Geotourism in the Banks Peninsula

NZ is a geotourism wonderland. Packed with amazing geological features from the sheer Southern Alps to steaming mud pools it is a geologists' fantasy land.

Geological tourism, or "geotourism" for short, highlights landforms and the communities around them.

New Zealand is a land of diverse scenery created by the spectacular results of its creation from the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Shakey Isles make up one of the youngest countries on earth, born of immense volcanic action which, while largely extinct, is still active in some parts of the country.

While New Zealand currently has no UNESCO Geopark it is nevertheless home to some of the world’s most spectacular geological scenery that is  relatively easily accessible for enthusiastic geologists and photographers. The largest geopark is in Australia and at 27000sq km is about 1/10th the size of New Zealand.

Geological forms around the Banks Peninsula

Akaroa Harbour is an extinct volcanic crater just over an hour drive from Christchurch International Airport. While two main volcanic craters make up Akaroa and Lyttleton harbours, a series of smaller craters and vents have spewed forth a range of igneous rocks many of which are eroding into eerie shapes and forms. 

Near Gebbies Pass between Governors Bay on Lyttleton Harbour and Motukarara on SH 75 between Akaroa & Christchurch, is a rock formation reminiscent of Kangaroo Island Australia.

At Motukarara near the rail trail is a lava flow showing impressive basalt crystal formations.

Birdlings Flat

Further on towards Akaroa, Birdlings Flat on Kaitorete Spit is a treasure trove of semi precious gems that can be found amongst the smooth sedimentary stones that have been coughed up onto the beach by the roiling surf of the Pacific Ocean. These stones originated in the Southern Alps headwaters of the massive Rangitata & Rakaia braided rivers that have, with other smaller river systems, helped create the Canterbury Plains.  Enthusiasts can visit the Birdlings Flat Gem Stone and Fossil Museum where a vast collection of local and international geological samples are displayed.

Up and down the volcano

After passing the shores of Lake Forsyth through Little River the ascent of the volcano begins in earnest. The narrow & winding road crests at the Hilltop where a choice of the Summit Rd route along the summit of the volcano eventually drops from its dizzy heights to the picturesque village of Akaroa.

If instead, the traveller takes the more direct route down the slopes of the volcanic crater to the Akaroa Harbour into Barrys Bay,  the Whale Tail or Tear Drop of Onawe Peninsula is directly ahead. It is the site of some of the most colourful and fascinating rock formations on Banks Peninsula.

Accessed from the Onawe Flat Rd (narrow & gravel)  and a short walk along the beach to the neck between the mainland and the peninsula the isthmus is a fine display of rock. On top of the crest of the peninsula itself are completely different rock forms. The path passes through the barely discernable remains of the Maori pa & the fish trap can still be see on the Northern side at low tide.

Akaroa Harbour

While Akaroa Harbour doesn’t have the Cliffs of Moher it does have the equally spectacular harbour heads with Elephant Rock and a myriad of sea caves and arches in the multi coloured volcanic layers. These are best viewed from one of the many boat trips available from Akaroa.

Take a tiki tour

Self drive & guided tours to the inner harbour and outer peninsula bays take the sightseer and geologist alike to the finest grained sand beaches of Le Bons & Okains Bays, to smooth boulder bays of Flea (Pohatu) Bay and Wainui. Flea Bay is on the acclaimed Banks Peninsula Track, a fine way to explore the rock formations of Banks Peninsula.

Experience the geological forces of nature

Whether or not Akaroa and Banks Peninsula ever becomes a geopark remains to be seen. If geology is your interest then beat the rush and enjoy this unique and fascinating area at your leisure because once the secret is out it is bound to be popular.

Akaroa is the village central to peninsula activities and from there tours and boat trips can be arranged and the Banks Peninsula Track departs. In Akaroa & the surrounding bays a range of accommodation from a 5 star retreat to camping grounds caters to all tastes and budgets.

Make sure you take more than a day to explore this fascinating area.