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One very common comment from travellers is, although they have travelled most of the world, Akaroa and Banks Peninsula is either the most beautiful or one of the most beautiful destinations they have ever visited.
Banks Peninsula is made up of a series of ancient volcanoes. Over millions of years these have been eroded into a very special landscape. Banks Peninsula is likened to the crown of Christchurch with the two magnificent harbours as the main jewels set within it, where the old craters were invaded by the sea in ages past. The crater rims stand majestically in a ring of craggy peaks and the outer flanks boast some of the most spectacular outer coast scenery in New Zealand of towering cliffs punctuated by beautiful sandy beaches.
Two of these - Okains Bay and Le Bons Bay - would have to be amongst New Zealand's best and safest swimming beaches and camping areas. Okains Bay also has a wonderful museum that includes a great collection of a rich Maori heritage and an early European village of pit sawn salvaged huts, cottages and shops lovingly restored on the site.
Even the approaches to Banks Peninsula have much to offer with a bike rail trail that passes New Zealand's best fresh water bird lake and a beautiful gem stone beach on its way to the quirky township of Little River with its unique accommodation options and wonderful gallery.
Although Banks Peninsula is now mostly farm land there are reserves around the craggy tops and in bush clad gullies hiding further gems in tumbling streams that often plunge over old lava flows in beautiful sparkling waterfalls. There is a good network of walking tracks for visitors to enjoy throughout most of the area.
Banks Peninsula has unique wildlife. It is a stronghold of the rare Hector's dolphin and has the largest little penguin colony on mainland New Zealand. The rare yellow eyed penguin can also be found there and the areas of protected bush are filled with birds both native and introduced.
The richest bush clad area is Hinewai Reserve on the south eastern corner that has a great range of public walking tracks throughout it.
Local farmers and land owners also living on this wild remote corner began a large conservation effort to protect the special fauna and unique flora. They began an extensive predator trapping program and fenced off their special areas to exclude the sheep and cattle they farm. This proved to be so successful other agencies became involved in the trapping program, now known as the Wild Side Conservation Project.
The most special place on the Wild Side would have to be Pohatu/Flea Bay. Not only is it a marine reserve but it is also home to the largest little penguin colony on the mainland of over 2000 penguins and also has yellow eyed penguins successfully breeding there. This colony is mostly on private property and is closed to all but guided tours to protect unique and natural penguin behaviour that has disappeared elsewhere due to human disturbance. Guided parties wear camouflage clothing and view the penguins from hides. Some nesting boxes are monitored during tours as part of the monitoring program allowing close up views of the penguins.
Pohatu Marine Reserve is some of the most spectacular coastline Banks Peninsula has to offer. Sea kayaking safaris are run from the sheltered bay that on a calm day can allow the viewing of seals, sea birds and penguins and explore deep sea caves and sea arches beneath the towering cliffs.
Also in this area is probably the most diverse walking track in New Zealand, traversing through the best of the full range of spectacular landscapes on Banks Peninsula. Two of the overnight stops are within the two largest penguin colonies including Pohatu your second night's stop. This is a limited private track so no crowds and no race for beds in the comfortable fully serviced accommodations set in spectacular surroundings and beautiful bays.
Within Akaroa Harbour, one of New Zealand's newest marine reserves, is an area of spectacular beauty. A good selection of scenic boat cruises enable this dramatic area to be explored in comfort. Several Department of Conservation approved cruises will take you to see or swim with the rare and delightful Hector's dolphins.
There are heaps of activities and things to do around the beautiful village of Akaroa, including sailing, fish charters, sea kayaking and many other water activities, and golf, bike riding, horse trekking and hiking on the land. There are plenty of accommodation options ranging from backpackers to quality B&Bs and farm stays and of course a good range of motels and hotels, camping grounds and trailer parks. Akaroa is nestled beside the harbour in idyllic surroundings and is noted for itís great French flavour reflecting a French heritage. It is full of historic buildings and top quality restaurants and cafeís, and noted for a great range of boutique shops and galleries.
Banks Peninsula and Akaroa have much to offer and should be a must on any traveller's must-do list.
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