Sido shares her top picks for ex­plor­ing the his­toric re­gion

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - Contents - Edi­tor-in-Chief Sido Kitchin

One of the won­der­ful things about your kids grow­ing up is you can fi­nally book a babysit­ter and plan a week­end away with your hus­band with­out feel­ing guilty. And the Bay of Is­lands has got to be one of the most ro­man­tic places to zip away to for a mini-va­cay.

1 Where to stay?

For a lux­u­ri­ous once-ina-life­time stay, check out Don­key Bay Inn in Rus­sell. The sump­tu­ous interiors of this bou­tique ho­tel will have de­sign lovers swoon­ing. In­deed, the beauty of the ar­chi­tec­tural eco-friendly mar­vel, with a gar­den on the roof, is only out­shone by the views across the Bay of Is­lands. With man­ager Matt’s im­pec­ca­ble per­sonal ser­vice, in­clud­ing a lav­ish break­fast spread, we felt like roy­alty. The other won­der­ful place to stay in Rus­sell is the grand Duke of Marl­bor­ough Ho­tel. Es­tab­lished in 1827, this old dame is steeped in his­tory as New Zealand’s old­est licensed ho­tel. If only those walls could talk! Right on the wa­ter­front, the Duke has been lov­ingly re­stored with light and lovely bed­rooms, and an eclec­tic mix of art­works through­out.

2 Grab a bite

Head to the Duke for a sun­set cock­tail on the bal­cony be­fore din­ner. The menu’s full of clas­sics and show­cases fab seafood from the re­gion – if you like oys­ters, try those from the Waitakere In­let. The Duke’s fish and chips are world-fa­mous in NZ too. A quick ferry ride across to Pai­hia is Char­lotte’s Kitchen, right on the wharf. We en­joyed live mu­sic and chats with friendly lo­cals along­side our de­li­cious meal. If you don’t mind the whole restau­rant star­ing, brave the slowroasted pork knuckle. Huge but amaz­ing! A fresh and funky lit­tle new­bie on the food scene is Pa­tois – said “patwa” – where we stopped for a stonk­ing cock­tail and tapas. Low-key and re­laxed with nice tunes, this cruisy spot serves lo­cal food made with love (try the oc­to­pus!) – and it wasn’t ex­pen­sive. Our host Chris was the friendli­est dude. In fact, ser­vice in every Bay of Is­lands restau­rant was the best we’ve come across in NZ.

3 Beat the feet

We far ex­ceeded our 10,000 daily step goal in the Bay of Is­lands be­cause it’s such a glorious place to ex­plore. To get the heart pump­ing, walk the Flagstaff Hill Loop Track. It’s a bit of a climb, but at the top of the hill, you’ll get gor­geous 360° views and learn a lit­tle about the tur­bu­lent his­tory of the for­mer pa site – famed for fly­ing the first Union Jack in 1840, then be­ing promptly chopped down five times by lo­cal Maori. Tapeka Point is a lovely beach walk too.

4 Get on the water

To ex­pe­ri­ence the full glory of the Bay of Is­lands, head out on the water and get some air in your hair. The quick ferry rides be­tween Pai­hia and Rus­sell are al­ways fun, but to see more, jump on the Hole in the Rock Dol­phin Cruise for a three-hour jaunt. You’ll al­most al­ways spot dol­phins – and can swim with them if you’re game – but it’s also a great way to see all the hid­den sanc­tu­ar­ies along Cape Brett, and of course the fa­mous Hole in the Rock.

5 A bit of cul­ture

A high­light was a trip to the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds. We’d both pre­vi­ously vis­ited this his­toric site where the treaty was signed in 1840, but hav­ing a tour made all the dif­fer­ence. I could have lis­tened to our guide Sha­ree for days – her knowl­edge was off the charts! I was trans­fixed in the meet­ing house as she shared the sto­ries of tribal an­ces­tors which the carv­ings sym­bol­ised. Ear­lier, we’d had an in­cred­i­ble kawakawa mas­sage treat­ment at the Pai­hia Beach Re­sort – us­ing kawakawa leaves, balm and hot stones – which prompted Sha­ree to run off and grab us a kawakawa health tonic she’d made. What an amaz­ing per­sonal touch!

Ka pai! A won­der­ful dis­play of Maori cul­ture in the meet­ing house at Wai­tangi.

The lush Don­key Bay Inn, which fea­tures a por­trait of Princess Mar­garet wa­ter­ski­ing!

Our Fullers GreatSights close cruise gave us an up- the Rock. look at the Hole in

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