Conveniently located just an hour southeast of Christchurch, the circular Banks Peninsula sticks out like an earlobe off the South Island's central east coast. It was first sighted by Captain Cook in the 1760s, during a circumnavigation of New Zealand, but he mistook the headland for an island, and never ventured further.
Sixty years later, the peninsula had become an important European whaling spot, with the British and French disputing (for a change), who actually "owned" it.The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, in 1840, however, soon settled that issue, when the whole country became British soil. The area still retains a major French personality, though, particularly in the peninsula's largest settlement, Akaroa.
Meaning "long harbour" in Maori, Akaroa sits in the middle of a volcanic crater, right on a harbour that leads out to Canterbury Bight.
The harbour is home to an abundance of marine life, from seals, dolphins, penguins, birds and, much further out to sea, whales. Consequently, there are plenty of wildlife cruises to choose from, out to the surrounding islands, as well as scuba diving, windsurfing and fishing expeditions. Read more.The die-hard fishermen among you will want to spend a day on the vast Lake Ellesmere, west of Akaroa. Twenty thousand hectares of calm, bountiful waters, it's where good, solid catches of eel and flounder are guaranteed.
Kayaking, waterfowl hunting, bird watching and water-skiing are also popular here, and the lake perimeter has lots of great cycling and walking tracks for landlubbers.
When driving from Christchurch, take time to stop off at some of the villages en route, such as Little River, with its cute diner and small art gallery, and Barry's Bay, with it delectable Cheese Shop.
Getting out to the headland is difficult, as there's only one major road in and out of the area, SH-75, but if you have a four wheel drive and a sense of adventure, you could start from Diamond Harbour in the north of the peninsula, and head down to Akaroa via Port Levy and Pigeon Bay. Spectacular, but remote.