Special Six: Bay of Islands trip

RES_ea137e0a-6237-4f3b-9198-41566bd0534eSELRES_ea137e0a-6237-4f3b-9198-41566bd0534eDuring my April trip to New Zealand, I took a 3 day tour from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, with Stray tour. I am not much of a group tour person but since I needed to travel to the Hokianga, and there was only one public transport service which only ran twice a week from Keri Keri and this was the only tour that I came across that went to the area, I decided to take it.

In addition to the optional skydiving experience with Skydive Bay of Islands on the first afternoon, the special six highlights of my Stray tour with Muesli, our tour guide and driver, and 6 other travelers, were the following:

(1) Visiting McKinney Kauri

Our first stop on the tour was to see the McKinney – a beautiful kauri tree. The guide mentioned that the kauri tree and the spiritual significance it holds for Maoris had inspired James Cameron in Avatar. I also learnt of kauri dieback, the disease that was killing a lot of the kauri trees and other native species.

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(2) A glass of wine at the oldest running bar in New Zealand

If in Paihia, one has to take the ferry across to Russell Island for a visit to the Duke of Marlborough for a glass of wine. The pub, established in 1840, is the oldest running licensed hotel and bar in the country. The website of the hotel has an outline of its interesting history from its infamous start to its current owners and their vision.

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Stray tour includes a ticket to Russell island in their package, though the return ticket needs to be purchased separately directly on the ferry.

(3) Cruise around the bay of islands

The Stray tour package had partnered with another tour operator, to include a 3 hour cruise around the bay, with the captain pointing out islands with an interesting story or marine life. I was out in the bow area, for most of it, scanning the sea for signs of dolphins. Two dolphins did finally take pity on us and showed up to greet us and play alongside the boat a little.

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Can you spot the two seals lounging on the rocky outcrop?

After we passed the bird rock, where the seals were lounging, another lovely landscape greeted us. A pretty lighthouse, though I don’t think I would want to live in that little cottage down that slope from the lighthouse, very much isolated from the rest of the islands. I did see someone fishing by the rocks below, probably someone living in that cottage.
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There was a sense of excitement and anticipation building within the boat once we passed this and it was all for the final highlight of the cruise – the hole in the rock.

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The highlight about the rock was not the rock in itself, but that the captain maneuvered the boat through the rock.

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Emerging from the rock

(4) Picnic lunch at Waitangi

Following the cruise, our little group was quite tired. Our guide asked us to pick up a picnic lunch from town, which we could have at Waitangi. I had wanted to visit the Waitangi treaty ground the previous afternoon but I had missed it as I had chosen to go skydiving. Therefore, I welcomed the opportunity of at least having a quiet lunch overlooking the bay, with the treaty ground behind us.
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It was interesting to hear our guide’s story about the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and how two language versions of a treaty led to land being taken away from the native population and the start of colonization.

(5) Walking around Opononi

On the way back to Auckland from Hokianga, we first stopped at Opononi for a sandboarding activity included in our package. I was not interested in trying it out and instead was more interested in this tiny village called Opononi, which had been named after a dolphin.

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So, after the rest of the group took off on the little boat with their instructor to the sandboarding area, I went for a little walk around the tiny village.

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Opo had been a little friendly dolphin, who had been coming into the bay area and playing with children. The dolphin became very popular across the country that families brought children from around the country to meet the dolphin. When the friendly dolphin passed away, it was laid to rest here and the village named after Opo, the dolphin.

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(6) Visiting Tane Mahuta

After the rest of the group finished their sandboarding adventure and returned to Opononi, we continued our journey. Our guide then made a brief stop for us to visit Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest. While the exact age of this majestic kauri tree is not known, it is thought to be over 2000 years old.
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The rest of my group had actually gone on an optional cultural activity the night before, where they were treated to a Maori cultural experience in the forest visiting Tane Mahuta and listening to local folklore and rituals. While I had skipped the night visit to the forest in favour of catching up with my friend, I was glad that I had the opportunity for this brief visit into the forest to meet this majestic tree considered the giver of life in the Maori culture.

There were a few more places we stopped at during the three days, but the above six are my special six of the experiences I had with the Stray tour. It was also lovely that this Stray tour group was small and Muesli knew the right balance between giving us the space and narrating anecdotes during the drive. So, it is sometimes nice to mix up independent traveling with mini tours with tour groups, provided the tour operator and group you are with are pleasant.

Have you been to the Bay of Islands area? What was your highlight? If not, are you thinking of traveling there?

“Untold