My hike on Mount Ruapehu, during the quest for Mount Doom a few days ago, with its cold wind and hail, served to spike my desire for warm sandy beaches and days spent doing nothing at all, relaxing under palms, soaking in the warmth and blue seas. So I could hardly wait to arrive at Paihaia in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands! I was also anxious to visit the hamlet of Russell across the bay.
The Bay of Islands sits in a sub tropical latitude and draws lots of visitors. Kayaking, snorkeling, whale watching and sailing are popular activities. It’s got warm tropical breezes. Seaside sun-drenched Paihaia, with warm breezes, boat tours and ample lodging, is a good choice for a base camp for exploring this area.
Our suite at the Dolphin Motel was modern, with a dishwasher, and an eight minute walk from the beach in Paihaia. Paihaia is a small town catering to tourists and a vacation home for Kiwis.
There is a two mile stretch of beach meandering in either direction from the town’s centrally located pier – all accessible by walkway. Kayak rental shacks lie along the way. I stopped in and grabbed a boat for two hours for $15.00.
Paihaia has its fair share of touristy shops and touristy boats taking people to swim with the dolphins. But don’t get any ideas that it’s some giant Cancun filled with fast food joints. Not here. It still retains a quiet atmosphere and home grown tourist trade. For example, I watched as a dinner boat prepared for the evening. The “Mom” was putting together an obviously labor intensive hand made meal for the two dozen or so guests. Yes, I did see a 1,000ft cruise ship anchored out in the bay. But only a few of its guests came in via its launches.
Elwin, Angelique and I arrived late in the afternoon and had a nice meal by the water. After a stroll by the water, we’d figure out what to do tomorrow. I knew that for me – all I wanted to do was to have no plans whatsoever, and just let my spirit decide and explore, poke around. No time in the car.
So morning arrives, and Elwin and Angelique have decided to get back in the car and drive all the way to the tip of New Zealand – some two hours distant. I could not fathom any more time in the car even if it meant some glorious maiden at journey’s end. All I wanted this day was to walk – to explore the Paihaia area and maybe Russell, across the Bay. And I wasn’t disappointed.
I left the Dolphin Motel about 8:15 a.m. and investigated the opportunities at the Paihaia pier. I saw a passenger ferry docked and inquired of its pilot what was the deal. She told me it’s real simple. The ferry goes back and forth between Paihaia and Russell all day and it’s $12 round trip. It’s about a 20-minute trip across.
That sounded great! So, I got on the 8:30 ferry and arrived in Russel before 9:00.
Wow! Russell is a combination of Nantucket and Bermuda! It has the white washed super clean, neatly manicured gardens like Bermuda but the buildings are wooden like Nantucket. It looks historical because it is. Russell was the first European settlement in New Zealand.
One of my dreams all this trip was a quiet meal right on the sea. Russell offers exactly that!
The Russel waterfront is a beach with a walking friendly path right behind, tables, with a hotel or two and some eateries right there.
After a little walk I settled on a breakfast joint and was treated to a wonderful breakfast! Only one hiccup. The tomato jar, which I thought was ketchup, had bbq sauce in it. So I got up to switch it for ketchup. No less than three steps away and my breakfast was gone! Snatched by aggressive seagulls waiting for anyone leaving their table alone!
I was only casually aware of the seagulls. Yet, they were keenly watching all the tables by the beach – ready to pounce on any unattended food!
The staff at the cafe took pity on me, and gave me a replacement meal. Thank you!
Taking it slow, I watched as Russel opened its eyes to the day.
I had read in Lonely Planet about various boating activities in the area. You have a choice of snorkeling, dolphin watching, sailing, kayaking, swimming, even paragliding.
As I slowly had my breakfast and sipped coffee, I watched as the operators I read about made their way to the pier, and prepared for a day out. There were some charter sailboats, the dolphin quest boat, etc. Nothing seemed rushed. A fishing charter awaited its guests.
Then sailboats began motoring out for a day on the bay, and two 100ft+ mega yachts came to anchor. I was super excited for tomorrow because I had arranged for us to sail a 50 foot C&C sloop on the bay! I am a lifelong sailer and I’d seen all the sailing in New Zealand – I wanted to do some of it for myself. Yesterday, on the road, I’d used Lonely Planet to reserve the Phantom, a beautiful red C&C 50.
Here’s their promotional video – pretty much captures it – swimming off the boat, and a yummy lunch, all day, including snorkeling gear for about $90 US. It will be great!