This is a plug for one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations, The Bay of Islands. My friends Cathy, Claire and Lynn have been exploring the South Island and fly in to Auckland with the intention of picking me up from the Ferry Building. Unfortunately, there are fire engines and ambulances everywhere outside, roads are blocked off and it looks like a disaster area. I quickly text the girls to say there’s been an incident and I’ll meet them by the entrance to the Hilton Hotel. No response to my texts, so I try phoning – no answer. After an hour waiting, I retrace my steps to discover that there is no disaster, it’s a demonstration event, but still the roads are blocked off. Somehow the girls spot me – their mobile phones are not working here.
We take several scenic detours on the way to Pihia, stopping at the dramatic Mangawhai Heads where locals are out in force, Swimming and surfing
Once we’ve checked in to our sea-front accommodation at Pihia, we stroll down to the tour booking office to find that the all day Cream Trip around the Islands is booked up for tomorrow. It’s the height of the tourist season – mid February – and the only option is an afternoon trip out to the Hole in the Rock.
Our ticket includes a free ferry crossing to Russell across the bay. This charming town is full of historic houses all beautifully preserved. It’s hard to believe that this was once the capital of the country in the early days, with the Governor’s residence across the Bay at historic Waitangi. Russell is so completely out of the way that communications must have made administration difficult. Local Maori tribes apparently found trading with the Europeans advantageous, so that when the capital was moved to Auckland, local wars broke out in protest.
We spend the morning browsing and window shopping. There’s a gigantic cruise liner anchored in the bay and the place is buzzing with tourists. The Pompallier Mission house is a quiet haven at the far end of the beach.
We join in half way though the guide’s talk on how the bible was translated into Maori and printed here in these upstairs rooms. It’s fascinating to look at the process and to realise that although this is all mechanised now, the principles of making a book remain and that many common sayings come from the print industry. The museum has assembled working replicas of the equipment used and in some cases original stuff has been restored. We have lunch before joining our boat tour out to the Hole in the Rock.
There are plenty of Dolphins around, much to the delight of all the tourists. Last time I was here, doing the full day tour, we were able to swim with them and also spent some time following a pod of 40 Orcas. No killer whales this time. Sadly the sea is too rough for the boat to sail through the Hole in the Rock but we stop on the beautiful Island of Urupukapuka and walk up the hill for spectacular views of surrounding Islands and beaches. The boat drops us back at Russell with a voucher for the Pihia ferry. The girls want to do more shopping and looking, while I go looking for somewhere for dinner.
It’s an early start the next day as Cathy and Claire want to look at the Treaty House where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Entrance is free for New Zealand passport holders but as I’ve forgotten o bring mine along, I stay with Lynn and we walk up the road for great views out into the bay. We’ve now got to drive across this thin part of the country to the Waipoua State Forest and the home of the giant Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta (the god of the forest). Onwards to the Hokianga harbour and a coffee stop at Opononi where there is a touching story about a tame dolphin that used to play with the children. It’s the view from the harbour heads which is the spectacular bit here. You come to the view point at the south end of the settlement. You can see the dangerous currents near the mouth of the harbour, swirling around and on the other side, a huge golden sand dune dazzling us in the sunshine.
We have to get the hire car back to Auckland and while the downtown drop would be convenient for catching the Waiheke Ferry. We’re not going to make it before they close, so we have to go to the airport leave the large suitcases at their motel then to the drop off depot, catch their courtesy bus to the terminal, then the bus into town to catch the ferry. I’ve left my car at the top of the hill where there is free parking, so we have to walk up, pack the hand luggage into my small Rav 4 (it only just fits) and drive to Rocky Bay.