Bay of Islands
We waved a sad goodbye to Mr & Mrs Archer and off we set on our grand adventure. It was quite exciting really, we could go where we wanted, when we wanted, how we wanted and we could change our minds just like that ... if we wanted to! Back up the SH1 towards Auckland we went and we remained on the motorway travelling North for a good three or four hours. Once we passed Auckland the drive started to get a bit more scenic and we drove alongside the coastline intermittently before we pulled off and drove towards Paihia. This is the relatively new town that most tourists stay in when they visit the Bay of Islands, but we knew that Russell was far quieter and would be much nicer as the original Bay town so we boarded a little ferry that took us across the bay to Russell in 20 minutes. Once there we parked the van at a jetty and got out to explore. We climbed Flagstaff Hill to a lovely scenic lookout next to the water that gave us some great views and we sat and watched the world go by for a short period of time before walking back down.
Afterwards we drove to Long Beach, which was on the other side of the headland. It was a lovely beach, lined with what was quite clearly a row of holiday homes, only one or two being used despite it being the school holidays. We pulled up briefly to admire this cute little bay before driving back to the camp site we had passed earlier, our first overnight stop. We checked out the facilities and then decided to head back out and explore a little bit further along the coastline while it was still light. We ended up at Kaimarama Bay where we had a brief look round before returning to the campsite because darkness crept in, not wanting to negotiate the windy unsealed roads in poor light. I drove for the first time. Our van was very easy to drive and I slipped into it quite easily. It's obviously a lot longer than a car but it was only the length of a transit van, which I have driven a couple of times before and not as wide.
We got back to the camp site and started to think about cooking tea. I was so exited about having my own little kitchen I had bought the ingredients for chicken risotto, something I make at home on a regular basis, but in my haste in the supermarket yesterday I had forgotten to buy a couple of essential ingredients so we quickly raced into the village to the little supermarket to find it had closed fifteen minutes earlier. Dammit!! Feeling subdued and a little lost in a new country I suggested eating in the pub next door. I'm glad we did because the pub's menu is mainly supplied by the neighbouring fish shop so our fish and chips had been freshly caught in the Bay that morning and was the best we have ever tasted! It was scrummy! Feeling a bit happier we headed back to the campsite to settle down for our first night, which was surprisingly comfortable and we both slept reasonable well.
We climbed aboard a tour boat at 9am the following morning, after a quick breakfast. The boat was quite busy as it set off from Paihia picking up from Russell along the way so the open top deck was full, leaving us to sit in the main hold of the boat. Luckily as we left the harbour the captain announced that passengers could stand at the front of the boat if they wished to, which is where Dan spent the following four hours. I went and joined him as often as I could bear to but stupidly I had left my waterproof jacket in the van thinking I wouldn't need it as it was a beautiful day but I hadn't bargained for the wind ripping through my fleece as though it wasn't there. I'm also not that big a fan on the windswept look and did not fancy a Bridget Jones moment!
It was a beautiful few hours in one of the most stunning and scenic places we have visited today and we both fell in love with New Zealand there and then. This was the start of a beautiful love story and slowly, piece by piece we really began to learn why Stu and Tracy, and so many others have made NZ their home. The Bay of Islands is supposedly the third biggest attraction the country boasts, following Milford and Doubtful Sound, and it was very clear why. All of the small islands were quaint, with grass and trees covering them and not a house, telegraph pole or road in sight (apart from a couple of the larger islands) and the Sea, so clear and blue just stretched as far as you could see. The air smelt really clean and the sun shone down on this little paradise. It is hard to do it justice!
The boat was a lovely little modern catamaran, with flushing toilets and a bar selling sandwiches, snacks, hot drinks and of course alcohol. We were grateful for a hot chocolate and tea to keep us warm whilst riding at the front of the boat.
About an hour after we boarded the Captain announced that dolphins could be seen alongside the boat so I dashed to the front to join Dan and try and spot them. I didn't need to look very hard as there were hundreds of them all swimming along with the boat, jumping out of the water occasionally, and swimming in a synchronised way, rotating every now and then to their audiences delight! We watched them for a few minutes before continuing on with our tour of the Bay. We saw some more a bit later but not as many.
We were taken to the world renowned Hole in the Rock at Cape Brett, which was massive. What once started as a small crack in the cliff wall is now a huge bridge above a hole that is at least 15 metres wide and a similar height. We were told that is might not be possible to sail through as it depends on a number of things, such as the tide, currents, wind speed etc and we coasted nearby whilst all the passengers on the front deck (which had tripled suddenly) took their photographs and stood in awe but as we got closer the captain navigated the boat through the hole, with only a couple of metres either side of our boat and the rock. It was fantastic and quite exhilarating at the same time.
On our way back to Russell the boat stopped at one of the larger islands in the bay; Urupukapuka Island; where we all disembarked to have a stroll around for about forty minutes. We took the scenic walk route, which lead us to a lookout overlooking Cable Bay, simply stunning. I could have quite easily pulled up a deck chair and sat there all day, just admiring the view, but sadly we had to walk back down and rejoin the others on the boat. We also passed an island where Captain James Cook had taken refuge from a storm back in 1769 when NZ was first discovered by the Europeans, it was amazing to think it had hardly changed since that day.
All too quickly our boat was docking in Russell and it was time to walk back to our campervan, but before we said goodbye to this adorable little town we drove back to Long Beach, where we had what would be our staple lunch for the next couple of weeks (banana and crisp sandwiches) in the sunshine. I could get very used to cruising around in a campervan and eating our meals in these stunning places!
We boarded the Fuller ferry back across the Bay and continued up the West Coast, only stopping once as we were on a tight schedule to reach Ninety Mile Beach before the end of the day. We pulled up shortly after leaving the ferry at a lovely little waterfall called Haruru Falls, just outside Paihia. This five metre waterfall spans the Waitangi River, meaning it is much wider than it is deep but it was a beautiful little things and definitely worth the quick stop.
Onwards we drove until we reached the start of Ninety Mile beach, which is actually 88 kilometres long, so we're not sure where they got that name from! We drove along a little track, which took motorists ONTO the beach and vehicles are free to drive up and down, tide permitting. All vehicles excepted rented ones. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! It was very difficult not to venture onto the sand and drive amongst the water but we were sensible, not risking the van getting stuck and we parked up and had a stroll instead. We both had a paddle in the sea but the water was freezing so our toes didn't stay in for long, just long enough for Dan to get caught by a rogue wave, which dampened his shorts!
We camped about two thirds of the way to Cape Reinga at a little independent campsite and we cooked our first meal whoop whoop! The mozzies were in full force so there was no sitting outside and enjoying the peace and quiet as it took us a good ten minutes to swat them all every time we opened the door of the van! Thoroughly exhausted from what was a fantastic day we went to bed relatively early and wondered how the rest of this country could possibly live up to the Bay of Islands standards.