Monday, 7 July 2014

Around the Bays- Pigeon Bay

Banks Peninsula comprises of two extinct volcanoes which were active less than half a million years ago. The two craters have since enlarged many times their original size due to erosion and water flow, then around 15,000 years ago when the sea level rose dramatically, the craters were flooded, these now form the two main harbours of Akaroa & Lyttelton. Many smaller bays & coves indent the remainder of the coastline.

The Summit Road, a very popular “Tourist Drive” runs around the Akaroa crater rim affording spectacular views of the harbour and surrounding valleys and ridges. There is also a Summit Road around the Lyttleton Harbour; we are leaving that side of the peninsula for another time.

Two days after the snow fall we thought it would be safe enough to travel the summit road and visit some of the bays on the northern side of the peninsula. We stopped at The Hilltop, a hotel & cafe at the top of the long climb (from both directions; Christchurch & Akaroa) A light covering of snow still lay on the ground and the surrounding peaks. We started along Summit Road and straight away became concerned at the possibility of black ice. In fact this wasn’t black it was just plain old ice (bottom left), sheltered from the elements it had started to melt and then refroze. We eased our way through it carefully and were then relived to see that most of the snow had melted further on.

There were many vantage points along the road to check out the spectacular views of the harbour and bays down below, including Duvauchelle Bay and our camp ground.

Our first port of call was Pigeon Bay, the road dropping sharply down to the bay from the Summit Road. The roads down to the bays may only be 6-8kms long but they take a while to navigate. Steep, narrow & with dozens of hairpin bends you have to take your time & hope that you don’t meet anybody coming up.

Pigeon Bay is a small settlement, just a few baches & farm buildings at the head of the bay. Oh and a church. We drove around to the end of the road where we could see a jetty & some boat sheds, coming across this deserted camping ground on the way. It was like stepping back into the 1970s with these closed up old retro caravans, an overgrown tennis court complete with rusty fence, an old wash tub set up with wringer in the centre, concrete table & chairs arranged to watch the sunset and a notice board informing us we could stay for $10 a night. I’m sure in the summer time this place would be pumping but today it was deserted, it was quite eerie wandering about. Like everybody had been nuked! 

At least the boat club had a decent building but still nobody about, the holiday home right on the side of the road looking straight down the bay was closed up, we were tempted to sit and have our lunch in their Cape Cod chairs but thought better of it.

Instead of heading back up the road out of Pigeon Bay, David drove around to the otherside of the bay, the camp caretaker, Glen, had told him about a road that would take us out to the head of the bay on the west side. The road we were on continued on all the way through to Port Levy, it was another narrow, steep & winding road and not recommended for motorhomes or towing.

After a few kilometres we turned off onto a gravel road, actually more of a gravel track. It climbed steeply up the side of ridge, with a sheer drop on the drivers side down into the valley below. This is at the top looking back towards Pigeon Bay settlement at the end of the bay, the jetty and boat sheds are across the water.  I spied this house out on the point, what a fabulous place to live, looking straight down the bay.

Once on the top we weaved our way back & forward across farm land crossing many cattle stops heading for the small point we could see ahead of us.

As we got nearer we realised that there was a tiny sheltered cove with farm buildings on the left of the point. This bay is called Little Pigeon Bay. We stopped at the top of the road just through the gates. Even though it was a public road we didn’t want to disturb the people we could see down at a house near the beach getting ready to go sailing.

The view over Pigeon Bay to Wakaroa Point was breathtaking. Right along the otherside we could see the tiny track of the Pigeon Bay Walkway which is a five hour return walk through farmland out to the point.

Looking back towards Pigeon Bay settlement, with mussel floats from a mussel farm in the waters below.

After a short while we headed back up the road passing the young farmer & his wife driving in. Luckily they were at the top of the steep road otherwise that would have been fun. No passing, a 100 metre drop & him with a trailer on the back. He told us the house at the beach was a bach & was rented out for holidays. We passed a large homestead along the way, all closed up and overgrown but not that old, well probably 1950ish but still in good condition. We’ve seen a few like this on our travels, obviously just too far away from civilization.

This sheep must have one of the best views in New Zealand. In the background you can see the walkway track cutting through the slope just up from the water.

After safely negotiating the steep road again, this time with me on the scary side, we stopped in the valley to watch dozens of wood pigeons (kereru) in a feeding frenzy amongst the flowering tree lucerne. Great big bumble footed clumsy birds jumping from bush to bush bending the tiny supple branches over under their weight. Pigeon Bay of course!

Bird on a Wire


  1. Thanks for sharing your scenic tour, what a great trip around the bays to experience.

    1. Thanks Dianne, glad you enjoyed it, and apologies for the delay in responding, I've had a wee break.

  2. You have certainly seen some of the beauty of Banks Peninsula. I was interested in your comment on the road to Pigeon Bay from the Hilltop as I am to be driving a Tour Bus to Pigeon Bay this weekend.......have never driven this road before, so could be interesting.

    1. A small tour bus I hope? Going down should be ok, it's narrow & steep but ok as long as you don't meet anyone but coming out you might have an issue if you don't have the power, your passengers might be pushing you! :)


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