NZ Bay of Islands and Northlands

We left the Coromandel Peninsula to drive north to the Bay of Islands and the Northlands… an area we hadn’t yet visited on our previous trip to New Zealand.

We were pleasantly surprised by topography on our drive north of Auckland; much more hilly and varied than we anticipated.

This area is rich in history. Māori tribes arrived here from other South Pacific islands about 750 years ago.

Possible migration routes of the Polynesians.

Māori settled and multiplied throughout the bay and on several of its many islands. Many of the Māori settlements later played important roles in the development of New Zealand, such as Okiato (New Zealand’s first capital), and Waitangi, where the Treaty of Waitangi would later be signed… more on this later.

Abel Tasman, a Dutchman, is officially recognized as the first European to ‘discover’ New Zealand in 1642, landing on the South Island after sighting and naming (now Tasmania) Van Diemen’s Land. The first encounter between Māori and European was violent, leading to bloodshed.  After partly charting the coastline, Tasman left New Zealand without ever having had the occasion to set foot ashore. More on this in the next post as this next week we are visiting Abel Tasman National Park.

The Bay of Islands was the first area in New Zealand to be settled by Europeans. Mor than a hundred years after Tasman, the first European to visit this area of New Zealand was Captain Cook, who named the region in 1769.  Whalers arrived towards the end of the 18th century, while the first missionaries settled in 1814.

The Bay of Islands: 144 islands and numerous peninsulas and bays.
On the car ferry from Opua to Okiato (first capital of New Zealand!); Mark eyeing a launch. He swore to Shauna that he was just looking at the gray paint, but Shauna wasn’t convinced.

The Bay of Islands is the fishing/sailing/golf/watersport playground of New Zealand, with 144 islands and countless peninsulas and inlets.

The 360 degree view from a short hike up the hill from Tiki Tike Ora, our B&B in Russell.

View from the dining room of Tiki Tiki Ora, hosted by the lovely Angelique and Mark.

Tiki Tiki Ora is surrounded by decks and terraces to make the most of the stunning view.

When in a sailing paradise… go sailing! We spent a gorgeous sunny day aboard a 50′ sailboat, Phantom, on a day charter. Rick and Robin were delightful hosts and as they had spent years sailing in the BVIs, we had lots to talk about.

Our charter-mates were from Santa Barbara, San Diego, Australia and England.

We stopped for lunch on Roberton Island – also called Motuarohia Island. Motuarohia was first discovered by Captain Cook in 1769, who anchored the Endeavour just off its shores in what is now known as Cook’s Bay. At the time, the island was inhabited by up to 300 Māori (how did they all fit?!) They were initially hostile towards the explorer. Later, Cook was offered the hospitality of the natives and peace was restored. Steep cliffs line the north; flat pebble beaches surround a lagoon area on the southern side. Unique and beautiful.

Next stop: Waitangi Treaty Grounds… self-titled New Zealand’s most important historic site, and we can’t disagree. The grounds, museum, tours, cultural performances and traditional hangi are extremely well done and really are a ‘Must See’ if you visit this area.

Traditionally, Māori cooked in a pit under the ground in ovens called ‘hangi’. In traditional hangi cooking, food such as fish and chicken, and root vegetables such as kumara (sweet potato), are cooked over hot rocks in a pit dug in the ground. Today, due to health code regulations, the earthen pit has been replaced by stainless steel and bricks.

We attended a performance of a Maori cultural performance at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, including a very realistic haka. The haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace.

The performer in the back started practicing haka when he was 4 years old… he was animated (video) to say the least.

This guy burned about a squillion calories an hour while performing – and that was just from his tongue gyrations.

Our last tour on the North Islands was a flight over the Northland region, to Cape Reinga. According to Māori legend, the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife to leap off the headland and climb the roots of the 800-year-old pohutukawa tree. They descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki, using the Te Ara Wairua, the ‘Spirits’ pathway’. At Cape Reinga they depart the mainland. They turn briefly at the Three Kings Islands for one last look back towards the land, then continue on their journey.

We toured Cape Reinga, the northernmost cape in New Zealand by air in a GA8 Airvan. Built in Australia by Gippsland Aeronautics, it is a smaller version of a Cessna Caravan and sometimes called a “Caravan Lite”.

A Kiwi plantation. The Kiwi plants, and orchards of other fruits, are protected from the wind by tall hedges.

90-mile beach (which is actually only 55 miles long… go figure), is on the western coast of the far north of New Zealand. The beach here is actually designated a roadway so that the police can enforce speed limits and other traffic rules.

Our landing strip near the top of New Zealand, just south of Cape Maria van Diemen. This combination of runway characteristics was a first for us: grass, uphill and curved! Our pilot, Brendan, set the plane down with a feather touch.

The lighthouse at Cape Reinga, which is the northwesternmost tip of the Aupouri Peninsula, at the northern end of the North Island of New Zealand. Cape Reinga is more than 100 km north of the nearest small town of Kaitaia. Cape Reinga is generally considered the separation marker between the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. From the lighthouse it is possible to watch the tidal race, as the two seas clash to create unsettled waters just off the coast.

Shauna decides she will jump for the ladder at the lighthouse on Cape Reinga…..

Almost got it…..well, not quite.

Shauna leading the pack (there was a large tour group who arrived just as we did) to surf down the Te Paki Stream sand dunes, just south of Cape Reinga.


Decided to have a go at tandem surfing (video).

On the eastern side of the northern North Island is unspoiled Rarawa Beach with its snow white silica sand.

This pic shows the stark difference between the snow white silica sand beach which stops abruptly and is replaced by the more normal golden sand beaches.

With a relatively small mouth which opens up into long fingers, Whangaroa Bay is breathtaking from the air.

Many estates dot the area just north of the Bay of Islands.

The world famous Kauri Cliff golf course is in this area. For a mere NZ$500 you can play 18 holes here… unless you want to helicopter in…. then it’s more 🙂

Returning to the Bay of Islands from the Northlands. This is Roberton Island, where we stopped for lunch on the previous day’s sail.

The town of Russell from the air.


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