Bay of Islands April 24 - 26
After our awesome horse-riding adventure we headed up to a small village called Russell in the Bay of Islands. It wasn't far in terms of km's and we chose to go what looked the the most direct route and before we knew it the sun had set and we still had some distance to drive along what turned out to be long, windy dark roads with stray cows around some of the bends! We eventually arrived at the holiday park and set up camp for the night without getting a chance to see where we were!
The following morning we were awoken by rain and screaming kids - the former not being ideal for our location. The Bay of Islands is an area right in the north of New Zealand with 144 islands, beaches, hideaways etc, for which you really need decent weather in order to enjoy it. We headed into the village regardless of the weather and had a wander round. Russell was originally a Maori settlement and then turned into a port once the Europeans arrived becoming a magnet for convicts, prostitutes and sailors. Today, cafes, boats and gift shops line the waterfront.
We had a look in the Maori Cultural centre and watched some short films on the area, went into the oldest hotel in NZ (Duke of Marlborough Hotel) and walked back out again once we realised we were too poor to dine there. The local Police Station was also a really old building where the one village policeman still lives. Another point of interest was 'Christ Church' NZ's oldest church which still bears cannonball scars and has a touching small cemetery. Due to the bad weather we enjoyed coffee and cake in a waterfront cafe before returning to the camper for a long night of tv and reading.
We were happy to wake up on Tuesday and feel the sun beating down on us - so much so that we had to actually get out of bed to cool down. We headed into town and booked ourselves onto a Bay of Islands tour with a swim with the wild dolphins thrown in for free. The cruise headed along the coastline past many of the islands where we got see more amazing NZ scenery. Several of the islands are privately owned, some are partly private and partly state owned and others are completely state owned. There are many hidden bays with amazing beaches, but these beaches are actually public beaches and anyone can rock up in their boat and spend the day there. If you have a property on an island you also have to have an island caretaker! We past one amazing beach which just happened to have an $11 million house, a heliport and helicopter house, plus the caretakers house. It just happened to be owned by the owner of NZ Sky TV. Nice! This was just one of many that we were in awe of. We also sailed up towards Cape Brett lighthouse towards the 'Hole in the Rock' but due to the high waves in the pacific we couldn't risk actually going through the hole itself. We then sailed around further stunning islands, spotting lots of fish and birds before seeing the black rocks which are basically where lava has risen out of the sea and cooled quickly creating small islands.
After this we finally managed to spot two pods of dolphins which were putting on an awesome dispplay right infront of our eyes. It was great to see them out in the wild doing their natural thing. Unfortunately at this stage it was too late for us to get in and swim with them, but as they had calves with them it would not have been possible anyhow. Due to this we now have tickets to return anytime we wish! Maybe one day...
That evening we took the car ferry and headed south for an hour or so before finding another free holiday park for the night.