Final Countdown: Bay Of Islands

Wednesday 4th December
I’d checked the pickup time the evening before and it said 7.30am but I had a gut feeling that I should arrive early just in case. When I was woken by one of those in the room at 6.10am (20 minutes before the alarm) I decided to get ready. I left the hostel at 6.50am with the intention of getting a drink and using the free McDonald’s WiFi but could already see a small crowd at the pick up. Venturing over I was told the time had changed and the pick up time was 7.00-7.15. Nice of Kiwi Experience to let me know!

As it was we didn’t leave until about 7.30am because 2 girls had been at the wrong location and had got lost en-route. Luckily they found us and we were able to set off. What had already felt heavy rain became even heavier and a great mist had descended up us making visibility from the coach windows non existent.

There was literally nothing to see outside the window and then rather suddenly the bus started to reduce in speed as we approached a hill. The 2nd kiwi experience bus I had been on had suffered the same fate as the first I’d been on and was breaking down. Only this time we were unable to limp home as the radiator had decided to drop its load into the road meaning we had no option but to pull over. An engineer was called but we were 40 minutes from the next city so in total were waiting nearly 2 hours. We watched a movie and with about 10 minutes remaining the picture cut out so we only had sound.

Eventually we were underway and made it to the scheduled toilet and lunch stop. As we approached we could see armed police everywhere and about 5 police cars. Whatever was going on appeared to be quite dramatic but luckily we were able to use the facilities despite initial fears we’d be waved on.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and when we arrived in Paihia it was still raining ferociously. We were over 3 hours late but even if we had arrived on time all activities would have been off. Luckily Aaron the guy I’d sat next to on the coach had my approach to the weather and neither of us wanted the rain to prevent us doing something. We therefore took the ferry over to Russell so we could see the first European settlement and what became the first capital…this was the cultural reason. The real reason was so we could drink at New Zealand’s oldest pub.

There were not many people on the boat and we quickly got in to conversation with our fellow travelers that were braving the conditions. When we arrived at the Duke of Marlborough pub we took a table and started to try and dry off. Another group looked like they were seeking a table so we invited them to share and got in to conversation with them as well. These were locals that apologised for the weather but said the region was in need of it as they’d had 6 weeks of sunshine.

When we left the weather appeared to be clearing and we could almost see the other side of the bay. This was only a temporary reprieve and it soon started up again with all the fury of before. I had a “nautical” rain coat on that had survived the Sicily Isles and Cornwall but it was no match for the New Zealand rain and my shirt underneath was drenched.

Returning back to the hostel, where the rest of the group had remained in the dry I had a shower then made my way to the BBQ that had been arranged. I stayed out for a couple of beers but i knew my time in new Zealand was coming to an end.

Thursday 5th December
I had a very realistic dream that I woke up, the sun was shining and I went swimming with the dolphins as planned. When I did wake up I couldn’t hear rain but could hear birds and thought maybe it wasn’t going to be a dream. i went in to the bathroom and opened the window to look out. In return I got a face of fierce windy rain. I knew my back up tour to see the Hole in the Rock and dolphins would be cancelled but I still went through the routine of walking to the Harbour ‘just in case’.

I wasn’t disappointed about not seeing or swimming with dolphins as I’ll surely get the chance in Australia… I’ll be there long enough but it was a bit of cruel blow that I’d be so close to the Bay of Islands but not actually see them. Even more disappointing was the confirmation it would be clear by the afternoon as I was leaving and knowing that every other day in the past month had been so perfect.

But you can’t control the weather you can only control how you react to it so I decided to go to the Waitangi Treaty Ground Museum. I got slightly lost as the rain continued to show little sympathy to my plight and nearly got taken out by a wave that came over the promenade on to the road but eventually made it.

I watched a short video before joining a guided tour by the 6th generation relative of the local tribe chief Hone Heke who was the first to sign the treaty and then the first to rebel against it when the mid translation between the British and Maori versions became a contentious (understatement) issue.

Apparently the local tribe are only now having their case heard which seems quite shocking especially as I understand that many of the other tribes have already had their historical grievances settled and that they’ve been compensated accordingly. On the one hand the video at the museum had portrayed the treaty as a positive, the birth place of the nation whereas on the other it appeared the guide I had still held a level of resentment towards it. I totally understood why they’d feel aggrieved and maybe I was just feeling touchy but being from ‘Mother England’ (not Britain) I felt partly responsible and slightly uncomfortable when it came to admitting where I was from.

We saw the giant Waka which is in the Guinness Book of Records, the Treaty House, one of the oldest buildings in New Zealand which had been restored and the Maori Meeting House built for the 100th anniversary. The meeting house was therefore meant to be symbolic rather than original. Located opposite the Treaty House it is meant to show the unity of both cultures and the wooden carvings inside represent each of the tribes across the country.

There was also a flagstaff marking the location where the treaty was signed. Unfortunately I assume due to the wind and rain none of the flags were flying but there should have been the three official flags New Zealand has had since 1834 and which are still maintained by the Navy. The flags are: The flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the Union Jack and the New Zealand flag.

After this I walked down to Nias Track to Hobson’s beach. This was the route William Hobson and his party took when they landed at Waitangi and made their way to where the Treaty participants were assembled in 1840. By now the sun was creeping through and I could make out shapes beyond Russell and I’d like to think they were some of the islands that gave the bay its name.

By the time the coach left it was getting very hot and on the journey back we stopped at the Whangarei waterfall. The recent heavy rain made this one look particularly wild especially as it was possible to get fairly close and it was a pleasant way to break the 4 hour drive.

We arrived back in Auckland on time and I got the Ferry to Devenport for the final time. Peggy and Peter collected me and we travelled to David and Clare’s house for dinner. As when I’d arrived about 3 weeks earlier the sun was shining. I will forever be grateful to them for their hospitality and for making me feel so welcome

The next morning after Claire had kindly washed and dried some of my clothes we departed for the airport. I can’t quite believe how much I have done in such a short space of time and I’m reluctant to check the final credit card statement but these memories will live with me and I don’t regret any of them…not even the whale watching camera breaking tour!

Next stop Australia – the main reason for me undertaking this little walkabout.


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