Banks Peninsula Track – hidden gem private walking experience celebrates 30 years

Thirty years on from opening, New Zealand’s first private walking trail remains a hidden gem even though it has welcomed visitors from around the world.

The Banks Peninsula Track is a shining example of community conservation that began when a group of neighbouring farmers and local conservationists got together to create a walking trail to share their private paradise with like-minded visitors from around the world.

This summer the collective is celebrating both 30 years of operation and gaining accreditation as a Qualmark* Bronze Award tourism operator, in recognition of their commitment to sustainable business practices. This is an important step as New Zealand’s tourism industry focuses on developing and promoting the Tiaki – Care for New Zealand promise to visitors and locals.

The three-day walk across Banks Peninsula – a spectacular volcanic outcrop into the Pacific Ocean, close to the South Island’s main city of Christchurch – offers a sensual feast of natural highlights, including interaction with rare wildlife, spectacular landforms and vegetation. There is also a two-day option for fitter, faster hikers.

The walk is limited to a maximum 16 hikers per day with two nights completely off-network, though never far from the locals, animal and human, who occupy and care for the land. 

The 31km trail crosses private farmland and conservation projects on an ancient volcanic cone and is still operated by the community of farming families and ardent conservationists who first got together in 1989 to create the visitor experience.

Highlights include overnighting in a private penguin sanctuary (1260 breeding pairs of white-flippered penguins, New Zealand’s largest mainland little penguin colony) with an evening penguin tour led by a conservationist involved in this project (during breeding season), kayaking with NZ fur seals, and sleeping out in a 'stargazer', a tiny, glass-roofed cabin below an uninhibited dark sky.

Along with penguins and fur seals, the peninsula borders two marine reserves and is the habitat of New Zealand’s tiny Hector’s dolphins, and other exceptional and prolific sea and forest bird life. The trail crosses hills, virgin and regenerating native forests, coastal expanses and agricultural pastures, and from the tops (699m), there are panoramic views across the Canterbury region to the Southern Alps and the country’s highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook.  

On the third and final day, the trail passes through Hinewai Reserve, a remarkable forest conservation and regeneration project that is inspiring people around the globe. A 30-minute documentary entitled ‘Fools & Dreamers’ was released in July 2019 and is already nearing 500k views on YouTube. 

Accommodation is on the farms and ranges from homely farm cottages to rustic hikers’ huts, including a set of quirky home-milled, hand-built wooden cabins with outdoor showers and baths. Each place is serviced daily, has comfortable beds, woodstove heating, flush toilets, and hot showers, and with no more than 16 walkers per day, it’s never overcrowded. Pack cartage is included and optional extras include private double rooms with linen supplied, sleeping bag hire, and luggage storage.

Hikers self-cater but there is a well-stocked farm honesty shop with fresh milk, produce and meat at the second night’s accommodation. The fully equipped kitchens include stoves, fridges, pans, cutlery, crockery, coffee plungers, cleaning materials, tea towels etc. so no need to carry extra equipment. Barbecues are also available. 

The experience starts and finishes at the little port of Akaroa where a complimentary bus transfer picks up and drops off hikers.

Hikers who stay over in Akaroa after their walk have the additional opportunity of a Black Cat Cruises dolphin swim experience. Listed by Lonely Planet as one of the ‘Top Marine Mammal Experiences in the World’, Black Cat helps support education and research into the endangered Hector’s dolphin. It was also the Conservation Award winner at the 2019 New Zealand Tourism Awards.

Learn more about the Tiaki Promise here

*Qualmark is New Zealand’s official tourism quality assurance programme.

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