‘Hell-hole of the Pacific’ rants Darwin

After 3 days of national commemorations for NZs Waitangi Day in the Bay of Islands it’s now time for me to catch a ferry for the short ride over to Russell from my base in Paihia.

Often considered New Zealand’s finest maritime playground, the Bay of Islands also has much to do on land and Russell is the centre of all that Northland offers.  Darwin called it the hell-hole of the Pacific because of the drunken, rowdy whalers and sailors, this area is the cradle of New Zealand’s settler history: Russell was formerly known as Kororareka and was one of the first European settlements in NZ.

At the south end of the tree-lined waterfront is Pompallier House, site of the first Roman Catholic Mission to New Zealand. Established in 1842 ‘to teach the Maori to pray the Catholic way” as one of the guides there said, it’s now been beautifully restored to its original French style and is the only one of its type in the country. I enjoyed watching a demonstration of leather making, printing and bookbinding here – and the gardens are lovely too.

It was interesting to hear that saying such as ‘skiving off’ and ‘cut to the chase’ came from the leather and book binding industry.

I wander around the township enjoying the museum and well-kept streets before heading off to ‘the Duke’ for a look at it, and lunch.  The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand, and “The Duke” has featured significantly in NZs colourful history and holds New Zealand’s oldest pub license. Number one.  After a meal, on the veranda, overlooking the bay where dolphins had been seen from the ferry only minutes earlier it’s time for me to head off on a one-hour tour of areas not easily seen on foot.

‘The best thing about Paihia’ says our Russell Mini Tours driver ‘is you can sit on the beach and look across at Russell’.  He also tells us “the Maori came here some 900 years ago, Captain Cook in 1769 while he arrived 198 years later – on a school trip from Auckland!

Flagstaff Hill gives us 360° views of the Bay of Islands and we are shown the oldest church in New Zealand, (1835) built ten years after the Battle of Kororareka.

Darwin hated every minute of his 3 weeks here: 50-70 ‘grog’ houses, 1500 people. Many of whom were deserters, and no law – as our driver continued – ‘this is a blood and rum drenched place.’

My one day here was not long enough – but it was time to head back down to the wharf and step back in time aboard the R Tucker Thompson, a replica tall ship for a taste of life under sail.

See more about ‘the Tucker’ and ‘the Duke’ in a future blog – in the meantime … check out the links I’ve provided.

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NG welcomes Madras Street reopening after quake

NG is in a historic warehouse building and was originally on the fringe of the fashion district. On the ground floor is a  boutique, and as well as avant-garde jewellery and fabulous clothing from Europe, it’s also home to designer Sharon Ng’s quality label.  NG is said to be ‘contemporary European with influences from her Chinese heritage while paying homage to the colours of her South Island landscape.’

When I last went to NG , earlier this year,  it was funny to enter the space  of one of New Zealand’s great designers via an uneven, stone-strewn car park – a car park that was where my home was over 50-years ago, the Christchurch Central Fire Station that ran from Lichfield through to Tuam Street.

We entered that way as the shop front is on Madras Street which has been closed to traffic other than those working on the quake demolition or repairs of buildings in neighboring streets. However once over the stones, it’s great inside the fabulous and historic building that many of we older Cantabrians remember as Bain’s Warehouse. While post-quake strengthening work was carried out in her building, Sharon Ng had a store in Merivale but I’m sure she was happy to return to the wonderful ambience of this building and a front door that’s open.

The gallery upstairs is open with Christchurch Art Gallery using it,  and while C4 coffee is across the road in Tuam St, it will not be long before NG has a cafe again  . . . with  the scene from the huge arched windows very different since the quake.

Once the word is out I’m sure this will soon be a meeting point for all fashion and art lovers once again. Sharon is just one more of the Christchurch heroes who has put her money and heart back into the city she loves. So, if you love edgy fashion, head to NG  where you will be sure to find something  – something perfect for your next party or occasion.

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Akaroa – the french community in New Zealand | Kiwi-travel-writer: A freelance,blogging travel-writer


fabulous French festival near Christchurch, NZ — at the site the French arrived in New Zealand