Russell versus Paihia

Bay of Islands, Saturday 18 February 2012

Paihia is the main hub for the Bay of Islands. You can organise just about any type of waterbased activity there, from parasailing to proper sailing, to black water rafting. It’s geared up for tourists in every imaginable way, with every other building being a motel or bed and breakfast, and the shops in between being ready to take your money for gifts, souvenirs, or organised activities.

There’s a small pier from where the dolphin watching boats, the boats touring the Bay, the commercial sailing yachts, and the ferries to Russel all depart. There’s no real beach, but all along the waterfront are takeaways and tack shops.

It feels a bit like Bournemouth, but with more sun.

Russell was New Zealand’s original capital city. It’s just over the water from Waitangei, where the treaty effectively establishing European dominion over Maori Aotearoa was signed. The first licensed premises in New Zealand (The Duke of Marlborough pub), the oldest church in New Zealand (Christ Church), and a prolific French missionary press are all located at Russell.

And yes, Russell is definitely Poole to Paihia’s Bournemouth. It’s a bit more refined, and it is certainly quieter. Unless you take the ferry from Paihia, it’s a two-and-half hour drive there. ‘Real’ people live there, and whilst there are some tourist residences, most of the visitors hop back to Paihia when they’re done.

Give me Russell any day.