Banks Peninsula Tops

  • 2 days one way
  • Easy/medium

Two day walk across the never completed bit of the Summit Road.

Pigeon Bay • By Harald. Licence: C.
Banks Peninsula Tops: Key information
Walking time
2 days
10 hr – 14 hr
One way
One way
Exposed to the weather as little vegetation for most of the way. No water. Grades explained
No bookings — open access
No — open access
Banks Peninsula Tops: Find it
Montgomery Park (Summit Rd near Hilltop)
Gebbies Pass
157m – 920m
Altitude change 763m

[From article submitted to Wilderness but not published]

Windblown Totara • By Harald. Licence: C.

Our little private ‘tramping club’, consisting of my wife Hendrikje, myself, and friends Pat and John set out one November weekend to do our version of a ‘Grand Traverse’: the summit walkway on Banks Peninsula, which stretches for just over 30 kilometres between Montgomery Park and Gebbies Pass. This walkway covers the bit of the Summit Road that was never built, connecting the stretches surrounding Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours.

Banks Peninsula is not exactly a Wilderness area, but the almost complete lack of native forest has one big advantage: good views are to be had from just about any elevated point. Despite being so close to Christchurch, the track is not well known and we met no other trampers between Montgomery Park and Mt Herbert Shelter. There is one hut along the way (Packhorse Hut, a beautiful stone building situated on a saddle between Lyttelton Harbour and Kaituna Valley), but it is located only 90 minutes or so from the track end. There is no legal camping to be had on the track, either. Pat was keen to do the whole thing in one day, but my own enjoyment of tramping generally takes a rapid dive after about 15 kms, especially in such undulating terrain.  

The solution for us consisted of persuading the owner of the Little River campground to pick us up from Port Levy Saddle, breaking the track up into two pieces, 13.5 and  17 kilometers long. The campground is a destination in itself, a real Kiwi camping experience. It is situated in a private reserve of bush, boasts several character huts, a small river with swimming hole and, for kids, mud slides and trees you can climb on! (The owner even hacked steps into one of them to make getting up easier). While featuring showers with real water, ablutions still have to be done via long drop. The village itself has a couple of surprisingly good cafes and, oddly for a small place like this, a superb art gallery! We were all rather taken with the place and not a little surprised about this gem hidden away so close to the city.

The summit track makes its way mostly through farmland, interrupted by the occasional small reserve. The views are stunning throughout. Akaroa Harbour, Pigeon Bay, Port Levy, Lyttelton Harbour, Lakes Ellesmere and Forsyth are all splendidly beautiful from up here, and the track takes in most of the peninsula’s highest peaks, such as Mts Herbert (920m), Sinclair (840) and Fitzgerald (826). From Mt Herbert there is a humbling view of the narrow crater wall that separates the harbour from Christchurch City, a reminder of the violent volcanic past of the Peninsula.

The peninsula tops are very exposed to wind. There are no other significant mountains or hills for at least 100 kilometres in any direction, which means the wind gets a lot of run-up before it enters the peninsula’s valleys and then attempting to blow you clean off the ridge. The prevailing easterly, while overall tame and well-behaved, is prone to push clouds up the valleys which form a thick fog around the hilltops. Getting lost here is a real possibility in those conditions. On cloudless days, however, there is no break from the sun, and on sheltered parts of the track you get positively baked.

Although suffering from the overall neglect of local walking tracks by the Christchurch City Council (something which has nothing to do with any earthquakes and is a sad state of affairs), tramping on the peninsula tops was a breeze overall, until we hit the section around Mt Bradley. Bradley drops away steeply on all sides, and the track gets very narrow here, rocky and surprisingly muddy in places. It is also partly overgrown by gorse. We emerged about 300 m above Packhorse Hut, facing a steep descent with grades of up to 35 degrees, part of an overall drop of 750 metres between the track’s highest and lowest points. The 17 kilometres from Port Levy Saddle to Gebbies Pass took us over six hours, and we sure felt it afterwards.

In our minds the peninsula had become a little larger after this weekend. Living in Christchurch we take it for granted and treat it as our playground. That it offers such a superb overnighter was a bit of a revelation, even though the territory was familiar. Highly recommended, while not to be underestimated.

ID 8931

About this track

Added 7 February 2014 by HaraldHarald. 1 revision 7 August 2015 by JETNZJETNZ.
57 views in the past year (5 per month).