Where in the world could an adventuring hiker traverse the rim of an ancient volcanic complex, with sweeping panoramas out across open ocean and inwards up an 8 mile volcanic harbour?

Where could you spend the night inside a private white-flippered penguin sanctuary, see the world’s smallest dolphins with their rounded fins, watch fur seals in numbers and spot many rare land and marine birds? Where could you hear a dawn chorus, such a cacophony that you will never forget it? And walk through the famous “Fools and Dreamers” Hinewai Reserve, 1500 hectares of native forest, with its ancient beech, tree ferns, fuchsia and rapidly regenerating native flora and fauna? All this and more on the Banks Track!

This unique, extinct, highly eroded, volcanic complex forming Banks Peninsula, is situated east of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, providing the remarkably varied landscape of the Banks Track. It starts by winding up through open farmland at the far south-eastern end, boasting widespread views from Ōnuku along the inner harbour and out over ‘the heads’. Walkers climb up over the crater rim at Trig GG (699m,) with its 360 degree panorama, from which you can see Aoraki / Mt Cook, 230km away, on a clear day! The Track descends one of the outer valleys, through Tutakākāhikura Scenic Reserve (full of ancient red beech trees), following the stream where rock formations have created multiple waterfalls, down into Flea Bay, the home of the Pōhatu Penguin Reserve.

From here the Track follows the outer ocean coastline, along spectacular cliff tops, dropping down past Seal Cove and alongside the Sooty Shearwater Reserve, then on into Stony Bay. On the final day, the Track turns and heads inland following another outer valley up through Hinewai with its verdant, regenerating and ancient native forest, crossing back over the crater rim. From here there are stunning views south and east across the vast Pacific and westward to sheltered Akaroa harbour. Beyond are the Southern Alps and Kaikoura mountains.

Volcanic activity, between 11 and 6 million years ago, led to the formation of two overlapping volcanic cones. When eruptions ceased, the cones were gradually eroded to about half their original height flooding a major south facing valley. Walkers can be reassured that there is no known magma chamber beneath the volcano and there has not been any sign of volcanic activity in the last 5 million years!

In 1989, a few neighbouring Banks Peninsula farming families, together with the newly founded Hinewai Native Forest Reserve, set out to rescue their livelihoods in the face of a farming downturn and established New Zealand’s first private walking track. 33 years on, through their intensive conservation efforts, they have rescued much more than themselves! All the Banks Track landowners are passionate about conservation and consequently, following years of forest regeneration, dedicated trapping of predators and (ongoing!) hard work, this track offers a feast of Kiwi native flora and fauna.


Ōnuku where walkers arrive for their first night’s accommodation, is still maintained as farmland by Tristan Hamilton (a professional trapper) and boasts wonderful views in all directions. The iconic New Zealandtui were re-released on the Peninsula in 2009,having become almost extinct here. They are now flourishing at Ōnuku and can be seen with bellbirds, slivereyes, kereru (native pigeon),fantails, welcome swallows and many other native birds in the gardens. Ōnuku faces north and west over the harbour and their sunsets are legendary! On the first day’s walking there are two side tracks. One runs along a ridge through the new DOC Nīkau Palm Reserve. From the ridge end, one has a glorious view over The Akaroa Heads to the ocean. The second takes you on a short detour to Look Out Rock an ancient sentry post where one can look both ways to see the full length of the inner harbour.

Banks Track offers exceptional marine and forest birdlife. On the second night walkers sleep in the heart of the Pōhatu Penguin Reserve. An evening penguin tour is included in the Track experience and you can learn about the fascinating story behind Francis and Shireen Helps’ efforts to rescue and establish their penguin colony which is now flourishing. When Francis was a boy, penguins walked the streets of Akaroa! However, penguins are ground nesting and the population was decimated by predators. The Helps took over farming Flea Bay with just a handful in residence and dedicated themselves to creating a sanctuary for them. Flea Bay has 1260 breeding penguin pairs – the largest little penguin population on mainland New Zealand. If you are lucky, watching these little white-flippered penguins come on shore out of the water is magical and you will see them close up, as guides monitor nesting boxes, often with their young during the main breeding season Oct – Dec. After the night in Flea Bay, there is an option for a morning kayak through the Pōhatu Marine Reserve, the first marine reserve created on the east coast of South Island. Flea Bay has abundant fur seals (curious seals often like swimming round your kayak!) and the round finned hector dolphins, which are the smallest dolphins in the world and only found in New Zealand.



Mark and Soni Armstrong live at Stony Bay on a farm that has

been in the family for over 125 years and, alongside protecting
their own little penguins over the years, they have helped bring
the peninsula’s last sooty shearwater (otherwise known as
mutton birds or tītī) colony back from the brink of extinction.
Stony Bay was down to three birds in 1999 when Mark
decided to act. He built a predator-proof chicken-wire fence
following the contours of the steeply descending paddocks,
where the birds burrow along the cliff edge. A year after the
fence was built there were five or six eggs, and today the
colony of about 50 nesting holes – a “hive of activity” – is the
only mainland colony on the peninsula. Traps inside and
outside the protected enclosure provide added predator
control, and scientific and conservation groups support the
protection work. It is here at Stony Bay that the dawn chorus
on an early summer morning has to be heard to be believed!
This characterful and creative collection of accommodations,
the third night on the Banks Track, is an absolute favourite with
all the walkers. It was hand built by Mark and crafted mainly from home-milled macrocarpa and demolition finds, with a pool table, an outdoor hot bath and a shower built into a large gnarled macrocarpa stump. You can have a bath under the stars and gaze into magnificent unpolluted night skies.

On the third and final day,Banks Track walkers are lucky enough to walk through Hinewai Reserve on a newly created track up through Stony Bay valley to the crater rim, before dropping back down into Akaroa. Hinewai is fast becoming a legend and is inspiring people round the globe as to how we can use Nature to do much of the regeneration work for us. This ever expanding reserve was started 35 years ago when Maruice White raised funds to purchase conservation land on the Peninsula. He found Hugh Wilson, the renowned botanist, who has made Hinewai his lifetime’s work from the first day. A wonderfully inspiring video has been released “Fools and Dreamers” which has been watched by hundreds of thousands over the planet on You Tube. Most of the reserve is a mosaic of native forest in various stages of development, including old growth red beech forest. Ancient podocarp trees (tōtara, mataī and kahikatea) survive here. The biggest podocarp and beech trees are several centuries old. The track traverses tall forest, kānuka forest, mixed hardwood forest (fuchsia, māhoe, fivefinger, sevenfinger, broadleaf, kōwhai, kaikōmako, putaputāwētā, lacebark, ribbonwood, etc.), gorse, broom, grassy clearings, bracken, bluffs and tussockland. More than 60 species of fern, including six species of tree fern, grow on Hinewai.

Whilst many of New Zealand’s other walks have become crowded, here only a maximum of 16 walkers per day can set out. You walk at your own pace in your own time. Self guided and self catered, but we carry your packs from accommodation to accommodation. Traversing such a vast landscape each walker feels he/she has it to themselves. Banks Track offers a chance to re-engage with the natural world.  It offers a uniquely Kiwi experience.



Instagram @bankstrack


PO Box 54
Akaroa 7542
New Zealand
Phone: 03 304 7612
Email: [email protected]

Related Articles

Back to top button