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.

Sailing in the Bay of Islands

On my road trip in Northland I took a step back in time by sailing in the Bay of Islands on board the R Tucker Thompson, a replica tall ship: I took an afternoon sail on her, from Russell back to her berth at Opua wharf.

‘The Tucker’ is 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).

the ‘tiny tuck’

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’d prefer to ‘walk the plank’)

Want a taste of the cat? I don’t think so!

I have done some ‘blue water’ sailing, and it was great to be back under sail again: nevertheless, despite enjoying sailing, I’ve never been up in the rigging either climbing or in the boson’s chair and this trip was no different – although I’m sure most 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.

Follow them on @RTuckerThompson

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Food, weddings & accommodation at “the Duke”

The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand. Russell, (formerly known as Kororareka) was one of the first European settlements in New Zealand, and “The Duke” here in Northland has featured significantly in its colourful history including holding New Zealand’s oldest pub license. (NOTE Sept 2012 – The Duke has just won the Hospitality Association “Best Country Hotel’ )

Seems that may have come about by having friends in high places! Having lunch with the current Duchess, Jayne Shirley, I’m told some of the history:

It seems the Duke started out in 1827 as ‘Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop” – Johnny was an ex-convict and his grog shop served the hundreds of whalers and sailors and who had upset Darwin with their lawlessness.  In a marketing exercise the grog shop was renamed after the richest man in the world – The Duke of Marlborough.

After the 1840 Treaty (of Waitangi) was signed New Zealand’s first government was formed lawlessness began to be controlled and grog shops licensed – with friends in high places, Johnny got the first one –the ex-crim is now respectable!

The “duchess” joins us for lunch

So, as the Dukes slogan and T-shirt says, they have been ‘refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827’. With such a beautiful building in gorgeous surroundings, I’m not all surprised to hear the Duke is a popular wedding destination too.

The hotel was owned by Johnny’s’ family  until  1878 and the current owners (2 couples) bought it from a Frenchman (Arnould Kindt) who had renovated the accommodation areas significantly and lifted its star rating. The current owners are continuing to not only improve the hotel, but also integrating it into the community.

The menu, designed by their award-winning chef, focuses on fresh seasonal produce – and my fish meal was wonderful.

Seems Jayne and the other 3 owners fell in love with the Duke and the area while they were holidaying from Otago University and they’re now living their dream in Northland – they recently celebrated their first two years at “The Duke”. (May 2012)

Another big ‘thumbs-up’ I would give this place is for their ‘no surcharge’ policy on public holidays: well done.

See some of my photos of the Duke (below) and check out their website for more information. They are also on Facebook and Twitter (@DukeofM) if you want to get in touch with them via social media.

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You may like to check out a little more of the history of ‘the treaty’ mentioned earlier in this YouTube clip I was sent on Twitter

yet more photos

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‘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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Northland road trip: along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway

In February most of my great road trip in Northland was on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway

It leads you from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, to the far north, and is the ideal road adventure – I used a rental car and started from Auckland airport and valued the support and information I got from Destination Northland.

The Twin Coast Discovery Highway  traces both coasts to Cape Reinga and back. The east coast has fabulous white sand beaches, while the west coast has fewer people, wilder beaches and our giant kauri trees. All of which I’m writing about in individual blog (so sign up for them – top right on this page J) as I retrace my steps, but thought an overview would be useful too. Whatever you do,

you have a camera – you will fill it up just as I did – especially with postcard views of white or golden sand.

There are any  kinds of water experiences too – from dolphin trips, sightseeing tours diving, snorkelling or fishing – or as I did, parasailing over the Bay of Islands on New Zealand’s highest parasail.

Northland is often called ‘the birthplace of the nation’ as our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was first signed here between the Maori tribes and the British in 1840 ad make sure you visit ‘the duke’ , in Russell,  which has New Zealand’s first licence as a bar – and is still hosting people in its rooms and dining areas.

On the other coast are 85% of New Zealand’s kauri trees – most in the magnificent Waipoua Forest and which also has Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest kauri, then down to Dargaville on the Wairoa river and where all out kumara (sweet potato) come from then  onto  Matakohe,an engaging museum explains the life and times of the kauri tree.

This is the briefest of a thumbnail sketch  .. , with lots more to come:  One of the things I was surprised about ‘up north’ was how much there is to do – I did heaps but there were many more places that I didn’t see and many things I didn’t get to do!

Feel free to add your suggestions (in the comments) about ‘must dos’ you have found in New Zealand’s Northland.

Russell, New Zealand: Darwin proved wrong!

Darwin hated his three-weeks in Russell so much he called it the “hell-hole of the Pacific”. Locals, and time, have proved him wrong – very wrong Smile I left my rental car parked up for the day, caught the regular ferry to check his assertions.

I have just spent the day there – and like everything I’m doing and seeing in Northland, I wish I’d had more time. From the historic Pompallier Mission (where the French were – ‘teaching the Maori to pray the Catholic way”) through to a one hour mini-bus tour (with Fullers GreatSights)  the day has been great … as shown by taking over 400 photos today ( bringing my total in less than a  week to about three thousand pictures: actually I think that alone says a lot about Northland – Te Hiku o te Ika a Maui- the tail of the fish of Maui.

The ’hell hole’ is now a popular wedding destination, especially at the Duke. ‘The Duke’ is the local name for The Duke of Marlborough and where I had lunch today – a delicious Thai beef salad!  I had a look around the hotel and the new owners have lived up to their goal of refreshing everything … more in another story of course.

My day was completed by sailing from Russell to Opua on the  R Tucker Thompson  – a fabulous replica tall ship where tourists can take a step back in time and sail the seas under canvas. Two young boys tell me that last time they went out with the ship they saw a hammer-head shark as well as dolphins: this ship will feature in a  full piece when I get back to the ‘head of the fish of Maui’.

Finally, just for you golfers: the views of the islands of the Bay of Islands must feature as one of the best golf-course views in the world!

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Many thanks as always, to Destination Northland for helping arrange my itinerary and Rental Cars New Zealand for the vehicle for this road trip: I can recommend both!