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History Of Banks Peninsula


Maori, English And French

A rich tapestry of French, English and Maori culture Akaroa is a place like no other in New Zealand. Explore one of New Zealand’s first European settlements and how history has shaped Akaroa into the destination it is today.

The town celebrates its unique French links with a bi- annual FrenchFest event where locals and visitors join a 3 day celebration of everything French from market stalls and entertainment and French games to a stunning evening Cabaret.

Rich In Maori History

Three successive phases of Maori tribe settlement took place on the peninsula. Waitaha were the first settlers, followed by Kāti Mamoe, and then Ngāi Tahu took over in the 17th century.

The crew of Captain James Cook became the 1st Europeans to sight the peninsula on 17 February 1770 during Cooks first circumnavigation of New Zealand. Cook described the land as 'of a circular figure ... of a very broken uneven surface ...'. Cook mistook it for an island and named it 'Banks Island' in honour of Endeavours botanist, Joseph Banks. Cook did not explore the land more closely and sailed away.

By 1830's Banks Peninsula had become a European Whaling Centre. In 1838 Captain Langlois, a French whaler thought that Akaroa would make a good settlement to service whaling ships. He purchased the peninsula in a land deal with the local Māori, then returned to France with the intention of forming a French colony when he came back to Akaroa.

Unfortunately just before he returned in 1840 The Treaty of Waitangi had been signed giving the English sovereignty over New Zealand.

Stunning Geographical Features

Banks Peninsula is one of the most striking geographical features of the South Island comprised of the remnants of 2 volcanoes. The peninsula has a roughly circular shape with many bays and the two deep harbours of Lyttelton and Akaroa.

Other bays of interest around the peninsula for day trips include Purau Bay, Pigeon Bay and Little Akaloa. Okains Bay and Le Bons Bay provide safe swimming and great camping facilities for overnight stays.

While Magnet Bay and Hickory Bay provide great breaks for the avid surfer!

Little River

Located 30 minutes from Akaroa and 45 minutes from Christchurch, Little River is nestled in a deep valley surrounded by streams and springs. The streams and springs join to form the Okana and Okuti Rivers. The combined waters form the Takiritawai River which flows into the eastern end of Lake Forsyth.

Today Little River is not only home to the end of the historic railway line it's also marks the end of the Little River Rail Trail, a 45km scenic cycle trail beginning in Hornby. Little River boasts an interesting mix of cafes, craft shops and an amazing gallery where a fine selection of local and New Zealand art and souvenirs can be purchased.

A unique range of accommodation can be found in Little River. Stay in Silo's, eco-friendly glamping in yurts or the more traditional B&B's, holiday homes and camping ground.


The main port gateway for Christchurch, Lyttelton is rich in history. Home to the Maori for about 700 years Lyttelton Habour was first sighted by Europeans on 16 February 1770 from the Endeavour during James Cook's first voyage to New Zealand.

The colonisation of Canterbury began in England in 1848 with the formation of the Canterbury Association. Lyttelton was chosen due to its suitability as a port and the availability of a large area of flat land on the other side of the Port Hills, later known as the Canterbury Plains.

In 1850 the first 4 ships arrived. The ships named Randolph, Cressy, Sir George Seymour and Charlotte Jane carried the first settlers into Lyttelton. Christchurch was established with the pilgrims carrying their worldly possessions up over the bridle path, an energetic walk that can still be enjoyed today.

Today Lyttelton is an eclectic port town with the town being listed in 2009 as an historic area on the historic place trust register. Main access to Lyttelton from Christchurch is via Lyttelton road tunnel which first opened in 1964.

Quail Island

Referred to as Ōtamahua by local Maori, meaning a place where children collect seabirds eggs. Iwi used the island to gather eggs and shellfish. From 1875 Quail Island was used as a quarantine station for people and later animals.

The island was used to contain new immigrants who had contracted illness while onboard the ships that brought them to New Zealand. From the period 1917-18 the island was used to isolate those on the Mainland who had contracted diseases such as Diphtheria, smallpox and Spanish influenza.

The southside of Quail Island was the site of New Zealand's only leprosy quarantine colony form 1906-1925. When Antarctic exploration was at its peak in 1901-1929, the island was used to quarantine and train dogs and ponies for Scott and Shackleton's expeditions.

Nowadays the 81 hectare island is used as a recreational reserve and can be easily explored in a day. A ferry service runs from Lyttelton to the island return and the island provides the perfect spot for a day picnic or to explore the walking track.

Okains Bay

Situated 15km from Akaroa, Okains Bay is the largest eastern bay on Banks Peninsula. Safe swimming beaches, estuary and beachside camping ground provide an idyllic setting to getaway from it all.

Okains Bay is also home to Okains Bay Maori & Colonial Museum housing rare Maori artifacts. Okains Bay is also fondly known for Waitangi Day celebrations which were first held at the museum in 1977, the longest continuous celebration in the South Island.