From Queenstown it was time to ditch the hire car that we had been using for the past few weeks and time to fly back up to the North Island to Auckland where we picked up another car and headed north but ended up spending a good couple of hours stuck in traffic trying to get out of Auckland. Now we knew why the South Islanders felt so claustrophobic when they came up north - having spent the last couple of weeks driving on roads with hardly a car in sight to now being stuck in jams, bumper to bumper, it was certainly enough to make us want to head south again! But being in the North Island does have its advantages, one being the weather, having left Queenstown that morning which was very cold and quite damp, we had now arrived back in the North Island to temperatures almost 15' warmer! It was like being in another country!! Once out of Auckland we began to make our way north to our next destination, Paihai in the Bay of Islands.
Paihia was the first centre of European settlement in New Zealand in the 1800's. These days its a very popular tourist destination and is a good starting point for the many varied trips and activities that you can do in the Bay of Islands. We headed straight to our accommodation, Appledore Cottage which is run by an English couple who moved out to New Zealand 5 years ago. It's situated in a gorgeous spot right on the edge of the river, surrounded by rolling countryside and a flock of ducks that were frequently found sitting outside the cottage waiting for their next feed, refusing to budge until they were given something to nibble!
One thing I had earmarked to do in the North Island was to get a spot of diving in, and the Bay of Islands was one place where you could do it. So eager to get back in the water and to get Peter back diving again (he hadn't dived sinced getting his PADI certificate 6 years ago), I booked us in for a days diving. Off we set at the crack of dawn the following day leaving Mum to explore Paihia and see what there was for us to do over the next few days. Peter and I were booked in for two dives, the first for me was a shipwreck (the Rainbow Warrior) whilst Peter started a diving refresher course. The Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace Flagship that was sunk almost 10 years ago just off the Bay of Islands after it was bombed in Auckland Harbour by the French Secret Service in 1985. The wreck is now home to a myriad of fish including Wrasse, King Fish, John Dory and Demoiselles. Having only ever dived one wreck before this was still a relatively new experience for me, and certainly more enjoyable this time having gained a bit more experience than I had had when I did the last wreck dive. All was going well until the dive master decided to take us into some rooms inside the ship which were quite small and at times, claustrophic. I was ok to begin with but then had a slight moment of panic when I got stuck in a doorway!!! The second dive was a reef dive about 10 mins from the Rainbow Warrior. We saw quite a bit of life down there but it was very different from the warmer and more tropical waters that I am used to. The corals and fish are still quite colourful but in a different ways. Although I enjoyed the dives, I still think I am more of a tropical water diver as opposed to these colder waters and environments!!
Whilst we had been out diving, Mum had been exploring Paihia and started to check out various sightseeing trips for us to do. Her first choice was a visit Russell which is a 5min ferry ride across the bay from Paihia. Russell is a small, lively seaside village, the oldest in New Zealand, and was originally the capital. After a few hours enjoying the sights of Russell and its colonial architecture (which we've got so used to seeing all around New Zealand), we took a boat trip around the Bay of Islands and out to Cape Brett to see one of the the popular tourist attractions - the 'Hole in the Rock' which it literally is! Over the years the sea has battered its waves so much against this rock that huge chunks of rock have fallen away to leave a huge hole in one side of it. This hole is so large that you can actually get a boat through the hole and out the other side. Having spent 10mins bobbing through and around the 'hole in the rock', the boat then set sail for the drop off point which was a lovely little island with a gorgeous bay, and situated right in the middle of the Bay of Islands. We had 1hr to spend chilling out on this island so we decided to climb up to a lookout on top of one of the hills and spent about 15mins admiring the view down over the Bay of Islands - another pretty spectacular sight and one we won't forget in a hurry!
Unfortunately it was time to pack our bags again and head onto the last destination on this trip, Auckland. On the drive out of Paihia we stopped off in Waitangi at the treaty Grounds where New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Here we saw the Treaty House that was built for the first British resident, and is now one of New Zealand's oldest and most visited historic homes. We also had a look at the Maori Meeting House, an impressive Maori War canoe that was powered by 80 paddlers, and the tall symbolic flagpole which marks the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The Treaty is an agreement between the British and the Maoris, to live and work together in one nation in exchange for the Maori's giving the British rights to the land, the British in turn offered the Maori's protection if they should ever need it.
Once having had a look around the Treaty grounds and the museum we headed south for Auckland. A lovely few days were spent in the 'City of Sails', and it helped change my opinion of the city. The past experiences I had had of the city weren't the best, but the main reason for this was that each time I had been to Auckland I had been there as a backpacker, staying in hostels and sticking to the slightly more downmarket side of town, and never really experiencing the finer side of Auckland. But now having upgraded from a hostel to a hotel I certainly experienced a different side of Auckland and one I would like to explore further on any future stays.
During our stay in Auckland we dined out a couple of times down in the Viaduct which is an area by the Harbour front, a bit like Darling Harbour in Sydney but on a smaller scale. We drove out to some of the coastal suburbs like St Helier's that I hadn't explored before, a very nice little seaside suburb. We also fitted in a visit to Kelly Tarlton's aquarium which had a great 'anartic encounter' area where they had a colony of penguins` that were very amusing to watch!! Then in the afternoon we took a short ferry ride over to Devonport, another charming seaside and historic village. After taking a stroll around the village, perusing the shops and cafes, we then decided to walk to the summit of Mount Victoria where we had some great views of Auckland and Rangitoto (the volcano that I had climbed a couple of months ago).
After a few days of sightseeing around Auckland we had unfortunately come to the end of our trip around New Zealand. All these months of planning and typing up of spreadsheets and itineries, all now gone in a flash, but it had certainly been worth it! The three of us have lots of memories and images of this trip that I'm sure we will remember for a very long time. I think we all agreed in the end that we have never been to such a stunning country. Yes there are countries that have places within them that are breathtaking, but I don't think I have ever been to a country that around every corner you turn, your breath is taken away again by another stunning view. They are just endless!! And unfortunately you just can't fully appreciate these views from the photos, you will just have to come here and see it for yourself!