Exploring the Bay of Islands - Paihia, Kerikeri and Russell

The soft early morning light brings showers. Water activities are off the agenda, but there are numerous other options. The vibrant township of Kerikeri seems inviting, so after a continental breakfast, we set off.

Half an hour later, rows of orange trees and mandarin groves hemmed with poplar indicate our arrival in this town, a haven for the gourmet traveller. From locally produced wine, olives and avocados, to cheese, ice cream and chocolate, there’s something here to tempt everyone’s taste buds.

Makana Confections is our first port of call and here we sample irresistible chocolate dipped apricots and tantalisingly fresh citrus jellies – they taste as though they’ve just been picked from a tree! Bob leaves with a box of macadamia butter toffee crunch tucked under his arm, and we tour the workshops of talented artisans who craft a range of house-wares including kauri furniture, ceramics and even kaleidoscopes.

We peek into historic Kemp House (NZ’s oldest-standing European building) and the Stone Store, dating back to 1832, before doubling back past roadside stalls where I (to Bob’s amazement) slip $5 into an honesty box in exchange for juicy oranges.

Passing Living Nature, where the fruits of Northland are used to produce natural skincare products, we arrive in time to lunch at Cottle Hill, on a sheltered terrace overlooking vines. A glass of Sailor’s Delight Rosé teams well with an antipasto platter, and under Mike and Barbara Webb’s guidance, we sample others from the vineyard’s award-winning range.

Back in Paihia the sun’s out so we jump aboard the Dolphin Seeker, a catamaran that takes us out to the Hole in the Rock via Russell, a round trip of about four hours. Bob spots a charter boat hunting for marlin, before we double back past Urupukapuka Island. Here we’re joined by a pod of bottlenose dolphins that ride our bow waves to Moturua Island, where Captain Cook landed in 1769 to take on fresh water.

Bob and I take the option of disembarking in Russell, a quaint town full of historical buildings, each with its own colourful tale. We sit quietly for a time on its pebbled shores, trying hard to imagine the 1800s when this genteel settlement was overrun by whalers and deserting seamen, and earned its nickname, ‘Hellhole of the Pacific’.

Today this couldn’t be further from the truth. As the sun dips in the sky we walk along the waterline, then follow a bushwalk up to Flagstaff Hill where Hone Heke’s warriors felled the British flag four times in protest of European settlers.

Suddenly a loud bell rings. “What on earth?” says Bob. We follow our ears to the wharf, where a charter boat has returned with a marlin. Locals and visitors alike mingle together as they await the weigh in; we retreat to Kamakura to dine on melt-in-the-mouth snapper beneath an orange-hued sunset before boarding a ferry back to Paihia.