Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track: which is best?

They are two heavyweights in the world of Kiwi private walking tracks (tramping trails set up by landowners, usually farmers, on their private estates). The Banks Peninsula Track is the pioneer – established in 1989, it is the longest-running private walking track in New Zealand and it has a reputation as the best of the best. The Kaikoura Coast Track (set up in 1994), which is billed as “the finest two-day coastal walk in New Zealand” by its owners, however could claim to be number one.

Which is best? It is a tricky question. I hiked both in early 2016 and this is what I think…

Kaikoura Coast Track

Kaikoura Coast Track: beautiful coastal views

Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track: The vital statistics

First things first, it is perhaps useful to look at the basic details of both walks.

KCT: 24km, 2 days, $200, 2-hour drive from Christchurch

BPT: 35km, 2-4 days, $195-$320, 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch

This will immediately attract different hikers to one or the other, depending on their preferences. Walkers who love a physical challenge and clocking up the kilometres every day should go for the BPT two-day option – all other schedules will be too quick and easy. Those who like to take things more leisurely can opt for the KCT or the slower BPT version.

In terms of value for money and accessibility from Christchurch, both tracks are very similar.

Scores: KCT 8 – 8 BPT

Banks Peninsula Track

Banks Peninsula Track: hiking towards Flea Bay

Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track: Scenery

The two tracks are difficult to separate in this category. They both combine stunning coastal scenery with enjoyable sections in native bush. The KCT’s piece de resistance is day one, a long and flat walk along the cliff-lined beach of grey sand before climbing for epic views of the coastline and the Kaikoura mountain ranges in the distance. This was, perhaps, my single favourite day of walking across both tracks. The BPT follows a more rugged coastline. The walking is more up and down (rather than the KCT’s prolonged beach walk), but the numerous beaches and bays, cliffs, islands and sea stacks more than make up for the effort. For me, this variety means the BPT just edges it.

Scores: KCT 8 – 9 BPT

Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track

Banks Peninsula Track: taking a break on a remote beach

Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track: Wildlife

On the KCT I saw two Hector’s dolphins playing in the surf, their fins arcing in and out of the water rhythmically, and made friends with a fur seal resting on the grey, pebbly beach. But wildlife is where the BPT becomes a superstar. If you take on the four-day option you can indulge in some awesome extra-curricular wildlife activities at Flea Bay. I learnt about the conservation work with the (ridiculously cute) little blue penguins and watched them waddle ashore at dusk. I also kayaked with a large pod of Hector’s dolphins.

Scores: KCT 7 – 9 BPT

Banks Peninsula Track

Banks Peninsula Track: little blue penguins at Flea Bay

Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track: Accommodation

Both tracks provide high quality accommodation. Compared to Department of Conservation huts (aka bunking it with 40 other snoring hikers) or a tent, they are at the luxury end of trekking accommodation. My favourite site was BPT’s enchanting Stony Bay lodge, with its open air bathtub and quirky snooker table. I also loved Flea Bay on the BPT and Medina on the KCT. All in all, there isn’t much to choose between the two tracks and it probably comes down to personal choice. I slightly preferred the BPT.

Scores: KCT 8 – 8.5 BPT

Kaikoura Coast Track

Kaikoura Coast Track: the first night of accommodation at The Beach House in Ngaroma

Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track: Service

I found the BPT service satisfactory, but maybe a little impersonal – perhaps due to the higher number of landowners involved and the sheer number of hikers. Conversely on the KCT I met the Handyside and Macfarlane families behind the track. They were really friendly and welcoming, and made time for a chat. The KCT families were brilliant at little extras that put a smile on your face: a cookie and fresh lemonade waiting for you at your accommodation, free tea and coffee available at a lunch spot and much more.

Scores: KCT 9 – 7 BPT

Kaikoura Coast Track

Kaikoura Coast Track: a post-walk treat

Kaikoura Coast Track vs Banks Peninsula Track: Conclusion

Drum roll please. The overall winner is…the BPT, scoring 47 compared to KCT’s 46.

It was a closely fought contest but, for me, the longest running private walking track in New Zealand came out on top. For you, however, the answer to “which track should I walk?” may vary depending on your interests. My suggestions below may help:

If you love wildlife…walk the BPT

If you enjoy a physical challenge…walk the BPT two-day itinerary

If you want to take things more leisurely…walk the KCT

If you like a personal touch and excellent service…walk the KCT