Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Around the World: Bay of Islands

December 21, 1991

There's not much exploring to do in Paihia. It's a touristy town, called "The Gateway to the Bay of Islands", full of shops and cafes, and the hostel I'm staying at.  It's known as the starting point for tours around the Bay of Islands. Gail and I took a ferry to Russell for some local history.

Russell is formerly known as "The Hell Hole of the Pacific" and home to New Zealand's oldest surviving church. After the Maori chased British defenders out of the town in 1845, the inhabitants fled aboard ships and proceeded to shell the town until it was pretty much leveled. The church still bears scars of cannonball and musket fire from that time.

New Zealand's oldest church, "Christ Church" in Russell
Photo by Pulv, from Wikipedia Commons

Russell's reputation has improved considerably since, and is now quite a peaceful place full of cafes, touristy shops and bed and breakfast accommodation.

From Russell, we hitched a ride from an older couple from Wales to Long Beach. It was described as one of the more beautiful beaches in the area, but the rocky beach and weedy water was a disappointment. There were little crabs scurrying in the shallow water which made swimming a bit unnerving with these little creatures under my feet.

Gail and I set off on a hike for Haruru Falls, following poorly marked trails, but it was still awesome. After an hour of walking, we found a boardwalk trail through a mangrove forest.  We sat in the middle of the bridge to savour the scenery when we were treated to the shadow of a manta ray just under the water's surface, gliding right under the bridge beneath us.

Trail through mangrove forest en route to Haruru Falls.
Photo by Julia Gardner

Finally, after over two hours of hiking the trail through the forest, we arrived at the falls. After taking in the scenery, we realized we were rapidly running out of daylight and with the trail being poorly marked, it would be too risky to follow it back in the dark. We found a road and tried to hitch a ride back to the hostel. A dozen cars passed us before one finally stopped.

The driver and her friend invited us into their beat-up green station wagon. After we asked them to take us to or near our destination, up went the volume on the stereo and down went the foot on the gas pedal.  Our driver and her friend screeched out the lyrics to a country song about poor Diane driving down to Dixie that was on the radio. I watched the needle on the speedometer hover around 140km/hr. Once we got out of the car, Gail and I laughed off the terror and thanked our lucky stars for arriving home safely.

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"Perhaps we're too embarrassed to change or too frightened of the consequences of showing that we actually care. But why not risk it anyway?
Begin today. Carry out a random act of seemingly senseless kindness,
with no expectation of reward or punishment, safe in the knowledge that one day, someone somewhere might do the same for you."
~Lady Diana Frances Spencer, Princess of Wales