» Skip to content

Published: 25 February 2023

By Andy Ross

Recent articles

View all stories

Banks Peninsula

Banks Peninsula is dramatic and beautiful. 

A short drive from Christchurch Otautahi is Banks Peninsula with its dramatic scenery and a long human history.

Volcanic activity has created banks and bays, hills and valleys in this landscape, and the shelter that these have provided led to settlement along the coast. Away from Lyttleton, the charming port town that provides access to Christchurch Otautahi over the hills, there are other settlements that offer a glimpse of how historically the area was important for food gathering, whaling and even an isolation island where immigrants were kept if they contracted illness on board ship and which was once the site of New Zealand's only quarantine colony for leprosy sufferers. 

Okains Bay, down a steep road from the summit of the hills, lies, as its name suggests, on a bay that nowadays offers leisure activity but once was a busy community. Housed in an old cheese factory is the Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum, an important collection of artefacts and buildings from the area.

A handsome waistcoat on show in the Whare Taonga. 

An intriguing exhibition is a room of pieces from the Chatham Islands, a place that shares a strong link with Okains Bay. According to lore, the islands were settled by people who originally set sail from this Bay and the connections continue to this day through family and relations. The Whare Taonga - Treasure House - with this room as one of its exhibits, houses a diversity of Maori pieces: fishhooks carved from stone and wood, woven mats and cloaks, sculptures that once decorated meeting houses, a waistcoat...

Very fine woven flax in this cloak, on show in the Whare Taonga.

It is such an important collection that the National Museum, Te Papa, borrows from its collections for temporary exhibitions and research. 

Next door is a whare whakairo, a carved house, that has been created from older buildings with new carvings and panels added. It is part of a collection of important buildings on the site, including a blacksmith's forge, a saddlery, and a house to show how early settlers lived.

The whare whakairo with its decorated rafters, carved supports and woven panels. 


St Luke's Church in Little Akaloa (below).

Around the metaphorical corner from Okains Bay is Little Akaloa with its beautiful Anglican church. St Luke's was built in 1906 by John Menzies, a farmer of Scottish descent who emigrated to New Zealand in 1860. This church is completely decorated, inside with carved and painted rafters of wood, and stone carvings for altar, lectern and font, and outside with paua shell fragments set into the render on the walls as you can see in the photograph below. The interior carvings are particularly fine, given that John had no formal training in the craft, and are informed by Maori carving and decoration. If ever you are in this part of the world stop in and spend a while in this peaceful building with its Arts and Crafts feel.