The track out to Nīkau Palm Gully is easy walking, as it follows a farm track. It’s pleasant, but not exactly wilderness. The views out over Akaroa Harbour, however, are spectacular. And at the end of the track is the steep drop down into Nīkau Palm Gully.
The gully is a tiny V of land, hemmed in by cliffs, and sporting one of the few remaining remnants of original Banks Peninsula forest.
Most notable among the trees are the palms which give the valley its name. The nīkau palm is the southernmost palm in the world, and New Zealand’s only native palm. It is found in coastal lowland areas, and the Banks Peninsula is as far south as it ranges on this coast. There are nīkau scattered around the Peninsula, but the population of them in Nīkau Palm Gully is impressive.
Nīkau palms are slow-growing. They begin as clusters of leaves growing on the forest floor. It may take forty to fifty years before they begin to form a trunk, and up to two hundred years to reach their maximum height of 10-15 metres. There are individuals of all sizes in Nīkau Palm Gully.
People have been visiting the gully for many years. One tree still bears the mark of a visitor who carved the year–1907–onto its trunk. A pair of amusing (to a reader over 100 years later) letters in the Akaroa Mail in 1909 indicate that the gully was, even then, considered a special place. In the first article, a member of the Beautifying Association writes a scathing indictment of the Akaroa Boating Club for having cut down several palms in the gully to use as decoration for an event. In a subsequent issue of the Akaroa Mail, a member of the Boating Club explains that they only removed a few leaves, not whole trees. The letter writer then goes on to accuse the Beautifying Association of removing entire plants (seedlings) from the gully for their gardens.
Thankfully, the landowners whose farm once encompassed the gully understood its significance, and gifted it to the Department of Conservation (in exchange for one 10-cent stamp presented to them on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen). It is now protected as a scenic reserve, and has been linked to other patches of native vegetation through a number of land covenants on adjacent properties.