Birdlings Flat to Banks Peninsula

After a lovely couple days in Christchurch, we were off to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula for two nights. About an hour and a half from the city, Akaroa is a quaint French village on a harbor, and the scenic drive provides lots of stop-off options.

First up was the settlement of Birdlings Flat, or Te Mata Hapuku, which is located on a spit of land between Lake Ellesemere and the Pacific. The pebble beach on the Pacific side is known for semi-precious gemstones like jasper and quartz, so we Andy and I were both keen to have a wander and see what we could find. Andy is a rock fiend, and this is in the same realm as sea glass for me, so it was perfect. There’s nothing more zen than searching a beach for bits of treasure.

This is the face of a happy rock hunter.

We found quite a few interesting gemstones to take home, mostly agate in different tones.

Although we were focusing on the pebbles at our feet, the view in front of us was pretty epic too.

Kaitorete Spit, which extends out from the beach we were on, is home to one of NZ’s only two venomous spider species, the endangered katipō. We had a good look in the dunes, but weren’t lucky enough to spot one. Bites are very rare (though the name translates to night-stinger, so I wouldn’t want to get too close), and they’re beautiful creatures.

There were lots of great flowers amidst the driftwood, though.

We wandered back into the tiny settlement, which felt a bit like stepping back in time.

Back on the road, our next stop was Little River, the last village before we’d begin the winding ascent to the Banks Peninsula. At one time, Little River was the last stop on the railroad from Christchurch, but the old train track is now a popular rail trail. Of course, there’s a cafe, art galleries and even grain silos converted into overnight accommodation for cyclists and visitors from the city or further afield. The retired train now serves as a reminder of the town’s past.

The art galleries were great to wander through, and I bought some artisan soap, because why not?

The road wound uphill after this, and as we cleared the top, we were treated to a fabulous view of Akaroa Harbour.

Here’s a satellite image of the area to give you an idea of this incredible corner of the globe.

Next up was a stop at Barry’s Bay Cheese for some offcuts (gouda and cheddar) and then it was straight to our epic Airbnb. Just outside of Akaroa, but within walking distance, we’d seen the listing photos and knew we had to book it. Seriously, check it out! And the real life view was even better.

Sheep would wander by now and then, fantails flitted about in the overhanging trees, and we kept an eye out for Hector’s dolphins in the harbor. It was incredibly peaceful.

We enjoyed an afternoon on the deck, reading and relaxing, before walking into town that evening for a fabulous dinner at Ma Maison.

The next day, we decided to wander the other way down the road from our Airbnb to Ōnuku Marae. On the way, we were greeted by some adorable alpacas. I wonder if they know how lucky they are to have this view?

Almost at the end of the road, the marae unfolded in the valley below, the perfect picturesque vista.

Ōnuku, home to the hapū of Ngāi Tarewa and Ngāti Irakēhu, is a place of incredible natural beauty, and clearly receives a lot of love and upkeep.

Karaweko, the Ancestral House (Whare Tipuna) is the crowning jewel and shows off beautiful craftsmanship in its ornate carvings.

Besides me and Andy, the only people around were a couple men gardening to keep the grounds in good shape.

The Whare Karakia o Ōnuku (Ōnuku Church) was just across from the marae, featuring more intricate carving work.

The marae and its buildings are available for venue hire for various functions, including weddings, and it’s clear the funds are put back into maintaining the beautiful architecture and landscape.

After a peaceful meander, we decided to head back. Though there wasn’t a coastal path (just the road we’d come in on) we decided to see if we could take the seaside route anyway by walking along the rocky shore.

Most of it was lots of rock-hopping, but we did reach a promontory that was a little bit tricky. It didn’t help that the rocks we needed to grip on to were covered in bird poop from the shag colony. The shags (cormorants) were very confused and made sure we knew they weren’t pleased with our presence.

After some very stinky climbing, we made it to the next cove and had a relatively straight-forward scramble back. Our exercise for the morning!

There was a beautiful view of the still harbor looking toward Akaroa before we turned inland to our Airbnb.

Stay tuned for more Akaroa adventures, including a waterfall and epic Banks Peninsula views!

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