Bay of Islands | New Zealand

Bay of Islands | New Zealand

Days 1-5

We took off from LA on Monday, February 8.  The flight was a little under 14 hours, but it felt like 40 hours.  Amongst the hacking and raging sounds from the old Australian man behind us, the crew intermittently slept, and watched the little plane on the video screen move slowly but surely across the Pacific.

When we landed, it was February 10.  We lost a day going backwards across the international date line, but one thing we didn’t lose was the grapefruit that Poppy had picked in the garden of our Air B and B house in Santa Barbara.  Since we had forgotten it was in our baggage, we confidently ticked “No” in the box on the customs sheet that inquired, “Are you carrying any fresh fruits or vegetables?”  We also largely ignored the myriad banners displayed throughout the airport with large images of potatoes, citrus and fresh greens with giant “X” marks stamped over them.  When we reached the customs line, which was quite long and should’ve given us an idea of the gravity of the situation, it still didn’t register.  We showed the gentlemen at the screening table our Fig Newtons and granola bars and he calmly waved us along.  When the bags hit the X-ray scanner, there was a different story.  The gentleman pulled me aside and asked if she was responsible and aware of the items in our baggage.  I replied “yes” and he proceeded to pull the grapefruit from the bag and dangle it in our faces like it was a murder weapon.  We were caught ruby-red handed.

$400 NZ later, we escaped from the airport with a civil offence citation.  We stopped at a camper trailer parked on the side of the airport sidewalk (this seems to be normal) that served fresh coffee.  We had our first flat white of the trip and it was everything we needed at the moment.  Flat whites are espressos, mixed with steamed milk in such a way that the texture is very smooth and light.  They’re just plain good.  When we were picked up by the rental shuttle, everyone was so kind and accommodating, and the tiny Mazda Demio didn’t hold our stroller, so they were happy to store it for a month for us.  Good job Omega Car Rental!  We peeled out into the NZ1 Highway and started our NZ adventure driving on the left hand side of the road, feeling slightly off center ourselves.

The drive through Auckland was tedious, but we were rewarded with views of the Sky Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the Southern Hemisphere.  Our first stop for bottled water and snacks yielded us some delicious meat pies, a Kiwi tradition, shaped like Little Debbie Pecan Pies but filled with savory ingredients.  John's was a Chicken Curry, Poppy had Beef and Vegetables.  John thinks these pies are delicious and should be imported immediately to the US.  Gas stations in the US that feature a spinning rack of hot dogs are excellent places to test this theory.

The Northland of New Zealand spreads out in layers of green farmland and pasture as soon as you clear Auckland, and has surprising twists and plunging turns in a 2 lane road lined with old homes and barns, dotted with small towns and attractions like “Sheepworld”.  We were so busy driving that we lost track of time and skipped lunch, ending up at the ferry docks to Russell with no idea what was going to happen next.  John ran into a marina store and picked up a bottle of red wine, some bread and a block of cumin-infused Gouda and jumped back in the Mazda as it boarded the ferry.  Within 5 minutes we’d reached the other side of the strait, with no time to enjoy our ferry picnic.  The road meandered for a few miles into the town of Russell, with a tree-lined waterfront full of small, touristy shops, restaurants and old buildings.  We settled in at Hone’s Garden, an outdoor garden restaurant that served pizzas, salads and snacks in a leafy, enclosed area.  The kids rolled over the lawn furniture while we split a glass of rosé and we all shared a pizza and salad for lunch, unsure of the dining situation that awaited us at the chalet.

Para Bay is only 5 miles from Russell but feels like its in another region - the climb up a steep driveway rewarded us with views over the surrounding Paroa Bay Vineyards, as well as the mountains to our east, and the Bay of Islands to the west.  There were hardly any neighbors for miles, and the wind whipping up the valley kept the air fresh and clean  throughout the day.

It was an early one when we woke up in Paroa Bay, and the sun had yet to rise over the vineyards and bay in the distance.  We whipped up some coffee and fed the kids some muesli and yogurt, soon to become a staple of the trip.  Peaches and John soon retired for another nap, and Poppy worked on sight words,  reading and journal.  We’d heard that the beaches east of Paroa Bay were very scenic, so we set off with a picnic of PBJ and meat pies and Pinot Gris.  The beach at stretched from one rocky point to another, backed by green hills of grazing cattle and silver ferns and Norfolk Island pines.  Poppy found a great picture spot from the side of a rocky outcropping, and Poppy and John walked the beach until they found a deep, clear pool carved out in the rocks and waded in as far as possible (the water still pretty cold).

The drive into Russell was a quick one, and within minutes we were waiting on the dock for our ship to come in.  Our catamaran, Zig Zag, or “Six A” or “Six Egg” as we had misinterpreted on the phone, sailed up looking spacious and inviting.  We boarded and after a brief introduction and lesson on sailing etiquette, departed Russell Harbor.  We cruised out of the harbor and lifted sails a few minutes later, heading east toward Roberton Island.  Roberton Island was our first stop, historically significant as it was the sight of Captain James Cook’s landing in the Bay of Islands.  Capt. Cook was greeted by the local Maori tribe when they performed a haka, or ceremonial dance.  Capt. Cook misinterpreted the dance as aggression and attacked the Maori, who in turn brought their full posse out of the woods and scared Cook away from the island.  We found the island to be quite hospitable, it was converted to a nature preserve and had a quiet hike to a hillside perch that afford views around the entire Bay, including back to Paroa Bay, our temporary home.  Poppy and I swam from the boat to shore, while John and Peaches opted for the dinghy.  Shells were collected and snorkeling was attempted, but the best part was just feeling the sand and pebbles under our feet in an amazing new environment.  We rebounded and took off for another stop, on the far outer edge of the Bay of Island.  We anchored and this time John and Poppy swam to shore, the first to do so from the boat, so the small beach was named “Rube’s Beach” on account of us rubes finding it first.  Some others from the Zig-Zag found oysters clinging to rocks in the Strait, and returned to the boat with a nice haul.  The first mate collected some sea urchins, and before we knew it, raw oysters and sea urchin eggs were being laid out on the table. Of course, Poppy had to try both, and we were astounded by her sense of culinary adventure. She may not eat 90% of the food we order for her in restaurants, but give her some slimy foraged creatures from the bottom of the sea, and she will put them away.  In addition to the sea bounty, the yacht provided baked chicken, green salad, fresh baked breads and other sides for us, much appreciated after the morning of recreation.  The ride back to Russell was peaceful and filled with sunbathing and wrangling Peaches, punctuated by an appearance of dolphins jumping and playing in the wake, as well as a passing aluminum skiff which appeared to be helmed by Glenn from “The Walking Dead”.  On the return home we stopped in at Paroa Bay Vineyards and sampled some great Sauvignon Blanc, grassy and still tropical on the nose, with great acidity and length.  It stood out over their Chardonnay and Syrah, so we were glad to take a bottle for the evening. We were all spent from a long day in the sun, and after everyone showered up, they were easily put to bed.