replaced by a white mist of manuka , blue and yellow blooms of the native solanaceae and drooping red and white clusters of the tree fuchsia.

Giant Kahikatea towering above the Hinewai scrub

Hinewai Stream



Ferny pathway beneath the kanukas

Leaf-carpeted red beech terrace

The climb now steepened considerably as we left the gorse to zigzag up through the high humidity of a lush green fernery beneath an open canopy of tall kanuka, eventually emerging onto the welcome cool leaf-carpeted terrace of tall and stately red beech, their canopy a green kaleidoscope of sunlit leaves.

Once out of the beeches, we found ourselves at Brocheries Flat, a grassy open area with scattered totara trees, just below Purple Peak Saddle, a great place to admire the extent of Hinewai Reserve down to Otanerito Bay and have some lunch in the shade.

View across Brocheries Flat to
Otanerito Bay

Rest stop under a totara at Brocheries Flat

Panorama from Purple Peak Saddle over Akaroa and its harbour

A few minutes walking and we crested the saddle to be greeted by a sweeping panorama of Akaroa and its harbour 600m below us; what the mists hid from us on the first day was now before us in all its sunlit splendour. All that remained of our walk was a long descent down the inside slope of the old volcano in the heat of the afternoon sun to Vernon Lodge, where our cars awaited us.

As we bade farewell to our fellow 2-day trampers, I suspect that all of us had the same feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction from this great tramp. There are not many walks that I would do again, no matter how enjoyable they have been; there are simply too many new adventures and experiences to pursue. However, the fair Nello and I both agreed that one day we would come back to enjoy the full relaxed four-day Banks Peninsula experience - it is much more than just a simple tramp.

Banks Peninsula 2-day trampers