there New Zealand” href=”http://riverecho.com/photos/photo/3716187274/russell-new-zealand.html”>more about New Zealand” width=”240″ height=”180″ /> I spent the latter half of last week in the Bay of Islands with Tara and Will, who were enjoying a week-long tour of the north island and probably the last international trip they’ll go on for a little while, being that Tara is five months pregnant. BJ wasn’t able to join us but I am so glad I made the effort to get up there and meet up with them. They picked me up from the airport at noon on Thursday and we immediately started driving north to the small town of Russell. Most people would recognize Pahia as the hub for the Bay of Islands, but after a little research Tara found out that Russell, located just a ten minute ferry ride from Pahia, has a lot more character. We especially enjoyed the car ferry to Russell, which started to pull away from the dock just as Will was driving on board – it gave us a little scare but seemed to be pretty normal practice. We stayed in a hotel right on the beach and despite a bit of cold and wet weather, it was a beautiful place.
Bay of Islands is in fact a huge bay of islands and the water, even in the shade, is bright green. The best way to see the islands is via some sort of boat tour and after a couple hours of reviewing the brochures for the various boat companies, Will finally took the initiative and decided he didn’t like the yellow boat just because it was yellow. So the following morning we jumped on the white boat and hugged the coastline as we made our way out to the very end of the peninsula of the bay to a place called Hole in the Rock, which is quite literally a big hole in a rock. On calmer days sometimes the boats will pass slowly through the hole, but huge waves were pounding the cavern when we got there. We were quite content with not going through the hole as it was an amazing sight to see regardless.
Once back in Russell, we spontaneously decided to check out a historic tannery just down the road from our hotel. We thought we’d spend about five or ten minutes checking it out but were nicely surprised after an hour long tour of the place. Russell was in fact the main port in New Zealand for many years before Auckland, and although many of the original buildings are no longer there, the tannery still exists. The tannery was started by a French Protestant missionary who used a printing press to create and distribute stories from the bible and turned cow hides into leather to bind the books. Shortly after the arrival of many Europeans, the Maori actually sent two of their head chiefs to England to make the Maori language a written language. The printing press and tannery actually only printed books in the Maori language and as these shortened bibles were spread throughout New Zealand, more and more of the Maori people became literate. There is, obviously, so much more to the story but I’ll hold off on writing it all. If you ever end up in Russell, make sure to pop in for a tour in the tannery.
As we were leaving the tannery, one of the women on the tour said she was in a hurry to watch a drag queen race taking place on the dock. This, not surprisingly, caught our attention. It turned out that we were in town for the annual Russell Birdman Festival, which all started a couple years back when a local dressed up as a kiwi bird and rode a bike off the dock, trying to catch a bit of flight. It’s now a weekend long festival complete with a drag queen race as a kick-off event. We watched the lovely lady men strut their stuff through town, stopping at various check points where they had to drink a cocktail or put on fish net stockings before moving on. It was quite entertaining.
We woke up to rain the following morning which put a bit of a damper on watching the birdman competition and although we were sad to miss out we decided to head west to the Kauri forests instead of stand in the rain and wait to see if they would cancel the event. The Kauri trees were amazing and definitely worth seeing. Standing in a grove of much smaller trees the presence of a kauri tree, which can be as old as 2000 years old, is overwhelming. They are huge and we had trouble fitting the entire tree into a single photograph. If you can make the three of us out at the bottom of the photo, we are standing in front of a Kauri tree to give a little perspective.
It felt like an action packed weekend and went by way to fast, but on Saturday night we made our way back to Auckland before the three of us would fly out the following day . . . me heading back to Punakaiki and Tara and Will back to Boulder, Colorado. During our endless conversation, we had to continually remind ourselves that we were actually hanging out in New Zealand . . . it was so great to see them.
BJ picked me up in Westport on Sunday and we immediately drove out to The Bayhouse, a restaurant on Cape Foulwind (it doesn’t actually smell) that came highly recommended from our friend Brendan back in Queenstown. We sat down for a long lunch overlooking the Tasman Sea on a beautiful West Coast afternoon. As much fun as I had up on the North Island, it was so good to come back “home” to BJ and the West Coast. We returned to Punakaiki to spend the evening doing another dry run to see if we could fit all of our stuff. This time I was way more willing to purge and we enthusiastically got all our stuff into a backpack and carry-on . . . oh, and a bike each. Not very motivated to cook, we went down to the local Punakaiki Tavern for dinner and a beer. And finally, today, we are carless. We drove down to Greymouth with Phil to transfer ownership, stock up on a final week of groceries, go to lunch, and teach Phil how to drive a standard car. Phil also took us to the local polytech, where he had taken a jade carving class about ten years ago, so that we could see all of the tools that he used to carve jade. Turns out it is the only place in New Zealand that offers a certificate in jade carving . . . any artists out there should consider signing up.
I can’t believe our time is coming to an end down here. As we plan out the flights, campgrounds, hotels, rental cars, etc for the weeks ahead, we are feeling both excited about our upcoming travels as well as sad to leave a place we have become so attached to. We’ve seen and done so much but we still feel like there is so much more to see and do. We’ll make the most of the next two weeks but I am sure we’ll be back again someday.
P.S. I experienced firsthand the new safety video presented on all Air New Zealand flights this weekend. Pretty funny . . . this would never fly in the states. Take a look.