Trip Report: Banks Peninsula Track, October 3-4 2022

Posted by Patrick Lam on Wednesday, November 2, 2022

I figured that since I was already on the South Island, I might plan a walk with MP. We’d been to Akaroa and, in fact, on a short part of the Banks Peninsula Track, back in July 2020—I had also added a visit there after our first Great Walk, the Heaphy. This time we’d do the whole track in the actual season.

From last time: Australian blue penguin; two little blue penguins; a pair of spotted shags.

In July there were a lot of leaves and it was a bit treacherous on the descents. This time, we were there just at the beginning of the official season, and we were on the second day of the track on its first day open this year. There was a guy who was mowing the lawn on the track! Definitely no downed tree this time.

Lawnmowing, on break.

We really enjoyed our experience on the Banks Peninsula Track (slogan on the bus: “Walk on the wild side”). This is one of the handful of private walking tracks in New Zealand; we were to do another one, the Queen Charlotte Track, later in October. I know that there’s one near Wellington as well, the Whareama Walk.

We signed up for the two-day package; it’s cheaper than the three-day package, which was unavailable on our day anyway. They have the same distance, but you combine days 1 and 2 of the three-day package. Day 2 on the three-day package would be quite short, although there is some extra walking you could do near the lodging. Each of the places to stay is run by a different family, and they each have different aesthetics, but are all quite comfortable.

On the first evening, they transport you to the Onoku Farm Hostel. There are two large old houses with the old wooden lodge look. There was a bird feeder (sugar water), which attracted bellbirds and tuis. I could have used the mirrorless camera with the 55-210, which would have been wholly adequate. 70mm on my RX100M4 isn’t quite enough, and of course it’s less sharp than the a6600, even with a kit lens on the a6600. But I wasn’t keen on carrying an extra 1kg of camera gear without knowing that there would be birds. I probably would next time I did it. The 100-400 is overkill. Also, I forgot to compute that there would be 0 hiking on day 0, so one could make a fancy dinner. There we were with our dehydrated food. (If you do the 3-day package they can transfer your stuff for you; but it’s not really like you actually need that much stuff anyway.)

Bellbird, tui, the Onoku Farm Hostel. Wish I had my a6600.

At Onoku there was an extended family doing the Banks Peninsula walk. We were talking to the middle-aged white guy and he told MP that he hated our Prime Minister JT. She had some comeback like “I don’t really see how Trudeau affects you”. I was saying “Oh hey, look at UK Conservatives and what a terrible job they’re doing” but at that point they had only managed to crash the gilt market; the lettuce wasn’t yet a thing. I kind of think he was actually much more conservative (typical NZ National Party supporter) than his family (they were talking about Maori traditions at some length).

Akaroa Harbour, MP, gorse, waterfall, lamb, Akaroa Head.

There is a wholly respectable 700m of elevation gain per day for a coastal walk and good views of the ocean and Akaroa Harbour from said elevations. Allegedly Aoraki Mount Cook might be visible at the track highpoint, but it was overcast when we were there. (It cleared later). Also waterfalls. This time we did not see penguins. October means baby sheep and yellow gorse. There’s a cute shelter a few hours from the end of Day 1, integrated into the cliffside with a tree growing in it, and a bunch of swift flying (how to photograph?)

Day 1 (of the 2 day walk) ends at a cute little village-like setup at Stony Bay. There’s a bigger building but we stayed in the Far Cottage. The place is also just above a stream where adolescent seals play. Day 2 has some epic views near the top of Stony Bay Peak (small detour, worth it; they almost always are). It’s kind of a long slog uphill in the forest and then after Purple Peak it’s all downhill and not that interesting. Still, it took us three-quarters of a day of hiking, getting in mid-afternoon.

Playful adolescent seals, No Albatross Point, main Stony Bay accommodation, view from Stony Bay Peak, towards Akaroa.

We tried to sign up for the Black Cat boat tour but there was too much wind. We’ll have to try again. Meanwhile we went to the Akaroa museum and the boat staff were there (“professional development!”)

Anyway, the Banks Peninsula Track is a short walk (like the Routeburn) but with surprisingly much elevation gain for not being in the actual mountains. Historically it was up to 2000m but that was well before humans.