South Burnett Times - - ESCAPE - WORDS: ANN RICKARD

If there is de­bate about New Zealand’s South or North is­lands be­ing the more scenic, I don’t want to join it. The en­tire tiny coun­try is so pic­turesque that wher­ever you go there is some­thing daz­zling to look at.

It could be white sheep graz­ing in a green paddock, a placid lake fringed with wild flow­ers, rolling hills to the hori­zon, or yet an­other green paddock where con­tented cows form a line to shuf­fle into a dairy farm for milk­ing. Ev­ery­thing is just so damn at­trac­tive. It’s pre­pos­ter­ously un­fair.

Not that any­one could be an­noyed with New Zealand for more than a minute, which makes it a great pity that many in­ter­na­tional peo­ple have never heard of it, let alone know where it is.

When I see a weather map on the telly, and there sits New Zealand so small and vul­ner­a­ble in the great rolling Pa­cific, it looks as though our gi­ant coun­try could lift out a meaty paw, give our neigh­bour a friendly pat on the back and send it plum­met­ing to the depths of the ocean.

It re­ally does look that vul­ner­a­ble. Yet it is not. It is gor­geous, eas­ily com­pa­ra­ble to Switzer­land for scenic thrills, and it’s just a three-hour flight way.

Hav­ing done the South Is­land re­cently, it was up North for us, Auckland first, a city on the move judg­ing by the num­ber of cranes, new build­ings and gen­eral buzz. Then a four-hour drive through yet more scenic coun­try­side to the Bay of Is­lands.

Stop­ping in pretty towns at dairies (we called them milk bars when we used to have them) for a cus­tard tart (a vanilla slice to us, still very pop­u­lar in NZ) gave us a hint of New Zealand’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to hang on to the past, apart from the dairy that called it­self In­dian Bak­ery & Restau­rant, where a curry muf­fin gave us a kick of a dif­fer­ent kind.

We ar­rived in Paihia, small but with a lot go­ing on judg­ing by the large num­ber of apart­ments, mo­tels and ho­tels of­fer­ing good deals.

Gate­way to the div­ing sites and the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds, which marked the be­gin­ning of New Zealand as a na­tion, Paihia has a busy CBD, and more restau­rant, pub and cafe op­tions than you could get to dur­ing a week’s stay.

Most peo­ple say the best Bay of Is­land ex­pe­ri­ence is cruis­ing through the renowned hole in the rock at the tip of Cape Brett, and if you’ve never done such a thing, it is a small thrill. Cruise boats leave Paihia’s wharf ev­ery day for cruises to suit ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing lunch and din­ner cruises. At Rus­sell, once known as the “hellhole of the Pa­cific” for its es­caped con­vict pop­u­la­tion dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, more invit­ing cafes and restau­rants beckon along the water­front.

Char­ter­ing a boat or let­ting some­one else cap­tain it for you will get you out on the wa­ter for a real feel­ing of why the Bay of Is­lands is so pop­u­lar.

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