At the very edge of the world in New Zealand’s North Island is the world famous maritime park of 144 islands known for its stunning beauty, spectacular scenery and colourful history, The Bay of Islands. The Bay of Islands also includes the tourist towns of Russell, Opua, Waitangi, and Paihia.
Renowned explorer Capt. James Cook gave the Bay its modern name when he stopped here in 1769 on his world voyage. That’s why the Bay of Islands was the first area in New Zealand to be settled by the Europeans. However, it was the wealthy American western novelist and fisherman Zane Grey who publicised the Bay of Islands in the 1920s through his “Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado” adventure of big-game fishing when he arrived here with an entourage including photographers and cooks. He promoted New Zealand`s big-game fishing. Today there is a bar on one of the islands bearing the name of Zane Grey.
From December to June the Bay of Islands becomes one of the world’s most popular areas for big-game fishing to catch blue and striped marlins, yellowtail kingfish, snappers, yellowfin tuna, broadbills, and sharks.
The Bay of Islands is often referred to as the “birthplace of New Zealand” because it was here in the town of Waitangi where the representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs signed an agreement that cemented the first relationships of the Europeans with the local Maoris.
To reach the Bay of Islands we have to drive for about three hours north of the city of Auckland toward the seaside resort town of Paihia, an excellent wonderful starting base to explore the Bay of Islands. Known as the “Jewel of the Bay of Islands”, Paihia as we discovered it is a place of friendly locals, cafes and people leisurely enjoying life.
The best way to see and explore the Bay of Islands is by boat. From Paihia we took a “Discover the Bay Cruise“ (US$89 for adults & US$45 for child) on a high-speed yellow and black Dolphin Discovery catamaran which is fully-licensed with a range of drinks and snacks available for purchase. The bay trip included cruise among the several islands of varying sizes dotting about the clear blue waters of the bay with a skipper making commentaries along the way. Meeting the dolphins/whales added more excitement. However, we’re not lucky to see these mammals although we learned beforehand that dolphins are viewed on over 90% of cruise trips. There is a guarantee (not a money back guarantee) given by the cruise company that if dolphins or whales are not seen a non-transferable voucher will be given to come again for free. (Forget it: it’s too expensive to come back here!)
A highlight of the bay cruise was the visit to the iconic “Hole in the Rock” located on the island of Motukokako, also known as Piercy Island. Because the waters were calm and the tide was right our boat went through this 60-foot (18m.) hole at sea level created over centuries by wind and waves.
On our way back to Paihia wharf we stopped at the Otehei Bay resort situated at the largest island of the bay, Urupukapuka Island with panoramic views all around. We enjoyed the hilly winding walking tracks and the peace and quiet of this beautiful island rich in early Maori and European history.
“Haere ra”, goodbye. We’ll see you next at the world-famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves, still in New Zealand.
TRIVIA: “In a 2006 study, the Bay of Islands was found to have the second bluest sky in the world after Rio de Janeiro.`