I've got a fortnight's holiday from school at the moment- hooray! Rather than sit around Auckland the whole time, I went up North with Jill to explore the beautiful Bay of Islands. We stayed in a funky little backpackers in Paihia called Captain Bob's. It was nice and quiet, and had a big balcony with great views over the sea. The first day was largely spent driving, with a lunch stop at the Whangarei Basin to see the boats, and a lovely wander along the beach in the afternoon light. The New Zealand weather was at its neurotic best, and we spent the day switching from storms to glorious sunshine... but managed to have our 5 o'clock glass of wine on the balcony outside.
The next day we hopped on board the little ferry that crosses the bay to Russell. Russell used to be the capital of New Zealand before it became notorious as 'the hell hole of the Pacific',
and those in charge decided to save the nation's reputation by moving the capital to Auckland (before shifting it again to Wellington a few years later). Russell is now far removed from the rum-swigging, pistol-swinging days of yore, and is now a sleepy little town. The ferry docked at a little wharf, leading to a promenade fringed with a golden sandy beach and lined with colonial buildings. We climbed up Flagstaff Hill for stunning views of the Bay of Islands, then returned to the town to explore.
We visited the wooden church, which still sports bullet holes from the Maori wars, and crossed the headland to Long Beach, where we explored the rockpools and wandered along the stretch of sand, finding dozens of hermits crabs scurrying around and squabbling over shells, starfish hunting and thousands of green lipped mussels clinging tightly to rocks.
Thursday was spent exploring Maori history, with a visit to Waitangi, site of the negotiation of the historic treaty which paved the way for peace between the Maori and the pakeha.
Depending on your perspective, it either took the first step towards the creation of an egalitarian bicultural society, or was a total scam. Today, Waitangi is another beautiful site with gorgious sea views. We visited the colonial Treaty House, and the wharenui, built by the Maori to represent the unification of the tribes of New Zealand. The character and detail in the carvings, which represent ancestors and spirits, are fantastic.
We returned to Paihia for lunch; a delicious kilo of prawns and a glass of Reisling at 35 Degrees South, a restaurant overlooking the bay. After all this seafood, we somehow managed to summon the energy for more walking, and hiked up to Waitangi again to walk
through the mangrove swamp... only to find the track was closed after the floods a couple of months ago. Not to be deterred, we asked the lovely ladies at the Treaty Grounds visitor's centre for more ideas, and they told us about a quiet walk south of Paihia. We walked back to Paihia, bundled into the car and drove to a boardwalk stretching through the mangroves, leading to more stunning views of the bay as we climbed a headland. Then home for 5 o'clock wine and cheese- we slept very well again that night!
On Friday it was time to head back to Auckland.We stopped off at Kawakawa to visit the toilets (the town's claim to fame; decorated with multicoloured tiles, columns made of pots and translucent coloured glass),
and the Kawiti caves with their lovely galaxies of glow worms and a very annoying toddler who wouldn't shut up for the entire trip (unfortunately the glow worms do not eat small children and there were no escaped lions handy).