Exploring the Bay of Islands

After travelling back south along the coast from Cape Reinga, our next stop was at the Bay of Islands, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.

The bay is home to 144 islands in total, and is well known for its stunning landscapes and pristine beaches, while the area also holds historical significance, being home to some of the country’s first European settlements.

We decided to base ourselves in Paihei, a small waterfront town which provides the perfect gateway to the islands. Keen to get out on the water, we immediately boarded a ferry to take us over to the town of Russell.

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The ancient ferry looked like it had seen better days, and it slowly chugged its way across the bay. After finally arriving into Russell we disembarked, and began a relaxing stroll along the Strand.

The town was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand, and soon became a busy whaling port. As we admired the beautiful historic buildings that line the harbour, it was hard to believe that this quaint little town was once labelled the ‘hellhole of the Pacific’.

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After a cake stop at the town’s bakery, we decided to walk up the short but very steep road to Flagstaff Hill, which towers over the town. This historic site was where the Union Jack was first raised in 1840, following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. It was subsequently chopped down four times in the following years as part of Māori resistance against British rule. 

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Returning back to the Paihei, we made the short drive to the nearby Falls Waterfront Campsite, where we would be staying for the night. As the name would suggest, the site was located right on the banks of the Waitangi river, with the stunning Haruru falls just metres away. 

While we relaxed by the river, we were lucky enough to see a Maori canoe (Wāka) row past with the occupants shouting war cry’s as they paddled. A fellow camper informed us that this was part of the preparations for Waitangi Day celebrations, to be held a few days later. 

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Instead of booking onto one of the bay’s many boat tours, we had decided to explore ourselves and take the ferry to Urupukapuka Island. The largest of the bay’s islands, Urupukapuka is home to a small waterfront cafe as well as several secluded campsites. 

As we crossed the bay, we hit some stormy weather and the surrounding islands had soon disappeared in thick grey cloud. The previously calm journey suddenly became a lot more interesting, with large waves rocking the boat, and we were thankful to be on a more modern boat than the previous day. 

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Arriving into Otehie Bay we disembarked the boat, ready to begin exploring. With plenty of time before our return ferry, we made a start on the many walking trails that pass over the island.

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Climbing steeply through old paddocks, we were soon on higher ground. Taking the chance to catch our breathe, we were amazed by the stunning views back across the bay. 

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From there the trail took us to several viewpoints before gradually descending towards a number of secluded and deserted bays. We stopped for some lunch at the aptly named Paradise Bay, where we sat on the white sand, and watched the small waves gently lapping onto shore.

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We continued to the north side of the island, which faces out to the Pacific Ocean. This felt far more rugged and exposed than the rest of the island, and with strong winds and steep cliff faces making the walk more challenging, we were glad to arrive back at the calmer Urupukapuka Bay.

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We finished our walk with a short looped circuit to Cable Bay before finally arriving back into Otehei Bay. After 14km of walking we were ready to relax, and we followed a quick swim in the bay with a drink in the cafe, while we waited for our return ferry.

Thankfully the weather was now much calmer, and the ride back to Paihei was far more enjoyable this time around. 

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