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.

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