10 Best Places to See on Banks Peninsula
January 31, 2023 • Tom Lanauze
8 min read
Banks Peninsula offers a rare and exciting mix of experiences and adventure on the doorstep of Christchurch.
The area is home to a wide range of marine life including the little blue penguin (one of the worlds rarest) and the hectors dolphin (one of the worlds smallest). Not only that, but the iconic New Zealand Fur Seal can be found here in good numbers along with a range of both coastal and native woodland bird life including tui and Kererū.
The regions many bays offer a plethora of swimming, surfing, diving and fishing opportunities while the vibrant sea side French colonial village of Akaroa provides a wonderful place to take in the sights and tastes of the region.
1. A Little Piece of France in Akaroa
Akaroa offers nature's playground right on the doorstep of the South Islands largest city, making this idyllic spot a must do for those travelling to or through Christchurch.
What is it? The better question might be, what isn’t it?!
Located on Banks Peninsula, itself home to numerous hidden bays and inlets thanks to its unique volcanic landscape, a visit to Akaroa starts with a scenic drive with sweeping views of the dramatic coastline. Akaroa is a step back in time to a French colonial seaside village complete with local wines, cheese and seafood in abundance. It provides fantastic opportunities for marine encounters with the local dolphins along with one of New Zealand's rarest penguins - the little blue penguin.
You can find and book your next Akaroa adventures via our helpful Akaroa Experiences Page.
Where to stay in Akaroa?
Unsurpassed location and views, with a comprehensive range of holiday park facilities and accommodation types makes Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park the perfect choice for your accommodation while in Akaroa.
2. Motukarara Rail Trail
This is a long abandoned railway line that used to link Banks Peninsula farms and Christchurch which is now home to a fantastic cycle trail. It meanders along an internationally significant wetland habitat called Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora, home to a massive array of bird life.
The trail is 12km long.
3. Explore Wainui
Wainui is just over 77 km from Christchurch. It's near French Farm, which is almost opposite Akaroa. It is about a one and a quarter-hour drive from Christchurch.
Since the earthquakes in Christchurch, the cruise liners dock in Akaroa Harbour rather than Lyttelton. It is always nice to see one of them on their way in or out!
On the way
French Farm is the first settlement you will come to on your way over the hills of Banks Peninsula, around 8 km before Wainui. There are some great facilities here like a dump station, toilets, and picnic area. I also saw around six other campervans enjoying the beach.
The first thing you'll when you arrive at Wainui is the great beach. It's perfect to spend a quiet afternoon fishing, swimming or just relaxing. There is some paua in this area, but remember that the minimum size is 125mm. There's also a maximum allowance of 10 per diver, which is more than enough.
Wainui is off the beaten track, and there are lots of other similar places around Banks Peninsula and you can check CamperMate for suggestions.
Where to stay at Wainui?
Wainui YMCA offers The most picturesque camp site on the Banks Peninsula and the only one in Wainui!
4. Surf and Swim at Magnet Bay
If you're wanting to do some surfing, take a look at Magnet Bay, one of the great left-hand breaks in New Zealand. It has wonderful fishing and is a great place to see local wildlife like the New Zealand Fur Seal. Check out our Magnet Bay Guide
5. Chill Out at Okains Bay
From Christchurch, it's a short trip of around 1 hr 15 min trip to Okains Bay via the small town of Little River, a perfect place to stop for lunch or breakfast.
Arriving at Okains Bay
From the moment you arrive into Okains Bay, there's a relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps it's to do with the lack of any mobile reception once you head down the hill into the bay.
Where to stay in Okains Bay?
You definitely feel as though you're in holiday mode on arrival at the Okains Bay Campground. This is a stunning campsite right beside the sheltered bay.
6. Take the Scenic Tourist Drive Around the Volcano Crater Rim
After winding your way through the native bush and reaching hill top, you can grab a drink or a bite at the pub and enjoy the epic panoramic views of the harbour below you. Rather than taking the sign post to Akaroa, turn off onto the Tourist Drive where you can travel along the crater of a massive (but extinct!) volcano! You can stop off at Barrys Bay Cheese, vineyards and farm shops to stock up on supplies on your way home or to your next Banks Peninsula adventure. Upon reaching the hilltop, take a moment to experience the stunning panoramic view of Akaroa harbor and surrounding peninsula.
7. Walk to the Top of Mt Herbert
At 919 meters, Mt Herbert is the tallest peak on Banks Peninsula and offers amazing views of the inlets and harbors, but also of the wider Canterbury Plains, Christchurch and the Southern Alps.
The track is 14km long and takes most people between 6-8 hours.
Check out our Mt Herbert Walk Guide for more information on this great hike close to Christchurch.
Where to stay when walking the Mt Herbert Track?
One of the most unique places to stay in all of New Zealand is located on the walk to Mt Herbert. One of New Zealand's oldest and most scenic huts, check out the incredible Packhorse Hut.
8. Little River
This busy we towm tucked into a little valley at the head of Lake Forsyth is right in the middle of the Christcghurch - Akaroa road and makes a perfect place to explore greater Banks Peninsula. With its bustling cafes, fantastic places to stay, lovely walks and incredible views, it's a great place to escape the city.
Where to stay when visiting Little River?
You'll find a lovely place to stay at Little River Campground. Tucked into the native bush and with some lovely walks and activities nearby, you will find the escape into nature quite relaxing. The staff are very knowledgeable locals and are always happy to give advice on the best places to visit on the peninsula.
9. Get off the Beaten Track at Tumbledown Bay
It takes about an hour and a quarter to get to Tumbledown Bay from Christchurch. I wouldn't suggest taking your campervan on this trip. The roads are just a little too skinny. A normal car should be okay.
Leaving Christchurch, the road takes you alongside the Motukarara Rail Trail (next on this list!) which itself is a wonderful walk or cycle along the nationally significant wetland of Lake Ellesmere Te Waihora, home to a wide variety of birdlife.
Your Tumbledown Bay trip will take you via Little River, where you can grab a bite at the lovely bakery before turning off for the Southern Bays and you'll love the drive along Te Oka Bay Road, the next stretch on the way to Tumbledown Bay.
Days like these will make you appreciate what a beautiful country New Zealand is. You have views of the mountains, sea and farmland all in one sweep.
Winding Roads to Tumbledown Bay
Once you pass the signpost to Magnet Bay, it's a bit of a mission driving down the windy road to Tumbledown Bay. As we mentioned before, it is a skinny road. You'll also be right next to some scary drops.
Sometimes it's hard to concentrate on the road when you have great views. So, stop as much as you like, and be safe.
When you do finally arrive at Tumbledown Bay, you may be the only people there. It's not visited very often, especially in the winter!
Funnily enough, there was a bloke taking a mid-winter swim when we arrived. It takes all sorts!
Where to stay when visiting Tumbledown Bay?
The closest holiday park is just a short drive away at Little River Campground
10. Pigeon Bay Walkway
This easy to follow and well signposted coastal walkway takes along the east side of the bay out to the headlands. It follows both a walking track and a formed vehicle track that the local farmer uses (the track closes over lambing in spring).
As you walk through the meadows and grasslands, take in the wonderful views of Pigeon Bay and the dramatic coastline - keep an eye out for dolphins!
Cool off after your walk with a dip in the calm waters of Pigeon Bay.
Where to stay when visiting Pigeon Bay?
Camp right on the beach at the quiet and secluded Pigeon Bay Camping Ground