Friday, 11 July 2014

Little Akaloa, Okains & Le Bons Bays

It was getting quite late in the afternoon by the time we wound our way back up the steep road out of Pigeon Bay and onto Summit Road again. We still had a couple of bays to visit, the first was Little Akaloa, a narrow and very shaded bay by the time we reached it.

Not too far up the steep hill from the beach on a flat knoll overlooking the bay, but hidden away among gnarly old trees, was St Luke’s Anglican Church, another church I was keen to shoot. This church is a church of historic significance, this St Luke's replaced an earlier wooden church and was completed in 1906. It has an "old world" English-looking exterior, with walls of pebble dash on concrete; not that unusual but the surprise is in the interior. A local farmer John Menzies was largely responsible for the church’s design, construction, decoration and he also financed  the church from his own funds.

Menzies was also a self taught carver and the interior is lined with Maori carvings, many carved on white limestone. The rafters are decorated with Maori patterns and the windows have Maori designs in the coloured glass. Maori decorative forms were unusual for this period, other designers did not use Maori patterns until the inter-war period. St Luke’s is one of the NZ’s earliest examples of the incorporation of Maori decorative motifs in a European building.

Instead of retracing our steps back out of Little Akaloa & up to the Summit Road again we continued on past the church following the road high up along the edge of coast, the road dipping & climbing through a multitude of small coves and bays, the sun now falling fast casting long shadows across the farmland and a pink glow across the sky.

Stony Beach- this farm has it’s very own private beach.

We pass a number of farm settlements along the way, including some that have large homesteads. Outside one is the Chorlton Post Office complete with service window & surrounded by large numbered boxes, obviously big to accommodate supplies coming from town, along with the mail. Each box would belong to a local family on the farm or living nearby. Never mind your teeny weeny post office boxes in the city these ones mean business! I’ve checked and it is on the Historic Places Register but with no photos so I’ll send this along with the church.

The next bay is Okains, a very well known one on the Peninsula and very popular during the summer and I can see why, a lovely sheltered sandy beach, a river estuary to swim in & a campground in the trees just back from the beach.

The settlement of Okains Bay is a little way back up the valley where there are an assortment of old & new buildings including the Okains Bay Maori & Colonial Museum which by the time we passed through was unfortunately closed for the day.

The museum came about as a result of one man’s passion. Murray Thacker, a long term resident & descendant of some of the earliest European settlers in the area took many years building up his private collection of over 20,000 items of early Maori & European history including a range of purpose built, replica & relocated heritage buildings. Murray purchased the old Okains Bay Cheese factory to house his collection and then gifted it into public ownership. The museum’s collection apparently rivals those of NZ’s larger metropolitan museums. We shall just have to visit it next time we visit Banks Peninsula.

Bottom row- Okains Bay Fire Station & Overlooking Okains Bay from the Summit Road
Sadly Okains Bay Church, The Church of St John The Evangelist,  is another one that had succumbed to the Christchurch Earthquake, Little River was the other we had seen on this visit and we’ve also seen quite a few around rural Canterbury. In fact there are a lot of stone buildings & monuments around the peninsula that are surrounded by safety fences looking neglected with grass and bushes overgrown around them. There just can’t be enough funds to go around everyone for repairs and these places are nearly entirely reliant on their communities to pay for their rebuild. Most won’t survive.

We headed home after Okains, winding our way back up to the top & Summit Road again and then dropping sharply down the steep side of the crater and popping out right above our camp ground. It is rather surprising that there are actually quite a number of roads that criss-cross the peninsula, albeit that they are steep narrow & winding (& mostly gravel). It must take quite a bit to keep them in good repair, there are signs of many slips & washouts along the way.

The next day I left David relaxing at the van while I went out on a photo shooting expedition, I also wanted to visit one last bay on the northern side of the peninsula; Le Bons Bay. Another sleepy settlement beside another beautiful sandy beach at the end of another long narrow bay. Although there were quite a few more closed up holiday homes in this settlement & a nice big camping ground and sports domain. I’m sure this bay would be very busy come the summer. I found a picnic table to have my lunch at; near the car park & tucked out of the wind behind the sand dunes; peace & quite with just the sounds of nature and not another soul within cooey. Ahhhh…….this is the life!

Le Bons Bay had a fairly new church and this memorial library, another building registered with the Historic Places Trust. I have seen a number of memorial libraries like this on our travels. Above the date, 19th July, 1919 , it reads “Peace Memorial Library”. The library was built as a memorial commemorating the local casualties of the Great War. Its no longer part of the National Library Service but is used by the local community as an active archive information centre.

I stopped at the local cemetery on the way out of the bay, there were quite a number of very old gravesites and by reading the headstones you can learn quite a bit about the harsh life the early settlers of the area lived. Many women died in childbirth, a lot of the babies died a few days later. Families were large and multiple siblings died between the ages of 0-3. Men remarried quickly, sometimes the next wife dying during childbirth too or not many years after the first wife had died. Yes, you learn a lot reading headstones.

Back up to the Summit Road once again & heading east, I was able to stop multiple times to soak in the scenery, a slightly different view at each stop.

At this stop I could see an old homestead & farm buildings way down in the valley, they looked abandoned but I can see the chimney has been braced against earthquakes so maybe they just need a coat of paint!

A rocky outcrop near Otepatotu Scenic Reserve. if there wasn’t so much snow laying around in the area I would have brought David back up to do the walk around the reserve.

Just past the reserve the snow was a lot thicker on the ground and there were a few sections in the shade that I had to crawl through. I kept to the middle of the road all the time I could see ahead and crept around any corners on my side of the road. So far I hadn’t seen another vehicle all day but as luck would have it I was stopped before one corner thinking I might need to check to see if it was snow or ice ahead of me when sliding around the corner, came a small rental car with two foreign tourists in it, eyes as big as saucers, and mouths as big as dinner plates! Luckily they didn’t slide too far and while they were re-gathering their wits I wound down the window & told them in no uncertain terms to slow down!

There were a number of weathered signs along the road including the bottom left one regarding Tiger Woods. I have no idea what it was for and a bit further on I spied another with Richie McCaw name on it. The roads down to Paua & Fishermans Bay on the northern side of the peninsula seemed even steeper than the ones we had already travelled and as the snow was thick on ground I decided to give them a miss and head in the opposite direction straight (literally) down to Akaroa.

And just because I can’t get enough of that spectacular view of Akaroa Harbour here’s another one, looking down to Robinson Bay and across to French Farm Bay.


  1. Fantastic blog. Really interesting. I do hope the funds are found to sort out the numerous Historic stone buildings in Banks Peninsula. Beautiful photographs.

    All the best.

    1. Thankyou for your kind comments, and glad you've enjoyed the blog. I guess it'll take the community to raise the funds for the repairs but I don't think these small settlements are as church orientated as they used to be so it may not happen.


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