© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Cruising the Bay of Islands and the Hole in the Rock

© NZPocketGuide.com

344 Days on the Road

Paihia, here we come! We are finally making it to the hub of water adventures right here in the Bay of Islands. Arriving in the coastal town as the sun is rising through the fog and across the sea is a pretty magical welcoming to say the least. Today, we are not wasting any time. We are getting on the water straight away to explore the Bay of Islands dotted with 144 islands, one of which is the famous Hole in the Rock.

Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise

We check in at the Fullers GreatSights office for our Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise. The trip departs at the end of Paihia’s main wharf where a pretty huge catamaran vessel is waiting for us. Considering there only seems to be about 20-30 people on the trip at the most, it’s going to feel like we have the boat to ourselves – that’s winter in the Bay of Islands, we guess!

A quick stop at the “Hell Hole”

Once boarded, we depart to just across the inlet to Russell to pick up some more passengers. The skipper, Taira, is on the microphone telling us a brief history of Russell, New Zealand’s first capital city nicknamed the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. Nice. We can’t wait to explore more of the “Hell Hole” later in our stay in Paihia, but for now we are speeding off to have a look at the coastline.

The stunning Bay of Islands coastline

As we are following the complex coastline made up of many layers of beaches backed by hills backed by cliffs, the morning mist is starting to lift, weaving in and out of the land. Mixed with the placidity of the water, it creates quite the stunning and atmospheric feel to the Bay of Islands. After Taira tells us more about some of the local’s favourite beaches on the coast, we move onto exploring more of those 144 islands!

The first day of winter in the winterless north

Although it is the first day of winter, you would never think it has the sun clears the clouds to reveal clear turquoise water and islands full of paradise-like beaches. We guess this is why they call it the “Winterless North”.

Paradise Island after paradise island

The first island we stop at is at Motarohia (Roberton) Island, a.k.a. the Twin Lagoon Island named after two large lagoons seen on both islands of the thin island. As we are told about the different walks on the islands, it just feels like a teaser showing us this quiet pristine island.

As if to make us more jealous, the next island we are show is Motukiekie, a privately owned island where we ogle at two properties with their own piece of paradise – oh how the other half live. In contrast, we also see the magnificent Moturua Island which is a scenic reserve topped with regenerating native forest. It looks wild and wonderful with its spindly vegetation of manuka and kanuka trees. There are also some pohutukawa trees identified by their long and winding branches that seem to reach out into the sea.

Dolphin swimming?

While we make our way to the next point of interest, a small group of us are gathered downstairs for one of the crew, Lawrence, to give us a briefing on what would happen if we encounter a pod of dolphins. If the dolphins don’t have any young calves with them, we will be able to swim with them! It’s something to keep our fingers crossed over.

That “wow” moment when we go through the Hole in the Rock

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Another marine mammal encounter

The boat is now following a long peninsula to Cape Brett where the famous Hole in the Rock is situated just at the end of. We have maps on board to show us the various points of interest, but something we weren’t expecting was to stop at a place called Seal Rock! One large rock in the middle of the ocean is the temporary home to about 30 New Zealand fur seals – they have all moved up north for winter to bask in the Bay of Islands sun. We watch them swimming in the water, scratching their ears, sleeping on rocks… and they are barely bothered by the presence of the large boat. We circumvent the rock for photo ops then continue onward to a gargantuan-sized rock in comparison – the Hole in the Rock.

The Hole in the Rock

No number of photos can prepare you for seeing the Hole in the Rock. The slanted layered rock itself is 148m above sea level. To make things more exciting, the skipper announces that we are going to be sailing right through the hole (?!).

Indeed, we get out of the sun for just a moment, shadowed by the hole carved by the ocean, to appear on the other side of the island. From there, we get some spectacular view of the Cape Brett Lighthouse sat on top of the grassy mainland. Taira tells us more about the history of the lighthouse while everyone grabs some photos. Then its onto our next port of call, Urupukapuka Island.

Stop-off at Urupukapuka Island

We arrive at the largest island in the bay with a wealth of walks and views to be experienced. There is so much to do here that we are actually going to take the ferry out here later in the week, so we used our 30 minutes of time here to have lunch on the beach while others make use of the quick walks around. It feels like paradise watching the waves quietly roll in, the water so clear that we can see the fish, shells of all shapes and sizes decorate the beach. We just can’t wait to come back and explore this island more.

Urupukapuka Island marks the end of today’s island-hopping and unfortunately the end of the time that we could have seen dolphins. GreatSights do offer non-expiry vouchers for people to come back for free to try their luck again, whether it’s today or in 20 years time.

Checking into Base and a beginning of winter BBQ

We awkwardly depart the boat called the “Dolphin Seeker”… Jokes, but we did have an awesome time getting a taste of so many islands that The Bay is so famous for! We are stoked to be spending more than 10 days in this paradise! So where is our accommodation going to be in this beach-lovin’ community? It’s Base, and tonight is BBQ night at their bar, the Pipi Patch! We meet a mix of guys working at the bar, as well as some fellow hostel-dwellers from the UK and Germany, all while stuffing our faces with meat, salad and potato!

Join us tomorrow where we are getting a Maori cultural experience and history lesson at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (as well as driving all the way there and back to Whangarei Hospital so Robin can have his cast changed – but maybe we won’t go on too much about that part). See you then!

Just try to make us leave this place!

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