The Bay of Islands situated in the far north of New Zealand is one of the most idyllic places on earth. Nearly ninety years ago an adventurer who was also one of the world’s most popular authors rounded the headland of Cape Brett in what has been termed “the edge of the world”, dolphins leaping through the crystal bow wave as he sailed past fabulous tropical islands. Zane Grey, whose tales of the Wild West have captivated millions of readers, was enthralled as he gazed at the beauty and spectacular scenery of the Bay of Islands, near the remote northernmost tip of New Zealand.
Zane, the author of the timeless Riders of the Purple Sage and dozens of other novels of frontier life, was so enchanted by the Bay that he couldn’t say enough about it. He returned again and again, recording his impressions of the area and of the game fishing experiences that led to him to hold two world records. Little has changed since he first rounded Cape Brett. Zane wrote about the white sand beaches of the Bay stretching around a stunning coastline to Kerikeri, the artist’s town with its wineries, where he liked to relax with a bottle of the local Sauvignon Blanc. He would wander through orange and grapefruit orchards, or follow the four-kilometre river track leading to the thundering cascade of Rainbow Falls.
On the long evenings, he must have wondered at the beauty of the dolphins at play. Dolphins that today take equal delight in playing with swimmers wanting to get nearer to these intelligent and highly sociable creatures.
Likely too, he would have watched the antics of the Blue Penguins and the Gannets, whilst marvelling at whales surfacing far out amongst the The Bay of Islands has some 150 islands – many of which remain relatively unexplored and, around the Poor Knights Islands that he would have undoubtedly known, there is diving that Jacques Cousteau rated as amongst the very best in the world, with an abundance of marine wildlife including Manta Rays and Killer Whales. There are over one hundred fine dive sites around the Bay area, with corals, rocky coastlines, and wrecks to explore.
Catch your dinner or catch a sunset or go fishing in the Bay of Islands. Added to which, game fishing doesn’t get any better than here at the Bay of Islands, where you’ll see Marlin, Kingfish and Snapper. Even if you’re not a diving or fishing fanatic, you can still make your way out to the islands – go for a sailing trip, charter a yacht, or rent a canoe.
This is the place for bird enthusiasts to see the Blue Penguins as well as Grey Warblers, Tui, Pukeko, and the endangered New Zealand Dotterel.
Explore the islands your way with a rented boat Or you could take “The Cream Trip”. Back in the 20’s, you might well have seen the Undine, a small gaff-rigged sailboat, which still sails today making its steady progress around the Bay to the dairy farms on the islands. Collecting cream produce and dropping off mail and supplies, it was also a handy way for some of the Bay’s inhabitants to visit their friends and relatives. Today, you can take a day trip to those very same islands.
Roberton Island, which explorer Captain James Cook gave the Bay its modern name when he stopped here in 1769 during his epic voyage. Whilst anchored up at Motoroahia (Roberton Island) he met some of the local Maori tribes and was soon trading on friendly terms. Those same tribes still live in Northland. You can find out more at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, only a half-hour stroll along the beach from Paihia. Here, on Waitangi Day, 6th February, you can see some of the largest war canoes in the world in action, a truly impressive sight.
At Waitangi you can enjoy a superb round of golf on the 18-hole course in the National Reserve, taking in the same spectacular elevated views of the Pacific that Zane revelled in. The course was created in 1945 and remains a great draw for golfers near and far who like to finish a game on a spectacular sunset.
Then there are the many fine restaurants in the Bay where you’ll find the best gourmet cooking and warmest hospitality. Some of the friendliest bars in New Zealand too! Take a short ferry ride, from the vibrant seaside town of Paihia, to the elegant township of Russell, once an industrious whaling community but now a favourite destination where you can enjoy great seafood right on the waterfront, or at The Duke of Marlborough, an original whaling pub that today hosts some of New Zealand’s biggest music acts.
One can always take time out to explore the rare beauty that is the island of Urupukapuka, and stroll beneath the vibrant scarlet Pohutakawa trees. Or go horse riding on the numerous lush trails that wind their way across the span of the Bay.
Marvel too at the ancient Giant Kauri Trees of the Waipou Forest, especially the extraordinary 2,000 year-old, 51 metre high Tane Mahuta, with its amazing 14 metre trunk circumference. Then trek out to Cape Brett Lighthouse, power-boat through the majestic Hole in the Rock, go for a cruise on a Tall ship, sky dive, boogie board on the sand dunes, visit glow-worm caves and mountain bike to your heart’s content – all in a subtropical wonderland with an average summer temperature of 24°C and year-round friendly locals.
In fact, there’s so much to see and do in the Bay of Islands that there just isn’t room enough here to describe it all. It’s the busiest, quietest place you’ll ever come to, and it lies under the bluest skies in the world (official!). It really is a place so special and rich to the senses that you need to come and experience it for yourself – just as Zane Gray did nearly ninety years ago.
The photograph of the vineyard with a wonderful view, just outside Russell was taken 4th September 2009