A Rainy Day in Russell: The Hell Hole of the Pacific
When you’re in Paihia and you’re faced with 144 beautiful islands to visit, why the hell would you take a boat to a place once dubbed “The Hell Hole of the Pacific”?! Well, believe it or not, this place actually used to be New Zealand’s first capital, more commonly known today as Russell, so it is steeped in history! What’s more, winter in the “Winterless North” of New Zealand has finally caught up with us. Although, we admit, it’s not exactly cold, the rain is coming down like it has had a major fallout with the sky. Luckily enough, you don’t need the sunshine to experience the history in Russell.
Taking the Ferry to Russell
There are two “cheap as” ferries to take over to Russell, the passenger ferry from Paihia, and the vehicle ferry from Opua Bay. Although we had originally planned to take the passenger ferry, we decide we’d take the car to keep Robin’s arm cast as dry as possible. Considering the price of the ferry is about the same, all we have to lose is a bit of petrol.
We arrive in Opua Bay, only a 10-minute drive out of Paihia and drive onto the open ferry operated by Fullers GreatSights, which departs every 10 minutes. From there we watch the passing boats and coast through the raindrops of our windscreen. The trip takes less than 10 minutes, then it’s about a 10-minute drive into Russell itself. We promise, that is the last time we will be saying “10 minutes” on this story.
What to do in Russell under the rain
With not much of plan in mind for how we are going to have a look around New Zealand’s first capital in the rain, we go to inquire at the information centre where we notice a bus parked up saying “Russell Mini Tours”. Well, that’s one way to stay out of the rain AND learn more about this intriguing town.
Learning the history of the Hell Hole
Next thing we know, we are boarding the Russell Mini Tours bus and meeting our driver and guide, Chris. Although he originally comes from Scotland, he has been in Russell long enough to know it like the back of his hand, which he instantly proves by telling us a bit of history about Russell. We learn about it’s “dodgy” past as being a good stop-off for whalers, escaped convicts and any other cretin to drink beyond redemption and lay with one of the brothels’ floozies, hence the name “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. Despite the rain, it doesn’t really look much like a hell hole now as Chris slowly drives along the waterfront with a beach on one side and rows of well-maintained heritage housing on the other. He points out the “first of” many things in New Zealand: the first Swordfish Club, the first licensed pub and hotel, the first church, the first place where a Christian wedding took place, and the list goes on!
It seems Chris knows everything about every house in the small town like when each house was built, many of which were built in the 1800s, sourced from local kauri wood – New Zealand’s largest type of tree that is now highly protected – and with foundations made of whale bones(?!).
Even in the rain, Russell has lots of stunning hidden gems like Tapeka Point beach
Beautiful Beaches to stunning views
After having plenty of time to learn about the different buildings of the main town itself, we drive over the hill to a stunning little golden sand beach called Tapeka Point Beach. We get the best view of it by Chris parking the bus on the boat ramp looking down into the ocean, which seems like a good setting to talk more about the area.
Now that we have seen the literal low points of Russell, we are now driving uphill to one of the areas most famous high points.
A trip up Flagstaff Hill
We take a sharp turn up the road to Flagstaff Hill, where Chris tells us the story of Hone Heke, a famous Maori chief, who cut down the British flag from the flagstaff four times to show objection to the British sovereignty in New Zealand after the Treaty was dishonored (something we learned heaps about at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds yesterday). More flags have been erected and taken down since then.
The bus parks up and we have some time to check out the flagstaff for ourselves, which is not only a significant historical site but it provides some sensational views of the Bay of Islands. The rain stops for a moment for us to soak in the views of the complex coastline of inlets and cliffs, as well as all the boats anchored in the bays.
On the opposite side of Flagstaff Hill is a large sundial decorated with a mosaic map of the Bay of Islands. Here, we get the best views of Russell itself. Plus, we are joined by a couple of weka, cheeky flightless birds who will steal any food they can.
Teacup tree and the electric chair
As we hit the road once again, more stunning vistas are revealed as we drive up another steep hill to the Queen’s View then down to another beach that is a local favourite, Long Beach. Here, we see some quite quirky properties, such as one that is fronted by a tree decorated in tea cups, while another house is fronted by an “electric chair”.
A must-have drink at New Zealand’s oldest licensed pub
Back in Russell, we say goodbye to Chris and go for an obligatory drink in New Zealand’s first licensed pub and hotel, The Duke of Marlborough. With great views looking out to the bay, while the interior is decorated in paintings and artifacts of old, The Duke has the best of both worlds.
The conversation might have been a little different over our flagon of ale to what it used to have been back in the day. We did not talk about all the whales we killed and the prostitutes we fondled, but we did talk about some of the upcoming activities we have here in the Bay of Islands, like skydiving, scuba diving, kayaking, an overnight boat cruise, a trip to Cape Reinga, hiking on one of the islands, and more! We are pretty stoked to say the least!
Back to the Pipi Patch
We see a lot more on the short ferry trip back to Opua Bay since the rain has finally stopped for good and we head back to our accommodation at Base a.k.a. the Pipi Patch. Join us tomorrow for exploring Urupukapuka Island in the beautiful Bay of Islands!
History and island views from Flagstaff hill
History and island views from Flagstaff hill
Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
History and island views from Flagstaff hill Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
Have you read yesterday’s post about seeing a cultural performance at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds? How about these articles?
- 10 Free or Cheap Things to do in Paihia
- Bay of Islands – Guide for Backpackers
- The Maori History in New Zealand
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See you tomorrow!