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Published: March 4th 2010
Hole in the Rock on the Bay of Islands
The small town of Paihia is a backpacker's paradise. It has several restaurants and cafes, a tiny but cute library and a sweet little weekly farmer's market.
Paihia also has plenty of backpacker bars (our favorite name is the "Pickled Parrot"), serving mediocre beer and advertising special events. The weekly lineup for a bar close to our motel includes:
"Toga Party - TONITE!"
"Wet T-shirt contest- Wednesday!"
Alas, we are no longer 22 (actually, we were never this kind of 22-year-old). So instead we've decided to take to the water and explore the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands is undoubtedly the most-visited area in Northland. Over 150 islands are scattered throughout the tourquoise waters of the Bay. We took a four-hour boat tour to explore a few of the islands and to see a sea cave. Bottle-nosed dolphins are a common sight here; they're curious little guys and often approach the boats to see what the humans are up to. We saw one large pod (about 20 dolphins total). It is possible to swim with the dolphins too. They seem to enjoy the human company.
The Bay of Island is not only beautiful
Boat passing through the Hole in the Rock.
but also historically important. It is one of the first landing sites of the Maori people, when they migrated from Polynesia to New Zealand (known in Maori as "Aotearoa") around 1200 AD. Russell (a short ferry ride - or long drive - from Paihia) was the site of the first permanent English settlement in New Zealand. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here in 1840. The Treaty of Waitangi was the agreement between the English Crown and many Maori chiefs in which England essentially came to govern the country. The wording of the treaty (and, espeically, the wording differences between the English version and the Maori translation) are still a red-hot political topic. We'll tell you more about the Treaty of Waitangi when we visit Wellington, where the treaty document is now located.
The spot where the treaty was signed is now a tourist attraction. We felt it wise to skip the Waitangi Treaty house. Let us explain: At the Waitangi Treaty grounds you get to see the building in which the signing of the treaty took place, some lovely grounds with nice views and a few Maori artifacts including a waka (canoe). But
Beach on one of the islands we visited during our tour of the Bay of Islands
the pricing structure for the attraction has just changed. Instead of admission being $12 per person (as stated in the most recent Lonely Planet), visiting the Waitangi Treaty grounds is now free for all Kiwis and $20 for all foreigners. And, explained the woman who was trying to persuade us to cough up the money, we'll need to either book a tour (for extra $$) or purchase a guidebook for an extra $3 because "without it, you won't really know what you're looking at".
So instead we took a seat at the (free admission) cafe on the grounds and enjoyed the same great views AND excellent lattes accompanied by little chocolate strawberry marshmallow fish. We learned weeks ago that, just because something is in the guidebook it doesn't mean it is worth doing.
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