Not having one’s license leaves the choices of getting around New Zealand down to tours, hop on hop off tours, hitch hiking and public bus. Hitch hiking, while I have been told is a great way to do it when one only has a month, I know that I personally would be too worried about not getting everywhere I wanted visit. And this trip was all about relaxing and enjoying New Zealand not stress. So as the North Island is riddled with bus routes I used a company called The Naked Bus. Basically a public long distance bus which you can buy a pass for a number of trips and then use them pretty much as you please. You just can’t do the same route twice and for me it worked perfectly although the bus times can be limiting but you are doing public transport so that’s to be expected.
Day two in New Zealand I caught the evening bus to Paihia on the Bay of Islands. I was staying at the Bay of Adventure a hostel/apartment rental five minutes from the main jetty. It is a cozy wooden hostel with a pool, tennis courts and, the highlight for me, a kitchen with an oven! After living in a hostel without one for months I saw it and immediately decided I needed to make a oven bought pizza during my stay. The beds were also pretty comfy. So comfortable in fact that I slept through my alarm the following morning, or turned it off in my sleep, and missed the bus for my tour to Cape Reinga. Thankfully I was not too late to call Amazing New Zealand tour company and see if I could switch my two tours, the Hole in the Rock boat tour with the tour of Cape Reinga. I sat with toes and fingers crossed while the lady checked for availability. I was in luck, she switched my tours around without a hassle and I ran off at top speed to get ready for my Bay of Islands Boat Tour, thanking her a million times over.
The sun was splitting the rocks in the Bay of Islands that day but the wind was bitter cold when we got going on the boat. I had been expecting a middle size boat with maybe around 50 people on it. In reality, it was a fairly large boat with about 100 people on it. As soon as we were allowed I headed out to the front of the boat to brave the wind, camera in hand soaking up the salty air. We unfortunately didn’t see any dolphins but we got to go through the whole in the rock twice which according to our very excited captain didn’t happen very often. In fairness myself and the British couple I befriended were all a little concerned we weren’t going to fit through the first time. I was imagining the scene from the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when he is on the double decker bus and they squeeze through impossibly small passageways. After the hole in the rock we we were given the option to jump off in Russell, a small village across the bay from Paihia and take the ferry back at our leisure. As the return ferry ticket was included in the cost of the boat tour and Russell was supposed to be lovely I jumped off and spent the afternoon exploring Russell.
Russell, New Zealand’s first seaport, is a pretty heritage seaside village. It’s harbour and main road, Strand St, is lined with picturesque Pohutakwa trees, colonial style homes and restaurants all leading to the Pompallier Mission. I wanted to look around but my stomach was growling uncontrollably so I went in search of good food at a good price. Asking a local I was directed to a cafe called simply The Cafe. It’s on York St directly behind Strand St, has a sitting area out front and an impressive selection of teas. I decided to test out the local seafood chowder again and while it was the same thick version I had had in Auckland it was scrumptious and satisfying…well from what I ate and the local seagulls would seem to agree. I got half way through my soup and realised they had forgotten my tea so I quickly ran inside to get my tea. I was just returning to my seat after leaving my food unattended for literally a moment and found sparrows enjoying my garlic bread and a seagull quite happily tasting my seafood chowder. So word from the wise, don’t leave your food unattended I think anywhere in New Zealand.
I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town and surrounding woodlands. I headed up to Flagstaff Hill to take in the beautiful views over the Bay of Islands that you get from the top. From there I wandered down to one of the many natural reserves which seem to dot around the area and found myself on a rocky secluded little beach. The best part about exploring Russell for the afternoon was that there was no time constraints other than making the last ferry of the day which was at 10pm. So you can take your time exploring, relaxing and/or enjoying a glass of wine overlooking the bay.
I, however headed back around 5:30 to make the grocery store, pick up a frozen pizza and enjoy and catch an early night so that I didn’t miss my alarm the next morning for my trip up to Cape Reinga.