Sunday, January 21, 2007

from the Bay of Islands to the Bay of Plenty

This is just like being on holiday!
I’m reluctant to write about our beach and golf activities given the recent weather reports from Vancouver. But I will nonetheless.

Our first outing in New Zealand was to the Bay of Islands, about 3 and ½ hours north of Auckland. It’s well known for its beaches, boating and fishing. There are two main communities, Paihia and Russell. We decided to stay in sleepy little Russell, which is considered ‘the second town’, since it was described in one of our many guidebooks as being far more interesting, and pleasant, than Paihia. I also wanted to try out the Duke of Marlborough, an historic waterfront Hotel and the first establishment in New Zealand to gain a pub license. (I’m still smarting over not attracting a pub to UniverCity!)
As they say, getting there is half the fun. When we rented a car in Auckland, the agent warned us that traveling off-road could nullify our insurance. “Don’t worry” I told him. “I had a 4-wheel drive Lexus and rarely took it off-road”. Five hours later, we were sliding around a winding gravel road, since I decided to take a short-cut! When we arrived at the hotel, and told the girl at reception about the route we had taken, she asked whether we saw many cars abandoned along the road. “No, not many” I responded. “Oh good she said,” adding that if your car breaks down in the area, it’s totally stripped down within hours!
We had a wonderful evening in the hotel’s main dining room. We met up with Mike and Alana, a worldly Auckland couple with three delightful girls who were staying in Paihia, a short ferry ride away. We talked about our respective travels, house exchanges, and what to do in the Bay of Islands. Within a few minutes, we could tell that nine year old Tegan was the most responsible member of the family. She was delightful. But after a while, she star
ted to nag her father. “Shouldn’t we be going to the ferry, daddy?”
“It’s OK dear, we’ll wait until I can see it approaching”, he replied, pouring another beer. By 10:30 she was becoming very agitated, despite her father’s assurances that it would arrive any moment. At which point the waiter finally spoke up. “Well actually sir, the last ferry leaves Paihia at 10:30. The last Russell ferry departed at 10”. We offered to put them all up in our room, but Alana responded that they were paying $475 a night for their hotel, and would somehow find a water taxi to get back. After a few more glasses of wine, we all set off for our respective homes away from home.




The next day, we followed their advice and arranged for a boat outing in the area. We took the Supercruise aboard a high speed catamaran. You follow about half of what was once called the “Cream Trip” route, but nowadays, instead of picking up cream from farms, the boat delivers mail and supplies to vacation homes. As we dropped off parcels at each property, I couldn’t help but think that in America, these would be fake packages, orchestrated to enhance the whole experience. But these really were groceries and cases of Sauvignon Blanc.
A highlight of the outing was being submerged by the Nautilus, a tourist submarine. While we didn’t see any of the local sharks, we did see a lot of snapper. Sally immediately decided that was what she wanted for dinner. I decided that we should go fishi
ng the next day, although I was concerned what we would do with our catch.




But, the next day, instead of going fishing, or waiting for the Drifters Concert, we decided to set off to see Te Matua Ngahere (The father of the forest), the oldest tree in New Zealand. It’s a kauri, found in the Waipoua Kauri Forest, on the west coast of the North Island. With a trunk over 5m in diameter, it is estimated to be over 2000 years of age. The guidebook said it had to be seen to be believed. I must confess that compared to some of the redwoods I’ve seen on the California Coast, this tree didn’t seem as impressive; especially since many of the upper branches had fallen off, and it was becoming quite misshapen. Again, had this been America, I’m sure there would have been an extensive network of guide wires to keep it all together. But, as one of the viewing New Zealanders said as I made the comment, “But it wouldn’t be the same, would it?”
From the Bay of Islands, we traveled to the Bay of Plenty, on the east coast, south of Auckland. It was named by explorer James Cook for the abundant supply of food he found here. But today, it is better known for its plentiful supply of beaches, hotels and vacation homes. We stayed in Tauranga, one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing cities. With its row of waterfront bars and restaurants, it is truly a party town. But we preferred the small community surrounding the formerly volcanic Mt. Maunganui, where we played a very hot round of golf, followed by a dip in the hot springs.
Today we’re off to Lake Taupo, missing the well known tourist spot of Rotorua, which we will catch on the drive back. At least that’s the plan; although, to be honest, we really don’t have a plan. We have no idea how long it will take to get to our southerly destinations, or to drive back. And it doesn’t matter. What
we do know is that this is a great country to visit.


The food is excellent. The golf is very affordable. There are a lot of wineries to visit, fish to catch and places to visit. I am also looking forward to seeing Wellington and Christchurch, which will hopefully inspire my next story for the Sun. I am sending off my Auckland story today, which will hopefully appear on January 27th. So until our next posting, e noho ra (goodbye to person staying).

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