Sunday, 11 November 2018

Whangarei to Russell & Back

We're about to head off into the wilds of the coastal Far North so I'm thinking that internet reception may be a little intermittent over the next few weeks....though probably just as intermittent as my blog posts have been lately. So if you don't see me for awhile you'll know I'm out there making memories....and shooting photos for you! 

After leaving the DOC camp at Uretiti it was just a short trip up the road to Whangarei where my sister, Gaelyn and family live; not too far from the beautiful Whangarei Falls.

The last time we visited, back in 2013, we were able to park the rig in their driveway but it's not just the trees that have grown, the kids have too and there are now extra vehicles in the drive.

'No worries', my sister said, 'there's plenty of space at their 'do-up' just down the road' (which had been 'done-up' and was for sale).  'I'm sure you'll be able to pull off the narrow road' she said 'get through the gate and up the slope without dragging your bum, and before a passing car doing 70kph comes around the bend and collects you!'. Not too mention the overhanging trees and the sodden ground.....and the approaching storm.

We do choose some difficult sites but David did a grand job getting into this one. No lawns were harmed while turning the rig either....well hardly any lawn. Not only was it a challenge to get backed in between the garage & the house without damaging any corners, there was a torrential rain and thunderstorm raging overhead while we were doing it! 

Luckily 'Out There' fitted perfectly onto the only flat section of concrete there was, although the front legs had to be extended quite a way. And for only the 2nd time in 6 years I was able to walk under the nose without ducking. For the first couple of nights I had visions of us careening off down the slope, busting through the fence, clearing the road and landing in the river! 

It turned out to be the perfect place for us though; we had our own space, it was just a short walk to the family and it was lovely to have a large garden to enjoy along with the amazing bird life and dawn chorus, not to mention the constant cluck, cluck, clucking of the neighbours chooks as they laid their daily eggs. We could have very nearly got sucked into the suburban bricks & mortar lifestyle again....I did say 'very nearly'    

Gae and David (her husband is also David) and a group of their friends head to Russell for the weekend every year to attend the Paihia Wine & Food Festival. We joined them for brunch on the Sunday, leaving Whangarei early in the morning and travelling 65km to Opua to catch the car ferry across to Russell. Fog lay thick over the Hikurangi Swamp and through the valleys for much of the way.

We still made good time and only had a few minutes wait for the next ferry once we reached Opua.

We know Opua very well, it was like visiting an old friend. Back in another life we rented a berth at the Opua Marina and used it as a base for summer after we motored our launch up from Tauranga. We spent the summer exploring the Bay of Islands and further north, usually anchoring overnight in a quiet bay somewhere and only returning to the marina when bad weather was imminent or we needed marine supplies.

Some of these photos were taken on the return crossing later in the day (hence the cloud change). Here's some useless information for you, can you see the boat garage in the bottom left photo? That's Okaito Point and the 'mansion' that the garage belongs to was built using drug money by Terry Clark of  'Mr Asia' fame (or infamy as the case may be). Apparently a hatch door inside a wardrobe in the house led to an escape passage under the house that exited near the water and would have been ideal for a quick getaway by boat.

It was just a short drive to Russell from the ferry and it didn't take us long to locate the house the group had rented for the weekend; there aren't too many houses along the waterfront in this lovely tiny sheltered bay (except when a westerly is blowing). The views were fabulous, the Russell wharf framed by pohutukawas in one direction...

and Paihia across the water in another.

Amongst the boats anchored out in front of us was this cute little boat who we nicknamed 'Little Toot' until we managed to see her name  'Little Effort'.

After a leisurely champagne brunch I left the others relaxing on the deck while I wandered along the waterfront.

For a usually very busy little tourist town, the beach and bay were uncharacteristically deserted...

Russell was one of New Zealand's first European settlements and the original street plan and names from 1843 are still in place today. The town also features some of New Zealand’s oldest and most significant historic buildings. Russell/Kororareka was developed initially as a shore station for shipping (click the photos to enlarge). 

The Old Customs House 1870
I love the warning at the end!
As the European population grew, with a mixture of deserting seamen, runaway convicts, and grog sellers, as well as settlers and traders, the township gained a reputation as a lawless and rowdy port and the unflattering nickname “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. 

After New Zealand became a colony in 1840 all hotels selling alcohol had to have liquor licences and the very first license was granted to the owner of the Duke of Marlborough Hotel. This very popular hotel is the fourth on the site.

The Duke of Marlborough
The tranquil morning was about to disappear...

... as numerous fast and slow passenger ferries and tour boats began arriving at the wharf. And from the wharf I could see why; a cruise liner was in town, it's passengers being ferried in tenders across to Paihia where those that wanted to, caught ferries across to Russell.

The Russell Four Square building (built in the 1880s) is a Historic Places Category 2 building (Category 2 stands for a significant place). It is the only surviving 19th Century trading store still fulfilling it's original purpose on the Russell waterfront. The exterior of the building is corrugated iron and forms the main bracing for the building. If the corrugated iron were removed, the building would fall down. 

The Gables (1847) is one of the oldest buildings in Russell, and is also a listed Historic Places Trust building. Over the years it has been a bordello, bakery, shop, Salvation Army boys’ home and even a hiding place for sailors who had jumped ship. Now it looks to be a great restaurant.

The pièce de résistance (IMHO) is at the far end of the street; Pompallier Mission. Built in 1842, the building originally housed a printery where Church texts were translated from Latin to te reo Maori. Today the printery stands as New Zealand's oldest industrial building as well as the oldest of rammed-earth construction.

It was great to revisit Russell and have a some time to explore. Our previous visits were to the wharf on the boat, and back then there was no time for exploring. While David held fort at the casual berth fending off dozens of holiday makers arriving on their boats for the same purpose, I'd race down the gangway to the 4Square where I'd grab supplies left, right and centre, hoping I didn't miss anything important (like wine) and being careful not to grab too much as I wouldn't be able to man-handle them back down the crowded wharf and back onto the boat by myself. It was not an enjoyable experience I can tell you. 

On our way home we stopped for fuel in Kawakawa, home of the world famous Hundertwasser toilets. It's just about impossible to photograph them without anybody in the frame, especially when you only have a few minutes...

...and need to go yourself! This is one toilet where it's not unusual to take your camera in with you and take photos!

This colourful public toilet was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He first visited NZ in the 1970s for an exhibition of his work and then decided to make the country his second home, living not far from Kawakawa. In 1998 with the help of the community he transformed the town’s public toilets into a work of art, and the rest, as they say, is history!

There are a couple of buildings opposite the toilets that have their own take on Hundertwasser design.

With a cruise ship in nearby Paihia and smaller tours visiting the town, the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway had trains running between Kawakawa and Taumarere, they do also run most weekends throughout the year.

I was also able to bag a number of churches in Russell and on the way home; 

Top left, clockwise- 
Christ Church (1835), Russell- the oldest existing church in NZ, there are musket ball holes in the wetherboards left from the 1845 Battle of Kororareka.
Former Methodist Church (circa 1917), Russell 
Historic Kaurihohore Church (1861)- branch of the Waipu Church & the oldest Presbyterian Church in Northland.
St Michaels and All Angels Church, Towai, built in 1914 & relocated to present site in 2009
Kaurihohore cemetery
St Andrews Church, Taumarere- erected in Paihia in 1874 and barged to this site in 1926


  1. Your pic of the falls is stunning. I'm half expecting a Diplodocus to appear under the bridge. Russell sounds a cool place to visit too ...on my possibles list i think :)

    1. Haha....I had to look up that creature, I knew it would have been a dinosaur of sorts. Yes it's a lovely waterfall and right in the city too. Russell definitely needs to go on your list, even as a day visit, it's a great little village with a lot of history.

  2. We saw Whangarei Falls in rain, holding umbrella :). If it was sunny we would have headed straight to Uretiti Beach.
    Russell was our favourite. Had nice dinner at The Gables.

    1. We've had our fair share of rain up north too but at long last the sun is shining and summer has well and truly arrived.


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