Travelmag Banner

Tramping the Banks Track

The cheap flight to Christchurch, New Zealand, from Sydney is too good an opportunity to miss. Overnight I have found myself in the historic French-infused seaside village of Akaroa booted and bursting at the seams waiting to tramp the Banks Peninsula track’s 35km of spectacular volcanic coastline, native bush, waterfalls and sandy beaches. I blame the Milford and Abel Tasman tracks for my itchy feet – I started tramping in New Zealand exactly a year ago, and was so blown away by the constant shots of mind-boggling scenery that frankly, I can’t stop.

First sighted by Captain Cook in 1770, Banks Peninsula is named after the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. At the time, the Peninsula was inhabited by Maoris of the Ngai Tahu tribe. In 1838 Jean Langlois, captain of the French whaling ship Cachalot, negotiated with a local Maori chief to buy the Peninsula, and British colonists later took over in 1850.

An undeclared hero in a land of dramatic, wild and rugged mountain walks, the Banks track – New Zealand’s first private track – is an overlooked gem that is deeply memorable not for its breath-taking landscapes, however, but for its charm and beauty. Suitable for both hardy and more gentle walkers, the track can either be completed in two or four days depending on how fast you want to trot. Even the two-day city break go-getters, though, will want to slow down to enjoy the gentle bays where you can kayak or wile away the afternoon sun-baking and bird-spotting. Step away from the rat race and enjoy the beauty surrounding you is the subtle message here.

The Banks track began as a community project in the late Eighties, when the ten local families who own and operate it got together to find ways to diversify their income base after some difficult years of drought and falling prices. At the same time, a private trust established the Hinewai Reserve (which the last section of the track flows through) as a major conservation initiative. Co-operative activity saw bridges constructed, signs erected, huts built and plenty of background organisation that helped the project blossom into a successful low-key venture into green tourism.

The track committee, now a Company, meets once a month in Akaroa and is made up of a motley crew of farmers, artists and writers, botanists, sailors, equestrians, fencers and apiarists. Understanding their diverse background is important – they love their corner of the world, are delighted that others are sharing it with them, and their personalities and appreciation of the peninsula are reflected in the shelters and lodges dotted along the track. The most beautiful and heart-warming of all of these has to be the surprise romantic pit-stop at Stony Bay, with its help-yourself shop (fresh organic fruit and vegetables, beer and wine, meat, fresh eggs, and all the cooking aids you need – you name it, it’s there), which works on an honesty system, and the unforgettable open-air bath heated by a log fire so that you can soak and watch the stars outside in total comfort. Perfect for honeymooning nature lovers, who will want to crack open the champagne and harmoniously unwind together.

The start of the track is in Akaroa, which is nestled in the eroded crater of an ancient volcano. Climbing the inner slopes of the crater, you cross what is now open pasture with remnants of native forest.

As you slowly gain height across the rocky ground, you’re rewarded with an uplifting view of the harbour slowly spreading out beneath you – from the cliffed headlands to the gently tidal upper reaches. When you reach the high point of 699m, the track crosses and descends the outer flanks of the volcano and wooded streams run down to the wide open sea where millennia of waves have eroded ancient lava flows into high cliffs, deep bays, islets and reefs. From here, you enter another world where waterfalls cascade over old lava edges and at every turn there are views inland up beautiful bush valleys. After a few hours walking along the edge of the coastline (be careful not to fall into the sea here), past several sandy beaches, the track finally turns inland. Wooded streams now guide you to the Hinewai reserve for the final climb through regenerating native bush and old beech forest. And then the track finally emerges –  into a parkland of native totara trees and pasture, crossing the crater rim at the 590m Purple Peak Saddle before descending to Akaroa through grassy farmland.
And this is the point where you have to stop and sit down, to catch the last lingering glimpse of the spectacular view as the sun sets over the harbour, before returning home.
How To Get There:

Akaroa is 80km from Christchurch, and can be reached using the Akaroa shuttle – which runs throughout the day from Christchurch city centre (ask at the tourist information office on arrival). Air New Zealand and other major airlines flying between Australia and New Zealand go to Christchurch.

The Banks Track can be completed in either two or four days (season runs from October 1 to April 30). Accommodation is in warm, clean cottages, with fully equipped kitchens, flushing toilets and hot showers. Bedding is provided, but you’ll need to bring a sleeping bag. Fresh produce – including milk, bread, meat, fruit and vegetables and other supplies, are available en route (cash payment only), although you’re advised to bring your own food and water for the first part of the route. The average walking time between huts is two to five hours.

Bookings must be made in advance, for $180.00 (four days) or $120.00 (two days) per person. The cost includes an introductory talk, detailed maps, transport to the first hut, two or four nights accommodation, access to nine private properties, and use of a private car park if you need it. Pack cartage is available for the first and fourth sections of the track.

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines
Asia Pacific