My first impressions of Paihia were that it was very much a tourist town and I’ll admit, I started to wonder if we were right to spend four nights there. The beach didn’t look as good as I expected and the town was very small and filled with souvenir shops. However, by the end of the four nights I was ready to leave but didn’t feel like we’d wasted our time there. In fact, we managed to cram quite a bit in including my highlight of the trip so far.
As a small town it was clear that the local economy is very reliant on tourism, particularly during the summer months and when cruise ships pass by. We were amazed one morning to wake up and find a huge cruise ship in the bay which had clearly come in overnight. It looked like a huge blot on the natural landscape and we were quite pleased when it was gone. However the town was busiest while the ship was there. There was a fantastic craft fair that was on which was selling some gorgeous products – we were particularly taken by the leather products and the clocks made of paua shell. It was hard not to be sceptical that the market was only there for the cruise ship though. We were also very amused by the line of people sitting outside the library on their phones. When we looked around, the number of people in the grounds of the library on their phone was incredible. It turned out that the library offered free WiFi in the grounds, although the building itself was a digital free zone. I was horrified by the number of people who had come ashore to visit a lovely little historic town but were choosing to sit on their phones instead.
We were quite relieved that the cruise shippers had to be back to their boat by mid afternoon as it meant that they weren’t on our boat trip around the bay and out to the “Hole in the Rock”. The boat trip was wonderful as we got to see more of the islands in the bay and learn more about the local history such as where Captain Cook had anchored up the Endeavour. We went out to the Hole in the Rock and were also one of the groups that went through the hole after some careful navigation by our captain. The real highlight of the trip was seeing dolphins on the way back. It was the reason we had chosen to go and we had just about lost hope of seeing any when a pod of common dolphins appeared in front of us. It was really magical watching them glide through the water and particularly special to see a mother and calf amongst the pod.
Following the trip we were dropped off in the town of Russel which was across the bay from Paihia as our ticket included a free ferry ride back. Russell is a very pretty old town (for what constitutes as old over here!) and a lot of the buildings were in a colonial style. The oldest church in New Zealand is located in Russell and still has bullet holes in the side from the Maori wars. Admittedly we arrived in the town at the end of the day when most of the shops were closing but it seemed to be very sleepy with not much going on. However it’s a very easy trip from Paihia so worth going to see, and our trip back across was very pretty as the sun was setting.
One of the things that surprised us about our time in the Bay of Islands was the number of people we met who were walking the entire length of New Zealand! None of them seemed to be particularly enjoying it so we came to the conclusion that they must be slightly mad but it would be a terrific achievement. We wanted to do some walking (although not quite that extreme) so set out on a fairly easy track to the Haruru Falls. The waterfall at the end isn’t particularly impressive but the walk itself was very enjoyable. It went through a bird reserve so is particularly good if you like birds. I’m not a twitcher but I enjoyed seeing lots of nesting Pied Shags and a funny bird which looked like it had two pom-poms under its chin which is called a Tui. We also walked on some boards through a mangrove swamp. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and was accompanied by some very strange noises made by the snapping shrimp.
On our final morning we went sea kayaking for the first time. It was a lot wetter than we had anticipated (which sounds pretty stupid, I promise we had been expecting to get wet) mainly because the kayak had two small holes in the seat which went straight through to the sea, so you were effectively sitting in a bowl of water the whole time! It was also quite windy whilst we were on the water so hard work, but it was good to be on the water under our own steam and we’re keen to do more sea kayaking later in the trip.