Dolphin Watching in the Bay of Islands.
Our dolphin watching trip with "Awesome Adventures" (book at Fullers Ferries), was the highlight of our trip in January 2004. It cost $95 per person. This included a half day on Urupukapuka Island. Fullers/Awesome Adventures is the only company that you can do this combined trip with (Dolphins in the morning and Urupukapuka in the afternoon). If you do a trip to Urupukapuka Island on its own it'll cost you $45. So it's a good deal. If you are a YHA/Hostelling International member, don't forget there's a 10% discount with ID. I forgot!!
We saw dolphins from the minute we got out in deep water. First it was Common Dolphins, who weren't interested in us really - they were hunting. They are small and move very fast through the water. Next it was Bottlenose Dolphins in a quiet, clear bay. They're bigger and much more interested in people. They had babies in their pod.
With Awesome Adventures, everyone on board gets a chance to lie on the bow, head over the front and get right up close to the dolphins... in the case of the Commons, you probably couldn't get closer, as they're so fast in the water. The chances of getting to swim with the dolphins are slim. If there are babies it's a definite no no. Government regulations here are very tight in order to protect the dolphins. Don't worry though, Awesome Adventures has the smallest boat doing commercial dolphin watching in the Bay and you will get close to the dolphins. My friend had one blow water up into his face as he lay on the bow watching them from only a metre or so above!
- Whale Watching
- National/State Park
Relax or Walk and Climb on Russell's Long Beach
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 ;-))
Russell: A Wonderful Place of Peace and History
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.
- Historical Travel
Waitangi: Explore Treaty Grounds or Join a Tour
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
- Historical Travel
Stone Store, Mission House: Kerikeri Superlatives
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.
- Historical Travel
Paihia: Not Nice but a Good Base for the Region
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... ;-)
- Road Trip
Waitangi: The World's Biggest Waka and its Origin
Ngatoki Matawhaorua - this is the name of the world's biggest Waka, or: Maori war canoe. It is 36.5 metres long and is displayed under a carport-like construction - which, of course, is much nicer than a simple carport, with all its Maori carvings.
It is named after the boat in which Kupe was sailing when he discovered New Zealand more than a thousand years ago.
It took two years to build this impressive boat. It is adorned by fantastic carvings. Next to it you can see the kauri stump of the tree from which the waka was built by members of five northern tribes.
Traditionally the Maori take the waka to the water each year on Waitangi Day. 80 paddling warriors move it through the bay.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Indulge in the Fresh Fruit of Kerikeri
Thanks to its mild climate Kerikeri is the citrus fruit centre of the country but also a lot of other fruit and vegetables, as well as macadamia and other kinds of nuts, thrive up there in perfect growing conditions.
Most locals buy their fruit and produce directly from the producers - everybody knows somebody. Or they do their shopping at the Farmers Market on Saturdays. You also find a lot of honesty stalls along the roads where the orchardists place bags full of fresh fruit which you can pick up and throw the money into a box.
The orange, lemon and mandarine orchards the town is surrounded with give Kerikeri a very special subtropical atmosphere.
BTW Most plantations are looking for seasonal staff nearly year-round. A good way for backpackers to earn some money. Most hostels have contact numbers and know about job offers.
- Road Trip
- Food and Dining
Haruru Falls = (Big Noise)
These are beautiful horseshoe shaped falls. In Maori legend, there is meant to be a water monster living in the lagoon below the falls. You can walk to the falls on the Waitanga track or drive to Haruru township which is 3ks from Paihai. In the 1800's there were over 100 Maori villages along the Hauru river.
- Hiking and Walking
- Road Trip
Cruise the Islands
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.
- Whale Watching
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
- Historical Travel
Take the Ferry from Opua to Russell
This is the shortest and fastest way to reach Russell, an absolutely charming and romantic town which was New Zealand's first capital after the signature of the Treaty of Waitangi. The sealed inland route is long and time-consuming, another shorter road is unsealed and dangerous.
The vehicle ferry from Opua arrives at Okiato, and then you have to drive 7 more kilometres to Russel.
Sailings are about every 10 minutes, from 6.40am to 9.50pm, and back from 6.40am to 10pm.
Tickets are bought aboard, cash only.
Car and driver NZ$ 9, additional passenger $1.
If for whatever reasons you have missed the last ferry to Russell there is a back road through the Waikare forest. The turn-off is approximately 5 minutes after Kawakawa (Opua side) and is signposted 'Waikare'. This is a narrow, unsealed and very winding road - so not really suitable for driving at night. At least, be extremely cautious.
- Road Trip
Have a Rest at Hundertwasser's Toilets in Kawakawa
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.
- Arts and Culture
Waitangi: Why the Whare Runanga is Unique
The Whare Runanga - the Maori assembly house - on the Treaty Grounds was built from 1934 until 1940. It is unique because it contains carvings from many different Maori tribes throughout the North Island. For that it is regarded as a common work of all tribes. Normally a Whare Runanga only has carvings of its own tribe.
Before entering you have to take off your shoes.
Inside you only have the light which gets in through the door and some narrow window slots. This darkness creates a very peaceful atmosphere. From one of the many wooden benches you can admire the carvings, the wonderful polished floor which reflects like a mirror, and enjoy this atmosphere, or just rest a while from the lot of walking you might already have done on the grounds.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
HOLE IN THE ROCK
We did a tour in a fast boat called 'EXCITOR' to the Hole in the Rock. The Captain was witty, I think everybody would have enjoyed this trip, certainly everybody was laughing. On the way back we stopped at Russell to pick up and drop off people. We had a great time. For more up to date information on this tour, the website is below
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