5 Local Secrets on the Christchurch to Akaroa Road.
Stunning scenes at Montgomery Reserve.

5 Local Secrets on the Christchurch to Akaroa Road.

Akaroa and Banks Peninsula are such beautiful places with so many amazing hidden gems, get away from it all on your drive from Christchurch and expand your sense of exploration and adventure. Giant 2000 years old trees, gem fossicking, Maori pa sites, expansive views and cafe’s, what more could you want in one day?

In normal times we would cruise past places that are remarkable because we’re going somewhere. And back then, there was a whole world to explore. Now during the Covid pandemic our worlds are smaller. The simpler things are more important, like catching up with family and friends.

Here’s five simple things to do on the Christchurch to Akaroa highway that will have it feeling like a sense of discovery, rather than a long drive on a winding road.

This is what I would recommend as a local:

  1. Stop for a photo (maybe like this aurora!) and to really take in the scale of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, Canterbury’s largest lake and of international importance for bird life.

2. Turn off the road for a walk along the wild beach of Birdlings Flat. It’s worth spending half an hour just walking along looking at the Banks Peninsula sea cliffs rising up from the shingle beach, the wild (and dangerous) surf – no swimming here! Look for rock agates and get lost in letting your mind wander away over the sea (2 minutes from the main highway).

Sea cliffs of Banks Peninsula Birdlings Flat beach
The stunning sea cliffs of Banks Peninsula from the Birdlings Flat beach.

3. Coffee! Stop at one of the two great Little River café’s, the Little River Diner is just as good, usually without the crazy cues and has a cute little garden out the back with a small bush walk for children, they’re fine with dogs and it’s off the road and safe too  4.3 Star rating (Little River Cafe is 4.4).

4. Do visit the Little River Gallery, it’s always a great place to look at the latest creative exhibition and lovely handmade gifts. It’s a place that always leaves me feeling that life is only ever going to get better, when there is this much energy in the world to create funky art.

5. Choose between Montgomery Reserve and Ōnawe Peninsula for a nature walk of the day. Perhaps one this time, and the other the next?

Montgomery is 2-hours return and can be quite a slug up a rocky path to the top, but the views are amazing, down over the Little River Valley that you have just enjoyed and all the way down Te Wairewa/Lake Forsyth to views of the Sothern Alps on a good day, and turning around, looking out over Akaroa Harbour! Worth the climb to the top!

Old Growth Forest Banks Peninsula
Stunning scenes at Montgomery Reserve.

But my favourite bit of the whole walk is the giant totara tree, a reminder of the giants of old that would have cloaked this landscape from top to bottom. Millers reported cutting down trees 50 feet in girth (that’s around), and that they had not seen trees as big elsewhere. It’s really worth taking a moment to look up at this old giant and ponder what it has seen in it’s 2000 years. Yes, that’s right, it’s two thousand years old, or there abouts. Born at the start of our calendar system, before the Taupo eruption, before human arrival and that of land mammals. Can you imagine as you look up at those branches the birds that it has held, species now extinct, species of insect unknown. Moa walking at its feet, Haast eagle perching while searching for prey? Burrowing seabirds and petrel diving through the canopy and nesting under its roots? South Island kōkako, laughing owl, or kakapo?

Giant Totara Tree New Zealand
Imagine all the things that this 2000 year old tree has witnessed from it’s place on earth.

This tree is only 10 minutes off the highway, but I bet most of you have never been there, it’s time to pay homage. (Turn left at the ‘Hilltop’ summit and the DOC Reserve is tucked on the side of the road a few hundred meters along.)

Volcanic plug on Banks Peninsula
Onawe Peninsula is a spectacular place, a volcanic plug and tapu Maori pa site.

Ōnawe Peninsula, is equally spectacular but a lack of interpretation panels leaves it to be a place largely of dog walking and enjoying the scenery, with a general knowledge that there was once a pa there until Te Rauparaha attacked.

But no, it was not the place where he came on the Brig Elizabeth with Captain Stuart, that was another place altogether in Akaroa Harbour, and a different year.

This was the final stand of Ngai Tahu, after years of warfare with the Kai Hugana feuds and the Te Rauapara raids. Ngai Tahu gathered here together in one last stand against its fierce northern enemy, in a very well-fortified pa in a new era of musket warfare, designed to be able to shoot out but not into the pa. And it withstood well, it was only through the shear cunning of Te Rauparaha and internal conflict that the gates feel, and with them almost all the occupants.

Please walk with respect and refrain from eating this is a sacred tapu site. Access is 2 minutes from the highway along Ōnawe Flat Road.

If you’re interested in geology, or natures art, Ōnawe’s volcanic rock structures are worth the visit alone.

Volcanic plug of Onawe, creates beautiful natural art.

After all this exploration it’s time to head to Akaroa to relax, sit back and with your new frame of mind enjoy a drink and watch one of Akaroa’s beautiful sunsets. And rest up there is SO much more to explore tomorrow, in living here a lifetime I still have new places to visit and stories to learn and share.

If you really want to refresh your mind and reconnect with nature, there is simply no better way than to take a Nature and History Tour with me. Let me share with you my deep and diverse knowledge and my absolute passion for storytelling, that will allow you to see the beauty of Akaroa harbour in a completely new way! Sit back and enjoy, no masks required!

Discover the scenic beauty, history, nature and culture of Akaroa in one complete comprehensive tour. Visit some of the most important historic sites such as Takapuneke, the site of the Brig Elizabeth Te Rauparaha massacre, Onuku Marae where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and Britomart Monument, the place of the British declaration of sovereignty. Experience fascinating natural sites like the Heritage Park that provides stunning views over Akaroa, the Wildside Project, a community-driven collaboration for predator control and the protection of native species, and the internationally renowned Hinewai Reserve. You will see, learn and experience the stories of our past, and leave with a sense of hope and inspiration for the future.

Marie Haley

I am your guide, Marie Haley, I was born and raised on Banks Peninsula. The seventh generation direct decedent of Akaroa’s very first French settler. I grew up on the family farm following in the footsteps of my Grandfather, and his Grandfather before.