I have added the main points of interest in this map of Banks Peninsula for better orientation.
Remember, the road from Port Levy to Little River is gravel but you can drive on it in normal cars (best without too low spoilers) in good weather conditions.
The map also shows the innumerous harbours and bays of the peninsula, testimony of the volcanic past, in quite an impressive way.
The Roads on Banks Peninsula
Although you should never sleep when driving there are such and such roads – and those on Banks Peninsula are such… Even on SH 75, the direct connection between Christchurch and Akaroa, you have to be alert although this road is wide in most parts and in very good condition. As soon as you drive up the hills to Akaroa the road gets very winding, the sight does not reach very far, so it is difficult to overtake slow vehicles (and there are some that make you crazy, I can tell you…), and also after the hilltop crossing this winding nature of the road continues along the harbour until Akaroa.
The Scenic Drive is winding in all parts, and much narrower than the main road. But take it easy. You will get to so many points with spectacular views that you should stop at lookouts from time to time, admire the sights, take some photos and relax.
Some of the roads down to the bays around the peninsula are sealed but very steep in parts, winding all the time, and the tarseal can melt on hot days. So pay extra attention. As you should also do referring to wildlife on the roads. It is absolutely normal to meet some sheep escaped from the paddocks. On nearly all of my many Banks Peninsula trips I have had such encounters.
The only sealed roads down to the bays are the roads down to Port Levy (from Purau) – but from there any other road is unsealed – and to Pigeon Bay, Little Akaloa, Okains Bay and Le Bons Bay.
Be aware that the unsealed roads are slippery gravel, and many only wide enough for about 1.3 vehicles. So if you cannot see around a corner drive with extreme care, or you might crash into oncoming traffic. Several of those gravel roads are not allowed for normal vehicles, only for 4WD.
I would not recommend to drive on the allowed gravel roads if your car has low reaching spoilers, as sometimes in narrow and sharp-angled curves you could scratch the ground. The link road between Port Levy and the Port Levy Saddle (on the way from Diamond Harbour/Purau to Little River) is such a road.
Some extremely narrow roads are just farm access roads and lead nowhere – of course, not really, as they lead to a farm ;-)
Be also prepared to permanently changing light, as parts of the roads lead through native and forestry bush. And in a few curves you will have to cross little fords – but really, they are not to worry about, the water is not deep, just the road could have a little ditch there in places, and the low-lying spoilers could get damaged.
The rule of thumb that applies to the whole world, of course, but on such dangerous roads in particular: Stop if you want to admire a view and do not dream while driving.
Oh, and I nearly forgot: Banks Peninsula gets real winter, and sometimes a lot of snow. And no wonder, as the hills are up to 920 metres high. It has happened that locals and tourists got stranded and had to stay for the night wherever they were. The Press has published stories about people sleeping on the floor of the Hilltop Tavern…
For better orientation click on the map here
This is Akaroa in the off peak season when it is peaceful.
Southeast of Christchurch are the rolling hills of Banks Peninsula and the tiny township of Akaroa, established by French whaler, Captain Jean Langlois, in 1838. This historic settlement is located on the shores of Akaroa harbour, 83km from Christchurch, and is Canterbury's oldest village and New Zealand's only French settlement.
The architecture, early buildings and French street names bear testimony to its founding fathers. Akaroa's main street, Rue Lavaud, is one of many French-named streets and the heart of this quaint harbourside village. The town is a popular holiday resort during summer.
French Street Signs and "Je ne parle pas français”
It is funny to see all those French street signs in Akaroa, knowing that not many New Zealanders are able to pronounce them correctly. The English pronounciation of the anglicised word “lingerie” always amuses me most, as they say “lonn-jerrey” instead of… something I cannot write in English LOL
My hair also raise when cafés, restaurants and shops get French names and the articles, the grammar, just everything is wrong – just to sound more elegant, and the prices can be adjusted accordingly ;-)
In Akaroa there is also such a place, called “Chez la Mer”. So… if “la mer” is correct, meaning “By the sea”, it has to be “Au Bord de la Mer”. If “chez” is correct it should be “Chez la Mère”, meaning “With Mother”, in those name terms: “At Mother’s Place”. As I am sure they want to express the seaside location I would be pleased to see a new sign reading “Au Bord de la Mer”. If I make such an important decision about naming a place I would always ask a native speaker before being ridiculous.
Yes, I know, I am difficult and hard to please ;-)
But really… LOL
Of course, Akaroa has to market its French heritage actively for tourism purposes, as this French touch makes it unique, and it is nice, even if some French names and expressions are so difficult nearly no visitor will understand them. But in most cases this does not matter at all, as the people are strolling leisurely through the township and have time to have a look inside and check what the strange name is all about.
But now it becomes really funny: Sometimes people ask me the way to some place, or I talk to locals about places in Akaroa, and when I pronounce the French names correctly nobody knows what I am talking about. My Kiwi husband tells me how a New Zealander would pronounce the words, and recommends to pronounce them in the worst possible way I can imagine.
So, for example, like the other day when we were in Duvauchelle and a friend asked me where we had been, I say: “We were… you know… if I pronounce it correctly you will not understand it… So: What about Du-wot-shelley?” (With the stress on the second syllable.) – And she says: “Ah, Du-wot-shelley, really a nice place. How would you pronounce it?” – And I say: “Dü-vo-shell.” (Sorry for the German ü Umlaut in the French word…) – And she says: “No, I would not have understood that…”
I really wonder why English speaking people are so obsessed with French words if they cannot say them correctly – like my favourite “soupe du jour” which, of course, is spelled “soup de jour”… I would just say “soup of the day”…
But never mind. I think this is easier to understand than Scottish…
The Akaroa Harbour is a beautiful place...the water is a gorgeous aqua blue colour and the harbour is full of wild dolphins, seals and penguins as well as a lot of bird life. If you get the chance, go on a harbour cruise or just spend some time looking around...