Sunday, 13 July 2014

Lands End, Banks Peninsula

I bet you didn’t know New Zealand had a Lands End, well not quite, but it does have a Lands End Road. It’s an isolated gravel road (another one) that runs along a ridge out to the point on the south side of the entrance to Akaroa Harbour. To reach it, one must first wind one’s way around the bays on the south side of the harbour, passing through settlements with the familiar names of French Farm Bay & Wainui.

It is usually just past Wainui that most people would turn around and retrace their steps back to tarseal & civilization. A U turn is normally performed just below the sign that reads ‘Road suitable for 4WD only, no campervans or towing’. Not us, we drive on, climbing sharply up & up we go, until we finally break out of the bush and discover this magnificent view down the harbour and out the heads.

Before we disappear over the top we pull up and take in the 360 degree views up the harbour, Akaroa is in the first bay on the right, Wainui on the left & Duvauchelle is up at the head of the harbour.

And now that we are higher up we can see down to the coastline below and can see five salmon pens that belong to the Akaroa Salmon Farm. Through the binoculars we can see a boat nearby and men working at the nets.

At the top we turn into Lands End Road but decide after just a couple of hundred metres to turn around. It’s blowing a howling southerly gale and quite miserable outside, the tussock is shimmering in waves as the wind sweeps across the ridge & I just about get blown off my feet when I get out to take a photo. And even though it doesn’t look like it here the road runs a fair distance along the top. Looking at the map we can see it doesn’t quite reach the point so we’ll not achieve much by driving to the end.

We head south west along the top of the hills, easing our way around Bossu Peak until we now have a view down both sides; the harbour & Akaroa township on the inside…..

…and Peraki Bay and the Pacific Ocean on the sea side.

In this photo taken from Akaroa township you can see the ridge we are travelling along and Bossu Peak. You can see the line of the road just below the top of the ridge.
There are many coves & inlets along the southern side of the peninsula, the valleys are narrow & steep as you would expect from an extinct volcano. There are a handful of houses in some of the bigger valleys and from the sign posts we see that there are at least two farm stations on this wild & windswept side.

We see a car parked up, the only one we come across while up the top.
I think this must be the highest  “No Beach Access” sign I have ever seen. I can’t imagine that anybody up here would be looking for a beach. I’m assuming it would be great diving & fishing down there in the coves & I suspect that this is the reason the sign is there. As you can see the sun was low, I thought I’d leave my shadow in there to add interest! Winking smile  The green bush area is a DOC reserve and this was where we saw the one & only car on the whole road. It was parked near where I am standing but there was nobody in sight. We assume they must have been down in the reserve although there was no walking tracks, just a predator fence. Maybe he was checking that out.

The road along the ridge….

….and as we start to drop down the other side

Looking back towards Bossu Peak (712m) on the left & Carews Peak (794m) in the middle & some of the road we have just travelled.

It’s about here that we hit snow again, I check ahead at the first section, the white stuff is soft (as it should be) but the tracks are ice & I nearly slip arse over kite when I step out onto it. I walk ahead urging David to bear right as there’s a steep drop off on the left. At the next section David goes to check & nearly ends up on his butt in the snow. I don’t think he believed me before. It’s treacherous, one wrong step and you’re over in an instant. It fascinates me that I can see a cycle track through the snow. You got to be keen to cycle all the way up here.

There are two roads that can take us back down to the valley floor & the settlement of Little River on this side, the recommended one is on the other side of the last section of snow, you can see it running along the face of the hill below. You can also see the outline of the Southern Alps top right, Lake Ellesmere in the centre, the Pacific Ocean and Kaitorete Spit on the top left and the dirty brown sliver in the sunshine middle right is Lake Forsyth near Little River.

We decide that the last section of snow ahead of us is too icy to drive on so we turn around and head back along the road a few hundred metres to the start of the other track. Talk about steep and narrow and with dozens of short switchbacks, it’s just about a vertical drop. No wonder this is not the recommended track. If we’d met anybody coming up we both would have been in trouble, the track was barely wide enough for the ute & with no areas to pass, one of us would have had to back up & I’m positive it wouldn’t have been us. Finally down on the lower slopes the road levelled out and we found ourselves in Okuti Valley where there was quite a number of secluded houses tucked into the hillside in amongst the bush.

At the end of the valley road is Little River, where we stop for a coffee. It was a Saturday and the cafe was full of city folk; cyclists, bikers & lunchalot ladies- lycra, leathers & pearls! Little River is obviously the destination for weekend warriors! It felt rather strange knowing that just a short while ago we were up above Little River, high in the sky exploring a wild & isolated area with not a soul in sight and here just a few hundred metres below us was the noise & chatter of civilization. I wonder if they know what they are missing.

Top- Silo Stay, ecofriendly Little River accommodation. My first thought was ‘I hope they are insulated’ (they are, with natural wool). A rather strange concept to my mind and I’m not sure they’re in the right area. Perhaps they are hoping to attract cyclists of the cycle trail.
Bottom left- Historic Little River Railway Station
Bottom right- St John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Little River. Another casualty of the Christchurch Earthquakes.

After our coffee we drive out to Birdlings Flat & the Kaitorete Spit to have a look, you’ll remember the spit separates the huge Lake Ellesmere from the ocean. The road along the spit is 18kms long and after seeing that it flat and  barren & there’s not much of interest that we can see, we turned around after about 5kms.

Boy racers obviously know about this strip of tarseal going by the amount of wheelie marks on the road. Heading back down the straight, Te Oka Peak (685m) on Banks Peninsula ahead of us. We didn’t quite reach the top of that peak, turning down the steep track just before it.

Right beside the spit and on the edge of Lake Ellesmere is the Kaituna Lagoon and when we drove past it on our way to Banks Peninsula the other day we spotted three white herons(Kotuku) feeding near the road. We drove back to the lagoon to see if we could spot them again. We pulled into the carpark after seeing one white heron feeding beside the cycle track that ran through the middle of the lagoon. As we walked up the track fourteen Royal Spoonbills flew in and started feeding and then we spotted what looked like a small white heron with the larger one. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I realised that it was a Little Egret, another very rare visitor to New Zealand.

“The little egret is a small, hyperactive ‘white heron’ with a slender black bill. First recorded in New Zealand in 1944, there are 2-3 little egrets present here most years, with single birds often staying at the same site for many consecutive years.
Little egrets are scarce annual migrants to New Zealand, arriving in autumn and departing in early spring, with some individuals remaining over summer. They are usually seen as single birds, with the largest New Zealand flock being five birds.” - NZBirdsOnLine

In this shot below there are five species; 3 herons- the White Heron, the White Faced Heron (can you spot it?) & the Little Egret, Royal Spoonbills & Black Swan.

Top left- Here you can see the size comparison between the White Heron & the Little Egret
Top right- The Little Egret takes flight
Bottom left- Little Egret, unfortunately he was very flighty and I couldn’t get too close. It was still very windy & I think this helped me get some shots at least. I’m sure he would have flown sooner if there had been no wind.
Bottom right & centre- White Heron (Kotuku)

The Royal Spoonbills decided they didn’t want their photo taken either.


  1. I spent my first 30 years in Christchurch so this was very interesting for me. Thank you very much.

    1. Thanks for your comment Olwen, I'm glad I helped you reminisce. We loved Banks Peninsula, it's so close to Christchurch & yet a totally different world.

  2. Great shots of the kotuku in flight. It's easy to see why their feathers are so prized.

    1. Thanks Steve, they are stunning in flight aren't they. I have a number of flight photos in my NZ Wetland & Waders Flickr album- link is at the top of my blog on the right hand side.

  3. I lived at the very end of lands end road in the homestead up there 2009 and 2010 was beautiful all own by the betties now we worked 8 hours a week on the farm to pay our rent

    1. What a stunning place to live on the right day but very forlorn and isolated on a cold blustery winter's day. And a long way to go for a night out! :)


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