Paihia and the Bay of Islands

We got word on Monday night that our bags had arrived at Auckland International Airport. Huzzah! I could finally change into some clean clothes! To expedite things, Alan called Air New Zealand and told them we would come pick the bags up at the airport. That way we didn’t have to wait around for their delivery to us in Auckland on the day we were due to pick up the rental car and had planned to head north.

A few blocks from the hotel, we hopped on the green Inner Loop Bus using the 24 hour HOP cards we purchased Monday to allow us to ride the buses, trains and ferries at will around Auckland. This bus took us right to the car rental agency where we picked up our little chariot for the next six weeks, a Nissan Tiida. The rental agent reviewed driving in New Zealand with us, the most important thing being the driving on the left side of the road. I programmed Google Maps, and Alan intrepidly set off to the airport on the wrong side, I mean left side, of the road. It only took a few minutes to recover our bags from Air New Zealand, and then we were off!

Our destination was the Ash Grove Motel in Paihia. Paihia is the tourist center of an area of New Zealand called the Bay of Islands. It’s home to beautiful beaches, lush forests, and tons of sheep and cows. To add to Alan’s driving challenges on the left side of the road, we encountered a bit of rain on the curvy, hilly roads to the Bay of Islands. Although having only one speed on rural highways, 100 km/hr, does keep it simple. After a day of driving, we found the hotel and settled into our ample room and kitchenette.

Tuesday was my birthday, and while we woke to cool and cloudy weather, it quickly burned off and was a sunny day. We decided to start the day at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which is an important historic site commemorating the founding of New Zealand. We took the guided tour through the grounds, led by a Maori guide. The Treaty Grounds recognize the signing of a treaty between numerous Maori tribal representatives and the British crown, effectively creating New Zealand as a sovereign nation in 1840. There have been subsequent disputes about the validity of this treaty, but Maori and whites (or Pakeha, as they call non-Maori) have more-or-less gotten on well enough in the 174 years since. In addition to the Treaty House, where the treaty was actually signed, there is a traditional Maori meetinghouse and ceremonial war canoe (called a waka) on the grounds. The grounds look out on the Bay of Islands, with its sparkling blue water, sandy beaches and green shores. It’s all gorgeous and looks like a Polynesian paradise.

Photos from the Treaty Grounds:

After the tour, we attended a short cultural performance by a troop of Maori singers and dancers. It was pretty incredible. First, the Maori chief comes out of the elaborately carved meetinghouse and presents a gift to our tribe (all the people on the tour, standing outside), and if we quietly let our chief (a volunteer from our group, aided by a helpful Maori woman) accept the gift, then we are allowed to come into the meeting house. Inside, speeches of welcome were given by the chief, as well as ours, and then the group performed several songs and dances highlighting aspects of Maori culture.

Photos from the performance:

We spent some time afterwards, walking through the sub-tropical forest of the Treaty Grounds and exploring the small museum. I wanted some New Zealand-made jewelry for my birthday, so Alan presented me with a beautiful carved green-stone pendant. Green-stone, a dark green jade, is prized by Maori for carved jewelry and its availability is highly regulated to guarantee authenticity. I’m lucky to have a carving symbolizing an unfurling silver fern to take with me on my travels! I absolutely love it!

After a snack at the museum cafe, we decided to drive over to the town of Russell on the other side of the bay. The long way around involves a dirt track up and down and around mountains forested with giant tree ferns and some sort of palm tree. In Russell, we visited Long Beach, a lovely white sandy beach on a protected cove. We also walked around the harbor and had a birthday dinner at a Thai restaurant in town. It was some of the best panang curry I’ve had in a while! After dinner we had some ice cream (how could we not?) and then drove onto the car ferry to get back to Paihia. The ferry is a short ride across the Bay of Islands and cuts off all the back-roads driving we did on the way to Russell. Back at the hotel, we went for a soak in their hot tub, did some laundry and then went to bed.

DSC04389Wednesday we woke to steady rain, with more rain in the forecast for the next few days. After some discussion, we decided to just stay put and spend another day at the Ash Grove Motel. This allowed us to plan out the next few days as we continue our explorations of ‘Northland’, the northernmost part of the North Island of New Zealand. We also curated photos, worked on blog posts and generally lazed around. The sun eventually came out and Alan went for a dip in the beautiful pool. Tomorrow we’re off to Cape Reinga!

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