Where two next?

Antipodean travelogue through the eyes of two - one textile and one building lover. It'll be hard to differentiate the two!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bay of Islands (3) Day 1

The Bay of Islands (3) gets its name from the 144 islands that dot the bay. The two main towns to stay in and around the bay are Paihia and Russell.

Paihia is bigger and feels more like a resort. You can imagine at the height of the high season, there's an influx of camper vans and holiday makers, that frequent the bars and cafes spilling out towards the end of the night. In short a younger persons town.

If they are spilling out of the bars with their beers in Paihia then they are quietly sipping their Pinot's in Russell. Instead of listening to the latest chart entries it's the sound of the water as it ebbs and flows along the waters edge, with perhaps a hint of classical music in the background. Russell is marketed as "Romantic Russell" and it has an old world charm about it that I think would appeal to older holiday makers or people like us who were looking for somewhere quiet and, as the marketing experts boast, romantic.

I think the towns are quite different due to their location also. Paihia is easily accessible where as Russell is more remote and is best accessed by ferry from Opua, although you can get there without getting your feet wet so to speak! There are two ferries that run continuously so you are never waiting long. Here's a pic of the small marina at the ferry terminal in Opua.

The many cruises that take people around the islands pick you up at either Paihia or Russell so there is no disadvantage to staying in Russell in that respect. There is also pedestrian ferries that run back and fourth from Russell to Paihia so you can leave the car behind if you fancy a trip. The only disadvantage about Russell is that it is a little bit off the beaten track when it comes to exploring the rest of the bay or indeed the rest of Northland but as we have already said it is that remoteness that gives Russell a lot of it's charm. Here's some pics taken around Russell.

As we would say back at home "we fell on our feet" when it came to our choice of accommodation. We stayed in the Russell Bay Lodge which consists of two self contained apartments with fabulous views over the bay. Here's some pics from the terrace area outside the apartments.

The last picture is a true picture of the view from the bay suite apartment we were staying in. The owner, Dave, ran down to us the first evening we had arrived as his kids had spotted dolphins in the bay. We were invited up onto their own terrace and we each took turns with the binoculars to look at the four dolphins jumping out of the water. The owners of the apartments couldn't have planned it better!

The thing Northland has going for it above anything else is probably it's weather. It has the mildest climate in NZ being the most Northern region. They even suggest that they don't actually get a winter although the weather towards the end of our stay, though mild, was very wet! Either way it was the lemon tree outside the apartment that epitomised the local climate for us. Not something you would see very often walking around windy Wellington!

Even though the weather is better in this part of NZ we did travel in the equivalent of February back home and the weather forecast was bad for the second half of the week. We therefore decided to take a boat cruise the first afternoon we were there. There are numerous boat cruises to go on but the full day trips do not run in the winter time. That said, 4 hours in a boat is more than enough no matter how nice the views in my opinion.

We went with a company that concentrated on looking for dolphins aswell as going around the islands. They even let you swim with them if the dolphins are willing. If you do not see any dolphins on the trip they will give you a voucher to go on the trip again free of charge. One of the crew members said that a tourist turned up a few weeks back with an 11 year old voucher!

We were also informed that they had failed to see dolphins for the last two days but that that could change at anytime. Luckily for them and their vouchers it did. Although the dolphin experience paled in comparison to our encounter with them in Doubtful Sound and they were not remotely interested in letting us swim with them! Here's some pics around the islands.

The majority of the boat cruises go through the "hole in the rock" which unsurprisingly is a hole in a rock as pictured below.

The major disadvantage of traveling at this time of year for us was the sheer lack of life. As much as Russell's charm lies in it's remoteness you still want to go into a restaurant and not be the only people there all night! Due to the lack of holiday makers one of the main restaurants, and what looked like the best, was shut aswell as the local gallery.

As you might have gathered from some of our previous posts we like our food. We ate in a local restaurant the first night as it was literally the only one with people in it! Strength in numbers we thought and managed to get the last table. It was one of the more reasonably priced restaurants and I think that that might have impacted on the patrons choice. It was either that or we choose badly but either way we were not impressed and although it was busy again the following night we kept walking. In fairness we enjoyed the food at the restaurant we ate at the following night, although a bit of company wouldn't have gone astray.

The weather was absolutely fabulous for our first day but as predicted that was all due to change but more on that next post.


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