Thursday 3rd January – Sunday 6th January: Bay of Islands
Another part of our New Zealand adventure that had been on our ‘to do’ list for some time was a trip to the Bay of Islands. Like Wellington, its reputation certainly preceded it, and we were keen to explore the area and see what it was like. Many people we spoke to said it was their favourite part of North island so we felt it was time. After our New Years adventure in Wellington we flew up to Auckland, picked up our hire car (made all the less enjoyable by appalling customer service from a woman at Hertz). Soon behind the wheel of a black holden Barina spark named ‘Harry’ (for those of you who have been following the blog – a cousin to the sadly missed Barry), we headed up to Paihia which would be the base for our trip. It took us around 4 hours, as we headed over the Auckland harbour bridge, our of the city, and into Northland. On arrival in Paihia we quickly located our lovely accommodation – a house called ‘Treetops’ part of Abri apartments. The view from our place was lovely, and it had all the comforts of home, including a lovely spa bath and cuddly dressing gowns (although due to the hot weather while we were staying there we didn’t get to use the latter!). That evening we walked the short 5 minute walk into the centre of Paihia to have a nice meal – we went to Frank’s and enjoyed a delicious pizza.
The next morning we awoke to beautiful blue skies and headed out early to the Explore NZ office to pick up our tickets for a pre-booked boat trip out to the Hole in the Rock with Dolphin Discoveries. Our boat departed at 9.00am and we were lucky to have a seat outside on the mid-deck along the side. We explored the whole of the Bay of Islands on the trip, as we passed by lots of different beautiful islands (some of the 144 in the area!), and saw wildlife along the way.
We saw lovely dolphins jumping up and out of the water. It was a little tough to see at times due to the high volume of people on the boat (but this was the peak of summer in NZ and the summer holidays!). Then the big – and very unexpected moment came - we came across humpback whales breaching. They repeatedly jumped high, out of the water, over and in again – it really was a beautiful sight. I don’t want to complain too much here, but I was quite disappointed with the actions of the company when this happened. The whales were at the front of the boat, and instead of turning the boat around and allowing everyone else at the back of the boat (there was no viewing area at the front for the public) they kept the boat facing forward. It seemed quite a selfish move, as their own photographers went to the ‘staff only’ part at the front of the boat and started snapping away. They were pretty open about the fact that they sell these photos to the people on board, and it really did seem that they thought they would get photos to sell the rest of us, rather than allowing us to see them for ourselves and take our own photos. This was a very rare sight though – and one member of staff mentioned it only happens on 2-5% of their trips that they see whales – let alone ones that breach so often! My lucky and magic moment came right at the end of our time with the whales and produced my gem of a photo above – the boat turned to move away from the whales as said time was up, and only when they did this were the whales now situated at the back of the boat. With some quick thinking I moved right to the back of the boat and was able to capture a couple of whales breaching, and was delighted. I used the action setting on my camera to capture multiple shots of them, and you can see the stages here:
Following our whale adventure the boat headed off to the famous ‘hole in the rock’. Due to the weather unfortunately we weren’t able to go through, but we all got a good look. Next stop was Otehei Bay where due to the lengthy amount of time we spent with the whales was a whistle-stop tour. We docked here, had enough time to join the long queue for the toilet (there were 3 ladies loos!), have a quick snack on the beach and then had to head back the boat. The other boat – operated by Fullers – was there at the same time. We actually witnessed them leaving at the time they agreed and left a family behind! Luckily for them our company let them come aboard. Following our stop there we headed back towards Paihia and we requested the drop off at Russell on the way back.
Overall and for anyone reading interested in the differences between Dolphine Discoveries and Fullers Hole in the Rock tours I would actually recommend going with Fullers. Their boat was slightly smaller, they had a viewing deck at the front (which would have helped with viewing wildlife) and they turned around (we watched them!) when the whales were around ensuring all people on board can see and take photos. We did still really enjoy our trip, but felt that Dolphin Discoveries could have done so much more to enhance our experience. Still, we made the most of it and still got some great pics.
On arrival at Russell we headed to have some food and chose the Waterfront cafe to have lunch. Unfortunately the food took forever to arrive and let’s say wasn’t at all delicious. They might have been having an off day but we quickly left. We took a walk through the historic parts of Russell, past its famous church and arrived at Long Beach. We spent a short while here, took some pics and then headed back to the wharf to take the ferry back to Paihia. A nice relaxing evening in Paihia followed after a great day out on the boat and exploring.
The following morning the alarm sounded at 5.30am and we were getting up early due to an ambitious planning trip up to Cape Reinga and back. We knew the tour buses departed Paihia around 7.15am so were keen to get on the road and up there before they did. We left the house around 6.40am and after filling up with petrol we were on the road. It was an enjoyable trip up as the roads were pretty empty and the scenery was stunning. Passing Awanui we took the lone road up to Cape Reinga. The total journey from Paihia up to Cape Reinga took us just under 3 hours. On arriving we parked up and took the walk down to the lighthouse and famous signpost. We were incredibly lucky to have this area to ourselves for about 15 minutes, so took some good pics and enjoyed our time. We read about the ‘Meeting Point’ which is where two seas meets – the Pacific ocean and Tasman ocean meet. You can actually see in the water where the two sets of waves come up against one another – it is quite a sight! The views down towards Ninety Mile beach were also spectacular and we enjoyed walking around this area to explore. After a bench stop for some choccie biccies and to take in the views we headed back to the car. We got back on the road and started our journey back to Paihia.
We made the most of the journey back, making stops along the way. We had lunch at the beautiful Cable Bay. We also took a detour along a gravel road to an Puketi ancient Kauri forest where we saw really old trees. We went on the Manginangina Kauri walk, which was well planned out and made up of a boardwalk around and through the amazing trees. It was really worth the trip and a great sight.
Our last stop before Paihia was Rainbow Falls. A little harder to find – although heading for ‘Rainbow falls road’ meant we did find it! We took the short walks here – one to the top and a rather steep descent to the bottom to see the falls in all their glory. Whilst at the top we were lucky to see a rainbow across the waterfall and quickly capture a couple of pics (see below gallery for more). Whereas whilst at the bottom we saw the whole waterfall and it was beautiful.
A trip back to Franks was first whilst back at Paihia and we enjoyed a nice evening walk along the waterfront and an ice cream from Movenpick. Although busy – as it peak season – we really like Paihia’s atmosphere and the scenery was stunning. Sunday 6th of January was soon here and we got up early to begin our long journey back to Auckland. We were due to spend 2 nights here before flying back down to Queenstown and beginning the next chapter of our adventure.