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!
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 ;-))
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.
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.
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
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.
Russell was once the capital of New Zealand.
Nowadays a quiet nice historical town, situated just ten minutes by ferry from Paihia. It has some old buildings and a couple of nice museums. Russell Museum (former Captain Cook Memorial Museum), Clendon Cottage, Christ Church (oldest church of New Zealand) and Pompallier House built by French missionaries for printing works, nowadays it is in its original state and you can see how printing was done in the old days.
Russell is starting point for boat tours and dolphin watching/swimming.
On 'the other side of the hill' is Long Beach for swimming. On the way to this beach some stunning views over the peninsula and the Bay of Islands.
From Flagstaff Hill you will have a great view over some of the 150 islands of the Bay of Islands.
But perhaps nicest thing to do is just stroll around along the Strand with old pohutukawa’s or having a tea or coffee in one of the outdoor café’s.
The most famous kauri’s of New Zealand can be found in the Waipoua Forest Park on the west coast, but there are alternatives to see these impressive trees.
One of the most easiest accessible walks is the so called Manginangina Kauri Walk in the Puketi Forest. The forest can be reached from the Bay of Islands through an unsealed road from Waipapa along SH 10.
The loop track starts at a small car park along Waiare Road, just north of the Puketi recreation Area. It is a 350 metres long loop track on a boardwalk (will take about 15 minutes), which shows a lot of mature kauri’s and other native trees.
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... ;-)
We have been a couple of times to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and it is always a pleasure to walk around and to see all the historical objects with our own eyes.
The Treaty House was home of James Busby, first British resident of New Zealand.
It is one of the oldest buildings in the country. Nowadays it is a little museum where you can find out facts about the Treaty and the birth of modern New Zealand.
Te Whare Runanga: this meeting house was opened on February 6 in 1940. Exactly hundred years after the Treaty was signed. In the house are typical Maori wood carvings.
Ngatokimatawhaorua: the Maori war canoe has been made out of three kauri trees and is 35 metres long. The canoe can accommodate 120 warriors.
These historical buildings and sights are surrounded by nice gardens. Enjoy the view from the lawns over the Bay of Islands.
The Waitangi Visitor Centre has a café and a shop with some very interesting and unique souvenirs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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