In 1840, William Hobson, representing the British crown, signed a treaty with the local Maori tribes. The treaty formed the basis of relations between these two main groups, which holds to this day. The Treaty Grounds are dedicated to Maori culture, with exhibits, the Treaty House (now a museum), a traditional Maori house, and an oversized war canoe. Guided tours are given daily. There is also a nightly Maori cultural show.
The official signing of the Treaty is commemorated annually on February 6.
Once called the "Hellhole of the South Pacific," Russell was long known as a town of ill repute. This was a favorite port of call sailors. Today, it's a quaint old resort town on the bay. It can be reached by boat
You must take a boat tour out to the islands. This is one of New Zealand's most scenic places. If you have time, you make get to visit a few of the places along the way, like Russell or Urukupakupa Island. Another famous sight is the celebrated Hole in the Rock, near the far end of the Bay. And, with some luck, you may get to see some dolphins or other marine mammals. Keep an eye out for them.
When visiting the Bay of Islands area we had to make at least one cruise to see at least a couple of the 144 islands. We decided to make the "Cape Brett Hole-in-the-Rock Cruise" with Fullers, leaving in the morning from Paihia for a halfday cruise.
Fullers vessel is a nice catamaran, but if you want to sit outside on the deck be sure to board early. We made a stop in Russell before leaving to the Bay. The journey continues along beautiful bays and islands, surrounded by crystal clear sea. Some of them are inhabited; must be like a fairy tale to live here. But it is also exiting to see the 'fight' between sun and clouds in the middle of these amazing scenery.
We didn't see the 'promised' dolphins, just a Gannet colony on Bird Rock.
Motukokako Island is the island with the hole in the rock. Although the waves were pretty high the skipper succeeded to manoeuvre his 'huge' boat through the 'small' hole. Further on we met schools of fishes, among them blue coloured ones (maomao fish ??). On the other side of the island we also entered a sea cave.
On the way back there is a long stop on an island called Urupukapuka. Here you can make a (extra) trip with a kind of submarine. We decide to have a lunch in the café on the island and to walk around and to enjoy the lovely scenery.
To be honest: we found this stop a kind of a tourist trap. It takes too much time, the coffee was bad and expensive.
We loved the part of our New Zealand cruise that took us to The Bay of Islands and Russell. We went through the Hole in the Rock and past many beautiful green islands, then getting some free time to walk around lovely Russell---we even found a somewhat Naturist beach nearby.
When driving south from Russell, to Whangarei, a great alternative route is the Russell coast road which is sealed for the entire journey. The road stays close to the coastline of the eastern Bay of Islands with numerous beautiful views as one passes through small beachside settlements and bays. One leaves the Bay of Islands at Elliot Bay, a surfing beach on the open coast, where there is magnificient coastal scenery stretching to the north and south. From Elliot Bay the road heads south with access to numerous bays and beaches. At many locations on this road you will find accommodation, usually on farms and in holiday homes rather than motels or hotels. This is a great way to enjoy NZ.
Although inland, 25 km from Paihia, Kerikeri has big historic significance for the Bay of Islands. For a centre, however, it is still a very laid-back and quiet place, nestled between orchards of citrus fruit, kiwi, melons, peppers etc.
Like Paihia, Kerikeri started as a mission station, in 1819. The reverend, John Butler, NZ's first ordained missionary, was its superintendent. After 18 months of discomfort he moved his family to the Mission House which was completed in 1822 and still stands today - 2km from the actual city centre, on the shores of the Kerikeri Inlet and Basin. It is the country's oldest building. Butler lived there for only a year; a succession of missionaries followed. One of them was James Kemp who moved into the house in 1832. Members of his family lived there for 142 years - that is why it is also known as Kemp House.
Not too many changes have been made throughout the years. When the Kemp family moved out in the 1970s it was restored and its interior decorated in the style of the early days. It is open daily from 10am, Nov-Apr until 5pm, May-Oct until 4pm.
Next to Kemp (Mission) House stands the Old Stone Store which is NZ's oldest stone building. It was built from 1832 to '35 to replace an old wooden store from 1819. Most of the stone was local but arches, quoins and keystones are made of Sydney sandstone. As it was a costly and extravagant project the missionaries were infuriated.
The Stone Store was rarely used as such, but as a bishop's library and an ammunition magazine. By 1853 it was empty. Later on it was used as a trade place for Kauri wood. In 1975 it was opened to the public. It now hosts a shop where local goods are sold by ladies in historic dresses of the 1860s. On the upper floors is a museum with historic tools.
A small admission fee applies. Same opening hours as the Mission House. Combined tickets available.
If you carry on along the river you reach the Rainbow Falls.
If you cross the bridge near the Stone Store you get to Rewa's Village which is a full-scale reconstruction of a Maori village of pre-European times, and the Kororipo Pa, a densely-wooded historic reserve which is associated to the famous chief Hongi Hika. At this pa he kept his canoes and set out on his military expeditions.
Already long before he designed the famous public toilets in Kawakawa, a little town south of Paihia on the way to Whangarei, you could find Friedensreich Hundertwasser's art in the area. I remember prints and posters in galleries and tourist shops in Russell.
Surely in New Zealand Hundertwasser has never reached the fame he had achieved in Europe and especially in his home country Austria where he created the Hundertwasser House in Vienna (1985). To me, he was always present as about every two weeks on my way to Stuttgart in the south of Germany I could see the Hundertwasser Regenturm ("Rain Tower") in Plochingen from the highway.
In all his buildings including the toilets in Kawakawa (opened in 1998) you can immediately see that Hundertwasser spent his whole career eradicating straight lines. His colourful buildings were ergonomically curved and ecologically integrated with humus toilets supplying compost to roof gardens. Multi-coloured tiles, gold balls, bottle-glass windows and curve-shaped columns were other main features of the buildings.
Here in NZ he is known as Frederick Hundertwasser, in Europe as Friedensreich Hundertwasser which means "rich of peace" and "hundred waters". But never mind. Neither his first nor his last name were the names he once was given at birth. He was born as Friedrich Stowasser in 1928.
He first came to New Zealand in the 1970's to mount a public exhibition of his work. He was so captured by the country that he made it his second home, purchasing an isolated rural property on the Waikino peninsula on the Waikare Inlet east of the Kawakawa. Initially he spent most his time in Vienna but later on he stayed more and more in NZ. And here he is also buried, in his Garden of the Happy Dead. He died at age 72 in February 2000, during a cruise on the QEII on the way to Europe.
The Kawakawa toilets remind of him. For Hundertwasser toilets were a very special place of meditation. There are few visitors who only go to the Kawakawa toilet for practical reasons.
You just have to spend time to admire this art work.
If meditating in a toilet block is too boring for you, try it in the Trainspotter Café, opposite the toilets ;-) The railway running through the main street is another unique feature of Kawakawa.
Long Beach is much more suitable for swimming than Russell's town beach. It is on the other side of the peninsula. From the end of The Strand, Kent, Church or Beresford Street towards Flagstaff Hill you turn right into Long Beach Road which leads directly down to the beach.
It is a long stretch of white sand.
At low tide you can go for a very nice walk (to the right) if you dare to climb up over two not too high cliff-like rocks. I must admit, it is not everybody's cup of tea. I would not have done it, had my local friends not convinced me that it is not dangerous... ;-) You get to see very nice rock formations and more nice views to the islands further out in the sea.
Water temperatures in the Bay of Islands vary from 23°C in summer down to 18°C in winter - which is really mild, compared to the water down here in Christchurch ;-))
As Hone Heke and his Maori warriors burnt down all houses except the churches and mission buildings in 1845, there are not many buildings of the early days left.
You will immediately spot the serene white Christ Church. It dates back to 1836 and is the oldest surviving church in New Zealand. The very special thing about is the fact that it was not built as part of a mission station but by local settlers. Although the atmosphere in the brawling village was not promising, some settlers succeeded to raise enough funds and complete the building within two years. Among the donors was the naturalist Charles Darwin.
The church was not only used for its original purpose but also as a public hall and a court House. Although being renovated in 1871, it still carries some scars of fights between British and Maori. On the north-west corner a weatherboard has been chipped by a cannonball, and holes from musket balls can be seen near the south-east and south-west corners.
In the courtyard are very interesting graves, including some Maori who fell in fights with the British.
If you arrive by passenger ferry the first building you might notice is Pompallier House. It is the last surviving building of the Catholic Mission in Russell. It was erected in 1842 as a mud printing house which now forms its core. Although built for Bishop Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier, it was never his home. But he printed early Maori books, and a tannery was added. Today you can visit the house, open daily from 10am until 5pm (Dec-April), and from May to Nov on guided tours only at 10.15am, 11.15am, 1.15pm, 2.15pm and 3pm.
Nearby, at the small Russell Museum in York St, you can watch a video about the town's history.
The Strand is Russell's lovely waterfront promenade. The police station's building (1870) was originally the customs house. The Duke of Marlborough Hotel claims to hold the oldest liquor licence in the country.
Russell clearly has less accommodation than Paihia, but they are more exclusive and, of course, more peaceful.
You reach Flagstaff Hill either by driving up there to the carpark and walk some metres to the top, or you walk up the steep hill from the end of The Strand, Russell's waterfront street.
The flagpole sitting on top of the hill - formerly Maiki Hill, now Flagstaff Hill Reserve - has survived for a very long time, compared to the short survival rates of the first four that were axed by Maori chief Hone Heke in 1844 and 1845. This one was erected in 1857 by the son of one of the chiefs who had ordered the previous destructions. The flag of the Confederation of Tribes is brought up on twelve important days of the year.
A plate reminds of the hill's history - but the best thing up there is the splendid panorama over Russell and the bay.
The reason for axing the flagpole so many times was less spiritual than monetary. For years the Ngapuhi tribe had profited in their trade with visiting ships. Hone Heke had collected 5 pounds due from every ship that entered Kororareka Harbour. This financial windfall ended in 1841 when the Government imposed customs duties. This made visits more expensive, and as at the same price the world price for whale oil fell, whaling ships lost interest in visiting Kororareka.
The lost income, coupled with the fear the Europeans would seize all Maori land, led to the first axing of the flagpole as the symbol of British sovereignty.
The Governor agreed to remove the customs duties, and Heke renewed the mast. But the American consular agent in the Bay of Islands encouraged Hone Heke to keep on fighting, pointing out the successful rebellion of the American colonies against British rulership. So in January 1845 the flagstaff fell for the second time.
Although a 100 pounds reward was offered for Hone Heke's capture and the new pole guarded by friendly Maori, only ten days later the fearless warrior succeeded to pass through the armed guard and felled the mast the third time.
The replacing of the mast and securing it with iron and encircling it with a blockhouse was too much a tempting challenge for Hone Heke. On 11 March 1845 he axed the mast the fourth time.
Then Hone Heke attacked the town, and destroyed it.
Although Russell is linked to the mainland it feels like an island, just across the bay, with the main connections from Paihia and Opua by passenger and vehicle ferry.
The feeling reflects this isolation. The town is so peaceful, picturesque, even romantic, with all those nice colonial buildings along the waterfront. Just marvellous. The perfect place to relax, get away from the hustle and bustle of Paihia, the centre of activities in the Bay of Islands.
Apart from that Russell is a prime place of NZ history. Incredible that it was once named the "Hell-hole of the Pacific". Originally a Maori settlement named Kororareka ("sweet blue penguin"), the town became infamous when European ship deserters and released convicts from New South Wales settled there after whaling ships began anchoring there for provisions by the early 1800s. By 1840 it was the biggest European settlement in NZ.
Although the missionaries gave their best, Karorareka was a lawless place, crowded with Maori ship girls and hard-drinking adventurers of all breeds.
Soon after signing the Treaty of Waitangi Captain William Hobson purchased about 340 acres at Okiato (where now the vehicle ferry from Opua arrives) as a site for NZ's capital. He had big plans - but at the end only one road was built, leading from Government House to the gaol LOL The town was named Russell after Lord John Russell, Secretary of State for the Colonies and later Prime Minister of Great Britain. But only for nine months it was the capital of NZ. In early 1841 Auckland became the new capital - until 1865. In 1842 Government House was burnt down.
Then started the big time of Maori chief Hone Heke who felled the flagpole on Flagstaff Hill - the symbol of British sovereignty - no less than four times. After the last axing in March 1845 Heke's men attacked the township. They burnt down all buildings but the churches and mission houses. This started the War of the North which ended in 1846 with Heke's defeat in Ruapekapeka. But Russell never gained its significance again.
Some New Zealanders had been complaining on a regular base that they had to pay an entry fee to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. They considered it - somehow correctly - as a kind of open air museum and the birthplace of the nation, and that therefore it should be free like other museums. This bid was successful eventually, and so this admission has been scrapped for NZ residents a year or two years ago - and overseas tourists now pay NZ$ 20 (children NZ$ 10) instead of NZ$ 12...
The tickets are valid for two consecutive days. But you see what you are paying for if you are no resident...
The grounds are open daily except Christmas Day (25 December) from 9am to 7pm.
Activities and fees (as January 2010):
Grounds admission NZ$ 20 for overseas visitors (children NZ$ 10), free for NZ residents.
All activities cost NZ$ 15 each (children NZ$ 8):
Cultural performance of the resident Maori cultural group (30min show in traditional and contemporary story and song at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 2.30pm from Mid October to 30 April, in winter subject to change - NZ$ 12, children $5 (admission to grounds not included).
Guided tours (60min), at 9.15am, 10.30am, 1.30pm and 3pm from 1 October until 30 April, in winter subject to change.
Cultural shows: Kapa Haka (10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 1.30pm and 2.30pm), Memories of Time (Storytelling; 4.45pm), Twilight Show (drama with song; 6pm).
Also flax weaving workshop (12noon and 3.30pm), garden tour (10am and 2pm), and environmental tour (10am and 2pm). There is also a special Treaty House tour Monday to Friday only (12.30pm). Best you check the details out on the Waitangi website.
Waitangi National Trust
1 Tau Henare Drive, Paihia
PO Box 48
Fax (09) 402 8303
If I lived in the Bay of Islands I would surely not live in Paihia because at times it is rather crowded with tourists who explore the region. I could imagine to live on one of the many hills of Opua, the next settlement, as our friends do. A house on a hilltop with a view over the islands, peninsulas and waters that define the Bay of Islands. It cannot get much better. The only disadvantage is that all those nice places are really far away from a big town.
But as we do not talk immigration but tourism - well, for this Paihia is a perfect base. It is crammed with hotels, motels, apartments and hostels, and has a lot of restaurants and bars. You would surely get too much if you stayed there too long. It is the closest town to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds - you can even walk! It has the harbour where all the scenic, dolphin watch and diving boat tours start, also bus tours to Cape Reinga. And there is the passenger ferry to the much nicer, much quieter and historically much more interesting town of Russell. (The vehicle ferry terminal to Russell is over the hill in Opua, so not far away either.)
On our first Northland tour in fact we stayed in Russell because we found Paihia rather horrible - despite its three shallow bays and the nice view to Russell ;-) And the ferry trips were not too much of a hassle, and once or twice we made the big but interesting detour to Russell through the hinterland. For me Russell is the place to go.
In general accommodation is more affordable in Paihia.
Other options would be the motel at the close-by Haururu Falls (although it good flooded in heavy rain in March 2007!).
Not the cheapest but a spectacular option would be The Boathouse in Opua, right at the waterfront next to the ferry. It sits on stilts over the water (www.theboathouseopua.com) and has two large luxurious apartments. If we had not stayed with our friends on the next hill I would surely have considered to make an investment... ;-)
The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840 by the British Government and Maori. It marks the birth of the nation we know now. The funny thing about it is that the British Government had not intended to add New Zealand to its empire. It was struggling with the administration of already too many colonies, and desillusioned by the revolt of its American colonies.
But there were several problems:
1.) Captain Cook had proclaimed British sovereignty by discovery in 1769.
2.) The British Government could not prevent settlement by whalers, seal hunters, traders, escaped convicts and adventurers, so in 1832 they had to appoint a "British Resident". The poor devil who got the post was James Busby. Poor devil because he had no authority to enforce law and order.
3.) Back in Britain the New Zealand Company had been formed and was planning large-scale colonialisation.
4.) The British did not want a French colony so close to the British settlements in New South Wales and Tasmania.
So the incorporation of NZ into the British empire went ahead. Captain William Hobson was appointed to negotiate with the Maori chiefs about transferring the sovereignty to the British Crown. The rest is legend - and the reason why Maori fight for their land rights until today.
Hobson arrived on 29 January 1840. He immediately established a settled form of government and investigated land titles. On 5 February the northern Maori chiefs gathered in front of Busby's home in Waitangi - now the Treaty House although the treaty was signed at a spot a hundred metres from the house. They discussed the whole day, and most were opposed to the terms of the treaty.
But in the evening a prominent chief from Hokianga spoke in its favour, so the next day the treaty was read again to the assembly, and after much further discussion it was signed by 45 chiefs - those who could not write drew a mark or their moko (tattoo).
The first to sign was Hone Heke - who later chopped the British flagpole in Russell,
then NZ's capital, several times. Within five months also the southern chiefs had signed - some under suspicious circumstances. It is said that one chief thought the Queen had sent him a blanket and he signed the receipt.