Lori Guretzki

Article Summary:

An overview of a vacation at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand Vacation

My husband and I flew with Air New Zealand from Vancouver, B.C. changing planes in Honolulu and some 18 hours later, arrived at the Auckland International Airport. The airport, located in the suburb of Mangere, is the largest and busiest airport on the North Island of New Zealand. An Independent Nation and a member of the British Commonwealth, the first settlers in New Zealand were the Maori Indians. Throughout the North Island, the two official languages are English and Maori and the currency they use is NZD "New Zealand Dollars".

We had reserved a room at the Hotel Grand Chancellor Hotel. The hotel's shuttle bus picked us up at the airport for the short 5 minute ride to the hotel. Spending the first night of our arrival in a hotel close to the airport allowed us to catch up on missed sleep and avoid feeling some of the jet lag we usually suffer on long trips. We awoke the next morning feeling quite refreshed and ready to face the next part of our trip.

We rented a car and off we went, on our way to the Bay of Islands, an approximate three hour drive North of Auckland. Driving on the left hand side of the road can be a challenge, we found in the cities it was easy to just follow the other vehicles however on the country roads where traffic was minimal, meeting other vehicles sometimes proved to be interesting and sometimes a challenge for the native New Zealanders. When we did happen to make little mistakes, like in their roundabouts, they were always polite and very gracious about it.

We took the Motorway from Auckland to Orewa and then State Highway One through Whangarei to Kawakawa and on to Route 11 to the Bay of Islands. The routes were well marked, making it very easy for us to follow them. We drove through the township of Kerikeri "known as North Island's Top Small Town" and continued on until we came to Aratika, the holiday home we had rented. We drove through a wire gate at the top of a steep hill, followed the narrow trail through lush trees and native brush until we came to a clearing. There sat the house facing out towards the Pacific Ocean.

We were delighted with our accommodations; the three bedroom house had an unobstructed view of the ocean from almost every room in the house, a wood burning fireplace, a television and phone and a modern kitchen including a washing machine. We had a private beach and 12 acres of land all to ourselves for an entire four weeks.

Every day we ate an unlimited amount of fresh, sweet grapefruit, tangerines and apples picked from the trees on the property; it doesn't get any fresher than that!

The Kiwi Bird is indigenous to New Zealand. They can grow to the size of a chicken and although they are New Zealand's national bird, you will probably never see one. They are notoriously secretive and although we kept out eyes open hoping to catch a glimpse of one during our walks on Aratika that never happened.

Accommodations in the Bay of Islands and surrounding areas were varied and numerous from the Homestead Motel and the Village Inn in Kerikeri, to holiday camps, and Farmstays or for those looking for a more quiet and serene type of vacation, there is Crab Cove Retreat, a one of a kind, luxurious B & B, perfect for two people, nestled in a Cliffside in the South Pacific Bay area.

Each day we went driving, looking for a new area to investigate and we were never disappointed nor did we ever run out of places to visit. The Stone Store, located in the Kerikeri Basin was built in the 1800's and is New Zealand's oldest stone building. The Arts and Crafts Trail, consisting of some twenty outlets in close proximity, where tourists can purchase hand made ceramics, pottery and items crafted from wood. There was a definite Maori theme in many of the crafts we saw. The hand made shawls, hats and mitts, and my favorite, beautiful sweaters knitted from lamb's wool were very reasonably priced.

In the same area of the Stone Store was Rainbow Falls "meaning Waters of the Rainbow", a beautiful cascading waterfall set in amongst lush trees and fragrant flowers; this was a very popular tourist site. The area was shaded and the falls gave off a spray that was a welcome relief from the hot afternoon sun.

There were many restaurants and cafes in Kerikeri that offered mouth watering dishes for everyone's taste including many that offered vegetarian meals. Fish and chip lunches were our favorite or roast lamb served on a bun however after spending a few weeks touring the countryside and seeing all those adorable baby lambs, I could easily have become a vegetarian. Vanilla Ice cream was the crème de le crème, made from real cream and pavlova, a desert made from meringue, topped with fresh fruits like kiwi and pineapple and real whip cream left us definitely wanting more. Anyone trying to diet while visiting New Zealand would find it sheer torture.

Kerikeri offered a large grocery store for the weekly shopping items, bakeries for the freshest breads and mouthwatering goodies and for the freshest of fruit and vegetables, local farmers would set out their produce in their sheds and leave the doors open. Customers would help themselves to what they needed and leave the money in the can that was provided. Where else is there such trust among neighbors?

Everywhere we went, in the towns, villages and countryside, the New Zealanders were very friendly, very helpful and loved to visit with us. We became good friends with the proprietors of our holiday home at Aratika. We spent time visiting with them at their home, their property was just up the road within easy walking distance. Their beautiful home was set in amongst several acres of green grass and lush forest overlooking the ocean. Although some of the property had been developed to make way for gardens and pasture land, the area was still secluded enough to be a peaceful retreat.

On one of our visits to their home, we were invited to stay for Sunday lunch. We ate homemade piklets "a small pancake" with home preserved jam and afterwards we helped feed the sheep and goats on their property.

Not bad for a city girl!

On days when we didn't feel like taking a long trip, we would take a drive in the country. We could drive on for miles and see nothing but beautiful green, lush grass with herds of sheep grazing lazily in the afternoon sun. The adorable baby lambs would be frolicking not far away from mom, not a care in the world.

Paihia is the main center and the "Jewel" of the Bay of Islands. On one of our visits, we sat on the grass at the Paihia Warf and ate Fish and Chips and because the servings were so large, we fed the rest of our lunch to a couple of seagulls that were hanging around us. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by many birds, it was time to leave.

We boarded a passenger ferry at the Paihia Warf for the short ride to the township of Russell and we were pleasantly surprised. What a quaint little village, it was like we had stepped back in time with its craft galleries, outside restaurants and white picket fences. The Christ Church is New Zealand's oldest church and although we didn't tour it, we were told there were actual bullet holes still in the walls from the Maori Wars. In contrast to all the history in the village, there were upscale and very modern B & B's and hotels, some overlooking the harbor. What a spectacular view they must have!

Another great day out and about was spent visiting 90 Mile Beach; a very popular subtropical area with sand dunes and miles of open beach. We enjoyed our picnic lunch, sitting on the sand, protected from the wind by a large sand dune. It was easy to spend an entire day doing nothing but walking on the beach and checking out the sea shells that were left after each wave would hit the shore with a great crash. That was so relaxing.

The Bay of Islands was a definite change of pace from the hectic city life that we were used to. It offered us an opportunity to "stop and smell the roses" by forcing us to slow down and enjoy the things around us that we might otherwise have missed. Like, the sweet smell of perfume from flowers growing wild on the side of a country road or noticing how green the grass was on the side of a hill, how cute a lamb's face was or just to sit and listen to the birds singing in the trees. New Zealanders know what is important in life; family, friends, home grown food and fresh clean air.

Final Comments
You will need a Passport with an expiry date of approximately 3 months past the date of your exit from New Zealand. If you plan to rent a car, the laws for driving are same as they are at home. Be prepared for a fabulous holiday!

Lori Guretzki lives in Abbotsford, B.C. with her husband of 23 years. By day, she is an Administrative Assistant in a large high school in Abbotsford, by night she has a home based business called Lori's Canine Creations and in her off times, she shares her love of traveling to all corners of the world with her husband. Lori's latest accomplishment is her book, soon to be published, The Reluctant Traveller, about holidaying in Peru, South America.

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