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  • Writer's pictureClaire

06/04/24 Whangerei via Russell to Rangiputa

Whangerei  weather was most unpleasant through the night and the torrential rain was coming down in sheets this morning. Which was a bit of a ball ache because we’d planned to visit the 26 metre high falls where the water cascades over the edge of an old basalt lava flow. Even my desire to visit the falls wasn’t enough to make us go out and get soaked for the sake of water splashing down. We knocked it on the head. Instead we made our way  up the Russell road  and spent a lovely few hours as the rain faded away looking out over the Bay of Islands. The Māori call it Te Tai Tokerau,  In mythology the region is known as the tail of the fish of Māui. In Northland Māori is spoken almost everywhere despite many years when it was actively discouraged. Morg is of the opinion that the Māori named their place simply to see a white man struggle to pronounce it. I’m inclined to agree with him, especially after discovering the Whangerei is pronounced as “fangeray” we had absolutely no hope of getting the names right. 

The Bay of Islands is probably one of New Zealand’s top summertime destinations.  It’s turquoise waters and 150 undeveloped islands feature prominently the  tourist promotions. The majority of the activities are water based, making yachting, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, diving or cruising in the company of whales and dolphins very popular. . It’s also a place of historical significance. Māori knew it as Pēwhairangi and made it home  early in their migrations. Russell is  the site of New Zealand’s first permanent British settlement, and  is the birthplace of European colonisation in the country. The Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up and first signed in 1840 here and it’s something  that remains important  to Māori and Pākehā (white) relations in NZ today.

The Russell Highway is the old road to Russell, and it’s very narrow, winding and takes an hour longer to get there apparently. However, if we had gone via the fastest route we would have missed out on some breathtaking scenery and coast line, which made the awful road waaay more bearable.  Besides if we had gone the shorter route we would also have missed out on Cable Bay. An epic location for some of the biggest ice cream I’ve had in a shop. (Obviously I’ve had enormous ice cream servings at home when I’m dishing up myself, who wouldn’t) I showed myself up to be a complete amateur, asked for double scoop thinking I’d get two. Oh no, not on your nelly, what was presented to me was a large chocolate and nut dipped cone with FIVE scoops of ice cream rammed into it. I was impressed! I was even more impressed when I managed to get it outside to a table without losing any. My prowess at ice cream consuming came into its own as I devoured it before the lovely sunshine could melt it. I mean, I’m a professional at this lark after all. Managed to finish it without getting a brain freeze too! Outstanding! 

We arrived in Russell just at lunch time. Convenient right?! Managed to find a parking spot, and went on a little tour. It’s a sheer delight, and lfeels a little stuck in the past and like not much has actually moved on, there are weatherboard-style colonial buildings,  boutiques, souvenir stores and loads of places to eat, especially at the Harbour. At the harbour we had a pleasant rumble, and found the biggest Fig tree, right outside the policeman’s personal home. It kindly gave us that bit of info on the board outside it randomly. We were spoilt for choice of places to eat and we went into the one with Green shelled mussels, Si was in his element there, and the staff were really lovely. Following food we rumbled in a bit further and sat and watched the world go by.

Russell used to be known as ‘the hellhole of the Pacific’, there’s no sign of it being such a place now, although there is a coffee shop named the hellhole of the pacific.  Before it was known as a hellhole, or Russell, this was Kororāreka (Sweet Penguin), a Ngāpuhi village. At the beginning of the 19th century Māori allowed this spot to become New Zealand’s first European settlement, unfortunately it was a magnet for fleeing convicts, whalers, prostitutes and drunken sailors. I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think the Māori had the best impression of the settlers. By the 1830s dozens of whaling ships at a time were anchored in the harbour, and In 1839 Charles Darwin described it as full of ‘the very refuse of society’. Harsh but ultimately fair I feel. 

In 1830 the settlement was the scene of the Girls’ War, when two Māori women were after the attention of a whaling captain called Brind. An unfortunate meeting between the rivals on the beach led to verbal abuse and fisticuffs, which quickly escalated. Family members rallied to avenge the insult and harm done to their respective relatives. Hundreds were killed and injured over a two-week period before missionaries managed to work out s peace agreement. After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Okiato (where the car ferry now leaves from) was the residence of the governor and the temporary capital. The capital was officially moved to Auckland in 1841 and Okiato, which then known as Russell, was eventually abandoned. The name Russell ultimately replaced Kororāreka. Confusing huh?! 

 After lunch we drove to Okiato about 8km from Russell. This was to catch a ferry to Opua  rather than spend hours driving back down the road we’d travelled earlier. The ferry goes every 10 minutes and we managed to time our arrival perfectly. Driving on straight away. Less than 5 minutes and we were on the other side of the water, driving off and heading towards our final destination for the day. I’d succumbed to booking a little flat in Rangiputa, because I’m struggling a little. What a fabulous place! I fell in love with it instantly. We were welcomed warmly by our hostess for the two nights, Debbie, who showed us around the unit, and gave us all the relevant information we needed. So much care, thought and attention to detail has been taken in decor, and kitting it out. There was even spare toothbrushes (new!) in the bathroom, a sewing kit, cotton buds,

Just everything you could possibly think of and need in a home, let alone a holiday unit. The relief at being in utter comfort for two nights brought us both a great deal of excitement! Particularly the exceedingly comfortable bed, complete with a furry cwtchy blanket! It was Dave, Debbie’s husband’s birthday and they had friends coming over to celebrate it and watch the rugby. Bless them they apologised if there was any noise in advance, which was totally unnecessary, but very kind nonetheless. They are a couple who have been in New Zealand for 15years and originally from the UK. 

Their home is on the Karikari Peninsula which is oddly shaped and bends into a near-perfect right angle. The result is beaches facing north, south, east and west in close proximity, so if the wind’s annoying you or you want to catch some surf, a sunrise or a sunset, just swap beaches. I don’t think a place can be more flexible than that! The sunny peninsula, with its gum trees reminded us of Australia, and  farmers outnumber tour operators overwhelmingly. There’s no public transport and not a lot of shops or eateries. This part of New Zealand, has yet to have commercialism get its grubby little paws on it.  Rangiputa faces west at what I would call the elbow of the peninsula; with its white sandy beach and clear waters that are visible from the house. 

After the chilly damp days we’ve had recently, the balmy temperatures in the Notthland will hopefully bring me some relief, it rarely gets cold! My kinda place! 

Much Love


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