Bathing in the BAY OF ISLANDS
The Bay of Islands beckons travellers with its beautiful bays and calm beaches. Isolated from the hustle and bustle of a big city, people can easily relax here and it’s almost, writes ALANA SRUBARVERNON, as if you are on your own little island.
It is a three and a half hours drive north of Auckland, winding your way towards quiet towns that are hubs for tourism and arts. Once you are there, the best way to really experience the area is by water. Out on the ocean, hidden coves and wildlife are around every bend of this rugged coastline. The Rock Adventures Cruises offers day and overnight cruises enabling people to appreciate the raw beauty of the Bays of Islands. Leaving from Paihia Wharf in late afternoon, you are welcomed by the captain and ferried onto The Rock (a converted car ferry) to meet the rest of the crew. Brief safety announcements and guests are taken to their rooms, each with a slightly different bedding arrangement to suit different travelling parties. Heading away from Paihia and the first activity is underway pretty quick, with paintball shooting at a dragged buoy. It was a lot of fun and surprisingly hard to hit the target. A brief interlude to enjoy cruising through beautiful scenery, we struck gold as a small pod of dolphins came swimming by. Not every cruise is the same, as the captain changes the route to suit the weather and group travelling. Our first stop was off one of the many islands in the bay and made the perfect place to pitch our lines for a spot of fishing. We weren’t the only family on board and the other two little guys on board joined in excitedly, hoping to haul up the big one. Sadly the only thing biting was small snapper, but we all had a laugh trying. Dinner whilst watching the sun set is quite magical, as everywhere seems to glow pink. Afterwards guests enjoy digesting the meal and tapping into the on-boat bar, whilst soaking up the beautiful surrounds. Before we know it, it’s time for the highlight of the cruise – night kayaking. The Bay of Islands is one of a few places on earth that make this experience truly magical. The lack of light pollution and being lucky enough to have bioluminescence, makes every oar stroke unbelievable. It’s like something out of a Harry Potter film, casting glowing spells as we paddle along. Having a break from kayaking to lie back and gaze up at the ever-so-clear Milky Way leaves everyone spellbound. This is definitely once in a lifetime experience. Swimming is also an option if anyone desires. An early communal breakfast and we press on to an ideal spot for the first activity of the day. Swimming or snorkelling literally takes your breath away as you jump in the cold water. Not long after drying off, everyone is transported to an island to explore a little of New Zealand’s pioneer and WWII history. Walking amongst the ruins and hearing the stories of pioneers, doesn’t totally distract from the postcard perfect views over the bays. Heading back to Paihia and it’s a little sad to be disembarking after such a delightful taste of the Bay of Islands. Once back in Paihia, there is wide variety of accommodation available as the town is renowned for its hospitality. Set above, Chalet Romantica can be seen far before we reached the shores, with a large Swiss flag and typical chalet-look to the large accommodation. We are welcomed at the door by hostess Inge and taken to the Bellevue Suite; perfect for a small family or ideally a couple looking for a romantic retreat and having the option to self-cater. With a variety of rooms available, everyone can find what they need. A perk of being high up are the amazing views from the rooms (which can also be enjoyed from a private balcony), overlooking Paihia harbour. If staring into the horizon gets a bit boring, there is an onsite complementary small gym, swimming pool and spa to enjoy (this is good if the weather does randomly turn sour).
Staying at the chalet is not only a retreat or getaway, but it really is a taste of European hospitality in New Zealand. It is the way all the little things are taken care of. Attention to detail with presentation, effort in preparing the bed and towels, pillow arrangements – hard to pinpoint exactly what it was but the overall experience was just like being back in Europe. Breakfast is the icing on the cake. As you come downstairs the table is beautifully and colourfully laid out with a massive spread. Fresh baked European style bread and jams, a fruit platter and yoghurt are waiting to be eaten, whilst a home-cooked hot breakfast is prepared to your liking. Hot drinks are abound and I don’t think there isn’t a style that wasn’t available. An absolutely fabulous B&B. There are many other dining options in the Bay of Islands for meals outside of breakfast. In Paihia, Alfresco’s offers American sized (very large) portions from entrée to dessert. The restaurant is right beside the harbour, overlooking boats gently rocking with the mild waves. Staff are very attentive and for those travelling with youngsters, age appropriate toys are brought out to help keep little ones happily entertained, whilst waiting for the meals to arrive. The décor is also a point of interest with one eating area being part of a 3D room wide mural of New Zealand forest. The three course meal we experienced and matched wines were fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the duck confeit entrée – it’s a hard dish to get right and Alfresco’s does it perfectly. Alfresco’s Restaurant & Bar, on the waterfront next to Edgewater Palms, offers one of the best dining experiences in Paihia. And if you are staying at the award winning five star Edgewater Palms Ramada, you can even have your meals delivered to your room. The Edgewater Palms has tropical landscaping and exceptional facilities including free WIFI, plus by arrangement you can bring your small dog. This is the perfect place to stay and enjoy all that Northland has to offer. Across the harbour lies Russell. A quaint little town with a lovely waterfront esplanade with historic buildings lining the street. Easily accessed with a variety of ferry companies offering passage over the water, Russell is another great place to explore whilst in the Bay of Islands. There are a few museums about pioneering New Zealanders and a couple of art galleries displaying some lovely works by local artists to easily pass time. Dinner options are abound, but The Gables is something else. If The Gables hadn’t been relaxing in Russell, there would be cues out the door to get into here to try the food. The Gables presents its fine dining experience in an 1847 landmark. The food is elegantly presented and staff are very friendly, advising excellent wine pairings for our dishes. We were captivated with how delicious the food was and the combinations of things we didn’t think would go together but deliciously did. It’s the sort of place that you wish you could expand your stomach so you can enjoy just that little bit more. Outside of Paihia, Russell and exploring the many bays and islands, there are other treasures to the Bay of Islands. Waitangi, is the home of New Zealand’s birth as one nation and there is a very strong connection to its historical importance. Kerikeri has is a bit of a culinary niche with chocolates and tea being well known outside of the area. The monthly farmers market is a great way to taste all the delights from the local area, so if possible plan a trip around this event.
Kayaking in the Bay of Islands, with Rock Adventure Cruises in the background.
The Gables Restaurant in Russell.