New Zealand Travel Guide: Paihia, Bay of Islands

May 6, 2009
We're not in Auckland anymore.

We're not in Auckland anymore.

Flying back to New Zealand from Sydney, I thought about all the things I wanted to do in my last few days before going home. I had to go back to Cuba Street and shop, spend a little more time in the Botanic Gardens and maybe have another look around Te Papa.

Then I realized that all of those things were in Wellington. I was flying back to Auckland.


Leaving Paihia behind to look for dolphins and big holes.

Leaving Paihia behind to look for dolphins and big holes.

For the rest of the flight I kept telling myself that I was going to Auckland, but pictures of Wellington kept popping into my head. Unfortunately, it was too late, mid-flight, to change my destination.

Luckily, I only had one night in Auckland before getting back on the Magic Bus (woo hoo!) and heading north to the Bay of Islands. And thank goodness for that. I stayed at the International YHA and it was one of the most miserable nights of my trip. Noisy, dirty and uncomfortable, I was up even earlier than I needed to be just so I could pack up and get out of there.

I only had two and a half days left in New Zealand, so although I would have loved to go all the way to the north tip of the North Island and gone sandboarding at Cape Reinga, I only had time to make a trip to Paihia and back. Not that there’s anything disappointing about Paihia.

In fact, there were five English guys in my dorm room at base backpackers, and they’d been in Paihia for four days, swimming, playing volleyball, and just hanging out with other travelers. They said they’d meant to only stay a day and then go further north, but they were having such a good time catching up on sleep during the day and hanging out at the Pipi Patch bar late into the night, they just never got around to leaving.

There are the dolphins.

There are the dolphins.

When they all came into the room after dinner, I assumed they were on their way back out again and would stumble in drunk around 3:00 a.m., obnoxiously waking everyone up. So it was a big surprise when, after chatting with everyone in the room for a couple of hours, one of them said, “It’s 11:00, should we get to bed?” Then they all brushed their teeth, got into their bunks, said goodnight, and turned out the lights.

I suppose even the most hardcore English pub boys need a good night’s sleep every now and then.

After Sydney and Auckland, it was a nice change to be in a small town. Paihia has two main roads, a handful of shops, a row of hostels, pubs and restaurants, and tons of activity providers.

And there's the big hole.

And there's the big hole.

If you want to relax, try a cruise out to the Hole in the Rock. I did the Fullers tour and was shocked at how many dolphins we saw on the trip. They weren’t just swimming around, these little attention-seeking dolphins jumped and flipped and seemed to love having an audience.

You can also swim with the dolphins, go for a sail in a tall ship, or do a kayaking tour into the bay. To learn more about the region’s wild past, hop the ferry over to the town of Russell, New Zealand’s first capital.

Next: Time’s up! Back to Auckland.

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