Down Under - Winter/Spring 2009 travel blog

Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

Hole in the Rock

Russell

Russell pier

cruise ship

lighthouse

panorama

toll booth


Into every life some rain must fall and yesterday was one of those days. Weather forecasts here are rather inscrutable. This is a long country and the TV forecast covers it all in about 45 seconds. They quickly name towns we never heard of (that situation is improving) and use words like “fine.” We’re never sure where they’re talking about or what they really are saying. But when they said the whole country had a 100% chance of rain with heavy flooding, we knew what we were in for. We planned to drive almost all the way north to the top of the island, which took almost all day. As we neared Auckland we found ourselves on a real expressway and hardly knew what to do. We have adjusted to one lane bridges and major highways that turn left and right every few kilometers. But we couldn’t put the pedal to the metal, because it was raining buckets and the traffic was as slow and heavy as anything we encounter at home.

Then we came to the tollway. When we first arrived here we saw a piece on TV news where people were complaining about the new tollway and how it had no cash gates. It was a holiday weekend and there were long lines of people waiting to pay outside of their cars. It made no sense; we chalked it up to jet lag. Well, we got to see it for ourselves. The first tollway in New Zealand is about five miles of pavement and the only way you can pay the toll is to get online and pay on the web site within three days or stop at the oasis and pay at a machine that accepts coins or credit cards. People here found the whole thing so confusing the machines had full time attendants to guide you through the process. As we drove through the tollway a camera took a photo of our license plates. Somehow it would have to be matched up to the toll ticket we had just stood in line to pay. I’d bet a pile of tolls that this setup will be modified soon or no one will bother to use the tollway at all.

Northern New Zealand is sub tropical and there are palm trees everywhere. Avocados and macademia nuts flourish here. It is easy to understand why the Maori who first arrived from Polynesia in 900AD felt comfortable. Paihia is a touristy, resort town with the usual restaurants, tourist shops and most of all - boat tours. It functions as a gateway to the Bay of Islands, a scenic collection of little cupcakes dotting the aquamarine waters of the South Pacific. Unfortunately a cruise ship lay offshore, clogging up the works as thousands of passengers swarmed around. But a cruise ship offshore also was a clue that the bay was a spot worth seeing. We boarded an overfilled boat and wove between one scenic island after another. The rocks were craggy and rough, but covered with green which softened their look. It reminded us of Hawaii. Some of the islands were publicly owned and were developed just enough that a boater or tenter to stay overnight. Others were privately owned and boasted lavish homes appropriate for a Hollywood star. Many coves had sandy beaches that would be suitable for an unforgettable honeymoon hideaway. We docked at one island and hiked to the top for an unforgettable panorama view of the bay dotted with islands and sandy coves.

The goal of the sailing was The Hole in the Rock, a formation aptly described by its name. Yesterday’s storms had left some residual swells on the ocean and we heard that folks on the lower deck were seasick as we moved through the open water to the rock, but we felt great. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the water aquamarine and all was well in our world.

On the way back we stopped in Russell, a small quiet town that was the first capital of New Zealand. It used to be a favorite hangout of whalers and escaped convicts and was notorious for its unsavory night life. Charles Darwin described it as “the hell hole of the Pacific.” We found it a nice spot for lunch.

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