Tall ship sailing in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Daily my finger traces the map. I’m following Northlands Twin Coast Discovery route behind the wheel of my low-cost rental car from New Zealand Rental Cars and now in the Bay of Islands  I sail in a tall ship ( R Tucker Thompson)  but first I visit the birthplace of New Zealand – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. It’s not only historic and beautiful but also set in lush native bush and has guided tours and cultural performances night and day – I took advantage of the entry ticket being valid for two days to make sure I saw it all.

Next day, I challenged my fear of heights by soaring skywards with the Flying Kiwi’s parasail: New Zealand’s’ highest. Adrenaline was flowing before we left Paihia dock! Their website said the take-off and landing was smooth and gentle and that’s true!

 

Yes, that’s me up there!

I just hadn’t factored in the height in the middle and I was flying single, not tandem or triple. It was not long before I was at the height of Auckland’s Sky Tower above the water. Although fearful, during the ten minutes I did take some photos of the fantastic scenery and the boat pulling me. It seemed like a little dot, sometimes going in a different direction to me and the colourful parachute that floated above.  This is a must-do for fabulous views of the bay and some of its 144 islands.  Adventurers, and wimps like me, love to say “I did New Zealand’s highest parasail”.

Still in the bay, I went dolphin watching. As we searched in and around the islands and bays I realised why the first European to visit the area, Captain James Cook, named it The Bay of Islands.  Unusually there were no dolphins on my trip (another trip is offered when this happens) but we did see a pod of Orca, killer whales, feeding – no wonder the dolphins where hiding. However, it seems their genetic warning system about this top-of-the-food-chain mammal, has not caught up with the fact that, in New Zealand, orcas prefer sting-rays.

This was the first area settled by Europeans. Whalers had arrived at the end of the 18th century, while missionaries arrived in 1814, and Russell is the centre of this history.   Going there by one of the little ferries that leave Paihia wharf regularly and soon I’m enjoying a delicious lunch at ‘The Duke’. As I eat, I’m planning on sleeping in one of the rooms in this elegantly restored hotel next time I visit: they say they’ve been ‘refreshing rascals and reprobates’ for years and I’m sure I’d fit in!  Granted the first liquor licence in New Zealand, it’s certainly grown from ‘Johnny Johnson’s Grog Shop’ and the drunken sailors that Darwin hated, to this stylish Duke of Marlborough Hotel.

Here in the bay, I took another step back in time on board the R Tucker Thompson, a replica tall ship and took an afternoon sail on her from Russell back to her berth at Opua wharf.

R Tucker Thompson comes into the wharf at Russell

‘TheTuckeris a gaff rigged schooner that operates as a not-for profit charitable trust: their mission is “Learning for Life through the Sea”. It is also used for tourism in the Bay of Islands from October through April and, for the sail training activities between May and September.

Designed by a naval architect it was originally a fishing boat with a large engine and a small sailing rig. Another man, Tucker Thompson, changed her design to build her in steel – making the hull longer and deeper to accommodate the tall rigging and is a replica of vessels that plied their trade on the Pacific West Coast of the USA in the early 19th century. (See more about the background to the ship on the R.Tucker Thompson’s website).

A day or two before my trip on the ship, I met Russell Harris (who was in partnership to complete the ship) when the model of the ship “Tiny Tuck” was on show in Paihia. Dressed in traditional clothing and with a cat-of-nine-tails in hand,  I was pleased he was not on board when I sailed just in case I did something wrong!

I have done some ‘blue water’ sailing, and it was great to be back under sail again: despite enjoying sailing, I have never been up in the rigging either climbing or in the boson’s chair and this trip was no different – I’m sure many travellers love doing it when they go out for a day sail in ‘the bay.’  So, look at these photos and picture yourself up among the ropes and canvas when you get to New Zealand and go sailing with the crew.

Food, weddings & accommodation at “the Duke”

The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand. Russell, (formerly known as Kororareka) was one of the first European settlements in New Zealand, and “The Duke” here in Northland has featured significantly in its colourful history including holding New Zealand’s oldest pub license. (NOTE Sept 2012 – The Duke has just won the Hospitality Association “Best Country Hotel’ )

Seems that may have come about by having friends in high places! Having lunch with the current Duchess, Jayne Shirley, I’m told some of the history:

It seems the Duke started out in 1827 as ‘Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop” – Johnny was an ex-convict and his grog shop served the hundreds of whalers and sailors and who had upset Darwin with their lawlessness.  In a marketing exercise the grog shop was renamed after the richest man in the world – The Duke of Marlborough.

After the 1840 Treaty (of Waitangi) was signed New Zealand’s first government was formed lawlessness began to be controlled and grog shops licensed – with friends in high places, Johnny got the first one –the ex-crim is now respectable!

The “duchess” joins us for lunch

So, as the Dukes slogan and T-shirt says, they have been ‘refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827’. With such a beautiful building in gorgeous surroundings, I’m not all surprised to hear the Duke is a popular wedding destination too.

The hotel was owned by Johnny’s’ family  until  1878 and the current owners (2 couples) bought it from a Frenchman (Arnould Kindt) who had renovated the accommodation areas significantly and lifted its star rating. The current owners are continuing to not only improve the hotel, but also integrating it into the community.

The menu, designed by their award-winning chef, focuses on fresh seasonal produce – and my fish meal was wonderful.

Seems Jayne and the other 3 owners fell in love with the Duke and the area while they were holidaying from Otago University and they’re now living their dream in Northland – they recently celebrated their first two years at “The Duke”. (May 2012)

Another big ‘thumbs-up’ I would give this place is for their ‘no surcharge’ policy on public holidays: well done.

See some of my photos of the Duke (below) and check out their website for more information. They are also on Facebook and Twitter (@DukeofM) if you want to get in touch with them via social media.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You may like to check out a little more of the history of ‘the treaty’ mentioned earlier in this YouTube clip I was sent on Twitter

yet more photos

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Maori waka (war canoes) focus on Waitangi Day

As well as the NZ Navy, ceremonial waka  (war canoes) gather in the harbour every year (6th February) to commemorate the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. (NZ’s founding document betweem the Crown and Maori tribes) These waka are often from many parts of New Zealand and the men who carve them are well-respected.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For a chance to learn to paddle one of these canoes (in the Bay of Islands, Northland) contact Hone Mihaka of Taiamai Heritage Journeys

Waitangi Day celebrations at Waitangi .. a must-go-to for all Kiwi

Attending Waitangi Day celebrations AT Waitangi is a must-go-to  event for all Kiwi.

I hear some people say it’s all protests and activism: my experience from spending 4 days in the Bay of Island’s earlier this year shows this is a false view that unfortunately is perpetuated by the mainstream news media.

What I observed was families, tourists, kiwis, groups, and just people all having a great time.  It was a combo of ceremony; navy, politicians, music; opera, jazz, blues, soul, Maori Cultural shows, stalls, side shows, and of course the gathering of the ceremonial waka. These events happen over four sites (which border each other) Treaty Grounds, Waitangi National Reserve, Te Tii Marae grounds, and the beach across the road – Te Ti Bay.

And as for the proof-of-a-democracy protests: if you want to avoid them, don’t be on the one lane bridge at 130pm on the 6th Feb. For me – wished I had been able to get some photos of the annual protests … but I was too busy watching the waka and missed them all!

Here are just 75 photos (from the 5000 I took in my 2 weeks in Northland) that just give a little taste of the fabulous day  – I recommend you book your accommodation early.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

See some Utube re Waitangi here

The Rock: take an overnight cruise in New Zealand

The Rock – an interesting name, especially in the Bay of Islands where the ‘Hole in the Rock’ is a destination for boat trips from Paihia.

This ‘rock’ is a boat: originally a car ferry that carried 7 or 9 vehicles and it’s now been converted to a Hosteling International (YHA) hostel and I’ve joined a group for an overnight cruise in the beautiful Bay of Islands (Northland, New Zealand).

We’re picked up at 4pm at the Paihia wharf and with life-jackets on; we’re taken out to the flat-bottomed boat. It’s not long before we have had our rooms assigned, safety briefing given and we have target practice – note, don’t rely on me to feed or protect you with a weapon!

However, I can catch a fish (snapper) but it’s too small and has to be released, although the next day I manage to get some edible kina (sea eggs) which I love and the international tourists eat with trepidation.

So, this boat is not merely for transport around the Bay of Islands, but is our accommodation too. All the rooms are on the top level and my room overlooks the bow (front) of the old barge and as the boat is flat-bottomed there is very little movement unless a boat goes past.

Adam, the Skipper has a job like mine “A millionaire’s lifestyle on a poor man’s wage”. He’s an accomplished pianist and after dinner, as we head for bed he’s tinkling away at the ivories.  A piano on board was not anything I expected!

The next day we are kayaking, snorkelling, hiking, and exploring the area. Our meals are at a long table and are delicious. Perhaps this is the only floating YHA hostel in the world:  let me know if you are aware of others.

I found this overnight cruise (online) many months before my Northland trip (I spent 2 weeks exploring the area in a low-cost rental car from NZ Rentals) and this was the first activity, and accommodation, on my agenda – a good choice. Watch this  four-minute video created by my mates at ONZAMAP. (Check out their other travel info videos too)

Just some of the comments in the visitor’s book say:

  • Our second time on The Rock and you still rock! (UK couple)
  • You guys are amazing (German)
  • F.A.N.T.A.S.T.I.C.

Enjoy a few of my photos from my time on board – the time flew and yet seemed ages all at the same time. Fabulous, I can recommend The Rock – in fact I must do a  review on Trip Advisor about it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m scared of heights – so why parasail?

I’m not an adrenaline junkie – in fact I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat about some things – like heights .

However, somehow the words on the brochure – ‘gentle lift-off and landing” – lulled me into ignoring the next sentence.  It included these words – New Zealand’s highest’!

The Flying Kiwi Parasail delivered on their promises:

  • Breath-taking views – check!
  • Gentle lift-off – check!
  • No need to get wet – check!
  • Gentle landing – check!
  • Single, double or triple flights – check!

I was on a single flight and I’m not sure it that made it easier or scarier, I just knew when I did the ‘gentle and dry landing’ part I was really happy to be down and happy to have parasailed on NZ’s highest. I also knew I would never do it again! Maybe! (I’ve learn’t to never say never)

I was SOOOOOOOO high.  Higher than Auckland’s Sky tower – not the level where adventurous people jump from – but the very top of lt. And, when you are up there, alone, and scared of heights it’s very, very high. My daughter would love it and no doubt most travellers, and other kiwi, would love to be able to say “I did New Zealand’s highest parasail

So how high was I? About 365 metres, or 1200 feet!  And, how high is the Sky Tower, a mere 328 metres – 1076.1 ft.  No wonder I stopped taking photos – I needed to hang on, grasp the reins and worry.

Worry that the ropes were safe; worry that my canvas seat would take the weight of my body; worry so much I needed to talk to myself.

“Look around Heather. You will never see this view again. Look at the cruise ship and NZ Navy ship. Enjoy the view” my head was saying, “There’s Russell over there’  ‘That’s Paihia that way’; ‘I can see the Treaty Grounds.’

While this chatter was happening in my head,  out of my non-religious mouth flowed words in a chant or prayer I’ve never said before.

“Holy, holy, holy.” “ Holy, holy, sh*t”  “Holy, holy, f*ck”

 

Once I landed back on the boat I was elated: I’d done it.

However, back on land I was still shaking 30 mins later when I rang my daughter (who was having an adventure-filled weekend in Rotorua) and, just when I needed to talk it went straight to her answer phone.

My voice was still gone (missing in action for 3-days) and when she laughingly replayed the message back to me in the comfort of a Wellington café I too had to laugh at my shaking, croaking, drama queenwords:

Ohmigod I’ve done it!  As you can hear, my voice is still gone but by god, my body is full of adrenaline. It was so f’ing scary! But I did it! Single! By myself! All alone, way up there, above the sky tower height. Ok, talk to you later, bye.”

A drama queen indeed – she easily worked it out I was not twin or treble parasailing! Would I recommend the Flying Kiwi Parasail? – of course. (And, you don’t have to go as high as I did!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As you see,  I didn’t find my voice up among the  clouds: I return to my rental car ready to continue my Northland trip –  maybe it’s on The Rock where I’m sleeping tonight. ( I wonder, is this the only float Hostelling International hostel in the world? Let me know.

Swimming with dolphins: Northland, New Zealand

The chance to go swimming with dolphins is a great opportunity and here in NZ’s warmest waters it seems the perfect spot to do so. I’m going out on the Dolphin Eco-Experience in the Bay of Islands: well-named by Capt. Cook with its 140+ islands.

Once on board we learn the crew, including one called “Floppy’ have years of experience finding dolphins here and have lots of knowledge about their behaviour. Today we’re looking for bottlenose and common dolphins, baleen whales, orca, seals, fish, penguins and birds from the purpose-built vessel.

The day is overcast and with grey sky and grey sea, I’ve now decided I won’t be getting in the water and will view what we find from the boat – warm the water may be, but I like bath warm!  Of course, all over New Zealand, swimming with dolphins in the wild is subject to the NZ Department of Conservations’ rules and regulations, and the skipper’s discretion. In particular it’s not possible to swim with mothers and babies as they need to drink from their mother almost constantly.

We leave the Paihia wharf, pick up another couple from Russell, and are soon off on what seems to be a tiki-tour: this is New Zealand slang for –
1. a sight-seeing journey with no particular destination in mind.
2. taking the long way to a destination.
3. or, to wander aimlessly

Of, course we are not wandering aimlessly but cruising in and out of bays and around or past islands looking for the elusive dolphin. It seems it’s unusual to be travelling so far without seeing some of the 400 identifiable bottlenose dolphins that live between Tauranga and Cape Reinga. However, the gannets are lovely and so is the scenery despite the lumpy water and cloudy skies.

Suddenly their non-appearance is clear.

Word comes from one of the bigger boats heading for the Hole in the Rock – they have come across a pod of orca! No wonder the dolphins are hiding – their genes have not caught up with the fact that here in New Zealand the orca – also called the ‘killer whale’ in some parts of the world – do not eat dolphins but much prefer the apparently tasty stingrays!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Aaron, the driver (or is he called the captain?) speeds up and heads for Deepwater Cove in the hope we too can see the orca. We can and do!

I have no problem not seeing the dolphins – the orcas are wonderful! A mother and baby is with them and it’s now I again wish I had a bigger and better camera – and more skills with the one I have! I also selfishly wish I was on the boat with no other travellers so I could get better views.

After watching and following the orcas (who are part of the dolphin family not whales) we head back towards Paihia, but first we stop at Otehei Bay, on pest-free Urupukapuka Island, for a coffee and toilet break. Incidentally this is where the American author and deep-sea fisher Zane Grey, lived and wrote about this area. (The Anglers Eldorado 1926)

For information about conservation on the islands in the Bay of Islands see Project Island Song