Russell's little waterfront area is quite small, quaint and natural. I enjoyed my waterfront walk here much more than Paihia, where in comparison, there's too much going on.
Russell is quite leisurely.
Maiki, or Flagstaff Hill, above Russell is where you can learn about the turbulent period of the mid 1800s. This is where local Maori showed their anger at the way the colonial adminstration was running things. They cut the flagpole down four times here. However, they later erected the present one as a sign of reconciliation. Take time to read the plaque - there's a fairly happy ending.
The walk up to the flagstaff is quite steep, so don't do it in the middle of a hot summer day without water in hand!
Favorite thing: Though there aren't a lot of shops in the streets of Russell, there are several buildings with nice, colonial type architecture to admire, like the scenes below.