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.

Travel Digest - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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