With one and a half days to spend in Christchurch and our lovely friends hosting us and driving us around we set off to explore the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa.
Formed by numerous eruptions of the Lyttelton and Akaroa volcanoes, the Banks Peninsula offers striking scenery with deep valleys, craggy headlands and steep cliffs as reminders of its dramatic geological past.
The State Highway 75 is the easiest route to reach Akaroa, taking nearly an hour and a half, and it winds its way across the hills in a road that can only be described as a motorcycle playground.
On our way we had a few stops, including a 20 minutes walk in the Okuti Valley. Though this track was not particularly exciting as it was mainly through bushes. A better option for a similar amount of time could be the Hay Scenic Reserve which has one of the best remaining stands of lowland podocarp forest.
Approaching Barrys Bay, Onawe Pa is certainly worth a stop.This is a small bluff between Barrys Bay and Duvauchelle Bay. Climbing a ridge or walking from the beach (a way easier option) it is possible to get right in the middle of the harbour with marvelous 360-degree views. There’s a bush track up the left-hand side as you head to the bluff, and then you can walk back over the hill down a grassy path. Allow half an hour each way.
Akaroa met our expectations with a perfect match of strolls and croissants. The oldest town in Canterbury boasts many French-influenced historic buildings, narrow streets and a beautiful harbour location. The sun glistened off the water and hundreds of tiny fish disturbed the surface as they tried to escape whatever predator was lurking below.
The Stables cafe was ideal to keep enjoying the sunny day while eating our pies. There are plenty of cafes on the waterfront with views across the water, and if you’re adventurous you can hire a kayak or pedalo.
Strolling along the harbour we reached the Akaroa lighthouse and got to see three sting rays floating in the water just by our path.
Darren took about fifty pictures of them gently gliding through the water with their ghostly black eyes.
On the way back from Akaroa don’t forget to call in at the Little River Gallery in Little River.
You might even see a tiger riding a bike.
On our second day we decided to go somewhere closer to Christchurch, giving that our return flight was at 5pm. We decided to spend the morning walking in Victoria Park, which is at twenty minutes by car from the city centre.
Victoria park offers dozens of tracks to choose from; some of them are for mountain bikes, others are shared paths and others are walking trails with varied gradients of difficulty. At the time we went we couldn’t find an open visitor centre or a map of the different trails, which would have helped. It’s probably wise to have the map on your phone and already have an idea of which circuit to choose.
We went on the Harry Ell walkway, an easy path that seemed to be practical for our friends’ pram. The track reaches the Sign of Kiwi on the Summit road from where the circuit can then follow different options. According to our friends the park was busier than usual, but anyway it was time for lunch and getting a treat on the Lyttelton harbour seemed like the perfect icing on the cake.
We went to She Universe, a restaurant on Governors Bay. The view from the balcony was stunning and it made up for the very long wait for the food because it was Mother’s Day and packed out. The food itself was expensive with small portions, but good quality.
Akaroa is definitely a place we want to return to. There’s at least several days’ worth of activities and walks we could do, with many secluded beaches to explore, historic places to discover (at least 43 in Akaroa alone), and views to behold.