Easter Monday 21 April 2014
Across the bay is the town of Piahia. Most people visit Piahia and do a day-trip across the bay to Russell. But we are rebels … we are doing a day trip to Piahia. So after breakfast we head down the hill to the wharf. The little wooden ferry is waiting for us. It is a brisk, chilly morning and the ferry driver is unsuitably dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and thongs – must be a local. It is a beautiful day – clear blue sky with small fluffy clouds and a gentle breeze.
Ferry ride to Piahia – leading Russell
Piahia is bustling when we get there after the 20 minute ferry ride, Howard is once again seeking a bakery in search of the elusive perfect meat pie. We find a bakery, but alas the pies are far, far from perfect. No matter, its out there, somewhere and one day we will find it.
We head out walking the 2.5 km trek to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Here, in 1840 the Māori chiefs first signed their accord with the British Crown – the Treaty of Waitangi – Te Tiriti of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document. From this point on the English pretty much tried to screw the Maori’s over at every opportunity (as they have all across the world).
It is a lovely walk along the coast line, over a small headland, past beaches, parks and playgrounds. Its a public holiday (Easter Monday) so there are heaps of families at the beach enjoying the last of the seasons sunshine.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds feature the historic Treaty House, the British representative, James Busby’s home built in 1833.
There is a magnificently carved meeting house, where they hold traditional Maori dance performances.
Te Whare Rūnanga – Carved Meeting House
Te Whare Rūnanga, interior
Not to be missed is a 35-metre-long canoe which requires a minimum of 76 paddlers to handle it safely on the water. It weighs 6 tonnes when dry and 12 tonnes when saturated. It is also the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.
The world’s largest ceremonial war canoe
The grounds are extensive and lovely with panoramic views of the Bay of Islands, rainforest walks and lots of room to enjoy a family day out. Or just a quick nap.
The Flagstaff and Treaty House
No … he’s only resting
There is more to see but my ankle is starting to ache so we head off for the return walk back to Piahia. But the time we get there we are starving for lunch, but decide to wait and hit the Duke of Marlborough Hotel back in home territory at Russell.
The Duke of Marlborough Hotel on The Strand
For lunch I indulge in another of the gastronomical musts of NZ – a big bowl of steamed green lip mussels (this one is in fennel and white wine) – fabulous with a pint or two of cider.
Howard gets stuck into a pulled pork sandwich, which as you can see he thoroughly enjoys.
Howie loves pulled pork
Before we head back into to our room we take in a few of the town’s historic sites. Russell was originally knows as Karorareka and also was infamous as “the hellhole of the pacific” when it was “a miserable, stinking whaling town” in the 1800’s. It certainly is very pleasant these days.
Russell has the oldest hotel in NZ’s (the for mentioned Duke of Marlborough) although it has burnt down about 4 times and NZ’s oldest church.
Christ Church, Russell
Our lovely hostess Lorraine has invited us upstairs to the guest lounge for oysters, nibbles and a drinks tonight. After our big walk today I’m quite happy to not go out tonight.
Lorraine and her husband Peter have prepared a veritable feast for us. There was to be 2 other couples join us but the have both cancelled so its us to us to finish off as much of the oysters and antipasti as possible. One drink turns into many and we spend several hours chatting with them.
They tell us the story of how they moved to NZ from South Africa and ended up in the Bay of Islands. They are selling their Bellrock Lodge and planning on moving to another part of NZ. Ummm maybe we should buy it. The Lodge only operates for about 7 months of the year – we could spend the rest of the year travelling! Thats something to think about … maybe next year?