As of the last post, Jeff and I had arrived in Auckland after a beautiful train trip up the center of the North Island. In one of those rare moments of great timing, our late arrival by train (given the electrical problems) resulted in an upgrade to a club level room, so we got to be posh and comfortable for a night at the Langham Hotel.
So wonderful was this room and the hotel spa (sauna and an ice pagoda thing…), and so late was our arrival, that it was an easy decision to postpone our 7:30 am departure for a more sane sounding 1 pm one. Prying ourselves away from luxury, we rolled our carryon bags down a steep hill to the Intercity bus terminal and settled in for a sinuous drive to the Bay of Islands.
We had a choice of staying in the more party town setting of Paihia or the more laid back, sleepy town of Russell. No contest there, so we hopped onto a ferry within 10 minutes of getting to Paihia and zipped over to Russell.
The weather was cooler and wetter than we had hoped (a pattern that unfortunately repeated, guess that’s the risk of traveling off season…). But we stayed at the sweet Motel Russell with plenty of space (and a very kind hostess who drove us to the ferry as we departed in the pouring rain) and managed to eat and drink well and get in some good walks.
The highlight was an afternoon boat trip around the islands. The area is rumored to have more than 140 islands, so claimed by Captain Cook upon his visit in 1769. No one has actually counted that many since (we learned that to be called an island, a body of land has to have some surface area permanently above high tide and contain some form of vegetation). But that doesn’t detract from the beauty of this bay filled with water of all colors and at least 80 islands if not more. We took the Great Sights fast boat tour in the afternoon (maybe we should have gone to the party town after all…). Cruised around some beautiful islands, learned some history, got to hike to a lookout where the resident Maori took Captain Cook on his arrival, and learned perhaps my favorite bit of information of the whole New Zealand trip – the Bay of Islands has wild rock oysters that are safe to eat and anyone can gather. This knowledge vastly improved my day, and perhaps the trip as a whole.
For more than ten years at least, I have wanted to wade into the ocean and pull out fresh oysters (yes, we’re talking about oysters again…) to eat there and then. Fresh oysters on the docks in Normandy was amazing. But wading in and eating them immediately, that’s something else entirely. Upon our return to Russell, I asked our guide where I could find rock oysters nearby. He pointed to an outcropping just around the bay and told me all I needed was a butter knife and I’d be good to go. So Jeff and I dropped our things at our motel, grabbed one dull and one sharp(ish) knife, and headed back to the bay, going as fast as I could make us.
Luckily the tide was out just far enough to let me wade right up to the rocks, but rising so that Jeff didn’t have to eventually leave me there with a flashlight as I might well have stayed and eaten oysters all night.
This was my heaven. The oysters were phenomenal. Sweet, salty, firm, small, delightful. I honestly didn’t even mind the lack of a crisp white wine. A nice couple from Australia stopped by at one point and I shared a few with them. Some terns also wanted to share in the feast, but they were a bit scary. Then along came a pair of ducks who seemingly are above terns in the pecking order, as the terns all took off. In exchange for this service, I did share some oysters with the ducks. All in all an amazing hour or so standing in the bay, trying to pry loose, then open, these fabulous oysters. I would say that next time, a pair of thick gloves would not hurt…
(photo credits, Jeff Baumgartner)
The next day it was time to depart and start our voyage towards the South Island. We spent a quick night in rainy Whangarei. Nothing much to report from there except perhaps one of the best Thai meals I’ve ever eaten at Suk Jai Thai. A flight from the teeny airport at Whangarei took us to Auckland where we had to dash, cut in line, and dash some more to get to our flight to Wellington. They were calling last boarding, but as it turns out they still had a line a mile long to get on the plane. I tend to worry too much about logistics and this was one of those times I could have slowed down a bit. Most notable on this flight were the strikingly beautiful flight attendants and the only safety video I’ve actually watched in years of flying. Air New Zealand got the All Blacks rugby team to do the safety video (they are absolute national heroes and recent winners, yet again, of the Rugby World Cup). If you’re really bored, like stuck on a plane bored, you can watch it here.
Why back to Wellington and not fly directly to the South Island? Only one reason: to sail through the Marlborough Straights. Next post, a beautiful ride south to the land of green lipped oysters and unreasonably beautiful countryside.