Top five: Bay of Islands, NZ
There is nothing easier than driving from Auckland to the Bay of Island because there is only one road. You find that road, you follow it for 3.5 hours and then you’re in Paihia, the bayside village that is the gateway to Northland.
The Spark and I went up there on a second honeymoon because hey, why stop at one?
Here’s what we loved:
1. Dolphin cruise to Hole in the Rock
Highlights included watching a Scandinavian man getting into the water to snorkel with the dolphins (in NZ in mid-winter – we found this highly amusing), the bar on the boat, the funny yarns the captain told over the PA system (he was a huge, hilarious Māori bloke), and sailing through the Hole in the Rock just like Māori warriors have done for centuries.
2. Lunch at Marsden Estate Vineyard
This is the original vineyard established by Reverend Marsden, the first missionary to arrive in the region. He planted the vines to make sacramental wine (yeah right). Today, the restaurant out the back is bustling with locals enjoying a glass of Northland’s finest wines and local produce. The food is top notch and the tasting bench gives you a chance to try a cross-section of the varietals grown in the area.
3. Kerikeri Mission Station, Stone Store and Kemp House
This is the site of the first white settlement in Northland but it was also home to a Māori settlement because of its fresh water supply and access to the ocean. Not only is a pretty spot to stop and have a cuppa; it’s also historically significant as this is where Māoris and missionaries first started trading wares. The Pear Tree Café, named after the crotchety-looking original pear tree in the parking lot, overlooks a weir, and the Stone Store has a first rate gift shop for retro reproduction wares.
4. Waitangi Treaty Grounds
For some reason, I find Māori (and all Polynesian) history fascinating. Waitangi Treaty Grounds is no exception. This is where the English signed a treaty with the Māori Chiefs to establish sovereignty and the Māoris got royally screwed over. The documents were translated in such a way that the English language version didn’t match the Māori language translation. This devastating story aside, the treaty grounds are home to ceremonial canoes (‘wakas’) carved from kauri timber, a pond that is home to an endangered eel species, a world class museum and traditional meeting house (‘marai’). The guide who took us around the site was, by far, one of the funniest people I have ever come across. Her name is Rehu. Seriously try and track this woman down.
5. Heritage Boutique Waterfront Suites, Bay of Islands
We spent the whole time we were up north running around from dawn to dusk so it was with great relief that we would return to our luxury townhouse for a shower and dinner. This stylishly modern apartment-style hotel is in the heart of town and has views over the bay. Centred around a heated pool and with underground parking, the rooms have everything you could possibly need for a comfortable stay.