Oakura, NZ to Russell, NZ

31.9 mi / 9.0 mph / 3087 ft. climbing
Home: Russell Top 10 Holiday Park

Early-morning rain pattered on our tent as predicted. Normally we keep our bikes standing right next to the tent, but last night thanks to the forecast, and the quiet holiday park, I had moved them under a large tent that covered the barbecue area. We have rain covers that keep our bags (and everything in them) dry in even fairly-heavy rain, but then our rain covers are wet, and all the surfaces on our bikes that we put stuff on are wet. So this time it definitely made it a lot easier to have a dry staging area with dry bikes to pack stuff up under. We escaped to that staging area and the kitchen once the rain had lightened to a mist, and a neighbor in an RV made a thoughtful offer to help carry our still-standing tent under the shelter as well (to allow it to be taken down in dryness), but it was easier to just look at the radar and wait for a dry-enough gap.

While the forecast was right about the rain’s arrival, it was wrong about its departure, and there was still a drizzle falling as we exited back over the 14% hill leaving the holiday park. We picked up a few things at the small grocery store on the way back through town, and then again in the mist on the 6% grade returning us to the main road, an RV was being annoyingly-cautious about not passing us. But as they finally made their move, they pulled up next to me and asked if we wanted a ride! I reflexively declined, but knowing how much Rett hates rain, and how exhausted she was from yesterday’s ride, I quickly retracted, and relayed the offer ahead to her. But no, she also declined (perhaps too-reflexively as well), so the RV carried on and we plugged away up the wet hill.

I had been watching the radar ever since our alarm went off, and we just had the unluck of being right in the narrow path that the rain was training through, and if we’d been five miles north or south, we wouldn’t have seen any rain. But at least that positional stability meant that once we got five miles up the road, it didn’t follow us, and stayed (mostly) dry the rest of the day.

YePigs, both small and tall! We’ve barely seen any pigs in New Zealand, but they seem to be a bit more common in Northland. This is the second group of these tall guys I’ve seen, which initially can look like sheep or even cattle.

We really didn’t need the rain, because the terrain would again be providing enough of a challenge. Unlike yesterday where the sequence of hills eventually took us 900 feet up from the sea, we would never get even 250 feet above sea-level on today’s somewhat more coast-hugging route. But, we would depart a bay, grind 200 feet up a 10% hill (or sometimes reaching 13%), descend to the next bay, and repeat that sequence 15 times! We finished the day having climbed 97 feet-per-mile (our fourth-highest average in NZ), totaling to our second 3000+ foot day in a row. That’s the first time we’ve ever done that, and thus the 6309 feet over two days is also our new highest two-day total. It’s a unique trick to do that on a day when we never exceeded 250 ft., but that’s New Zealand!

A climb up that still kept the bay in view.
A look back after ascending from another bay.
And, descending again to the next bay and beach ahead.
And, back up to look down on the cows and the sea.
And once more, back down….

At least the road was nearly devoid of traffic, so we didn’t need to worry about passing cars stealing our focus from our 3.5mph climbs. And while a clear day would have made the vantage points down to the water pop a lot more, it was still a very scenic ride even under the clouds. At the bottom of one of the “V”s about halfway through we turned down to the boat launch/park at Te Uenga Bay to eat our lunch. It hadn’t felt too cold up until that point, but with the damp and sweat and breeze and no-sun, Rett definitely needed to bundle up in her down jacket to keep from getting too chilled. Despite all the boats anchored in the bay, perhaps only one or two cars went by on the road behind us, and we didn’t see any other humans, so it almost felt like we had discovered our own secret beach.

Lunch on Te Uenga Bay, while trying to stay dry and warm.
The beach at Te Uenga Bay.
“Luckily”, there was another hill for us to climb immediately after lunch (from where we could look back on the bay we’d eaten at), so that got us warmed back up in a hurry!

The pattern continued for the afternoon, though as we more-properly entered the “Bay of Islands”, we got some lengthier reprieves from the up-and-downs along mangrove-filled Waikare Inlet. Once we passed the road where the vehicle ferry brings cars to the town of Russell from the “mainland”, traffic increased exponentially, but we only had to deal with that for a couple miles and one more hill (Russell isn’t actually on an island, but driving around all the water to get to it is apparently more of a pain than floating across it; by virtue of our multi-day route, we had essentially “driven around” already and were approaching from the back door).

At the holiday park, Rett put up essentially no resistance to my idea to get a cabin rather than tenting, and since it was only US$61 and came with a fridge/kettle/bedding, it seemed like the obvious choice. We walked down to the waterfront for a mini-tour of the cute historic town, got a nice sit-down restaurant dinner, and strolled home in the dark to a well-deserved rest.

Rett attempts to comprehend the monumental fig tree planted by one of the town’s early settlers.
“The Strand” on Russell’s waterfront where we had dinner. We haven’t seen many “upscale historic small towns” like this in New Zealand.
A nice wooden outrigger ready to sail the Bay of Islands.

Day 2

The plan was to spend much of today exploring more of Russell, then take the ferry across to Paihia on the “mainland”, and set up in the holiday park on that side. But we woke again to more scattered showers in the area (these hadn’t been in the forecast at all), and that made me realize that doing a short hop today didn’t really buy us anything. We could just stay here, working around the rain from under our roof to double our familiarity with this cute town, and would still have no problem tomorrow of catching a morning ferry and riding directly on to Kaikohe, our next destination. It made so much sense that now I wondered why I’d even planned to stop in Paihia in the first place. I guess just to spend time in another town?

A dawn rainbow looks amazing, but also indicates…rain.
Paihia in the sunrise, across the Bay of Islands.

Yesterday there was a couple in the adjoining “cabin”, and I’d seen one other couple, but today it seemed like we were literally the only guests in the entire holiday park until a couple of backpackers showed up in the late afternoon. Since we had enough equipment to make breakfast in our cabin, and otherwise were eating out, I literally felt bad for the “lonely” (and very nice) kitchen. These days, we’re about the only people using holiday park kitchens, so if we’re not giving them any attention, who will?!

When the rain cleared out we returned to town to complete our walking tour, finding more cute shops for Rett to browse than our initial survey last night had indicated. Russell was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand, though it was known as “The Hellhole of the Pacific” for a time due to its high levels of lawless debauchery. These days its a place where a man can buy a $2000 model boat in the same shop where his wife buys a $1000 glamorous coat.

The graveyard at Christ Church, the oldest church in New Zealand (which, at 189 years old, is quite young by the standards of most other countries).
William Harwood, drowned in 1870 at age 20, and Mary Alice Maud, his only child, died in 1874 at age 4. This was not the only headstone referencing drowning, and gives a sadder shade to “Hellhole of the Pacific”.
A wood-fired calzone(!!) at Hone’s Garden. We’d initially been attracted last night to their enchantingly-lit outdoor space, but even with the rain today making that a no-go, it was still a great place for lunch (and in fact the day’s heaviest downpour came through while we were eating under shelter.

After the lunchtime rainstorm the satellite view showed a hole in the clouds approaching us, so we took off for a hike to Tapeka Point, north of town. I cobbled together a loop of part-roads, part-trails, and it turned into a really nice tour of town, country and sea. The actual hike to the Point was surprisingly treacherous but awesome, though it was rather rude of the Bay of Islands to not present any marine mammals to us over the last couple days. Similarly rude near the end of our loop was the drizzle that returned, so we speed-walked the final bit home, now even more glad that we had decided to stay in place and had a dry roof to return to.

The weather cleared enough for these parasailers to get flying, and with some impressive height, too!
A steep climb on a street heading up from the beach gave us a chance to snoop at houses, including this artist’s residence.
Is this a plant, or an animal, or an alien?!?
Taking a trail partway back down the hill brought us to this view of Russell’s waterfront I’d been hoping for. The red-roofed building is the historic Duke of Marlborough hotel, which reminded Rett of the Titanic, and where she wanted to eat, though its vast grandmotherly emptiness in this off-season felt a little creepy to me. And the giant tree obscuring that red roof is the fig pictured in yesterday’s entry.
Just like yesterday’s ride, we went up multiple times on this hike, just to come right back down to the water (and after an exploration of this cool rock-filled bay still had one more big climb back up to the Point).
It seems water cuts holes through rocks everywhere in New Zealand!
Nearing Tapeka Point, Rett scans the water once more for dolphins in the Bay of Islands (oh, and there were also loads of flowers along the streets on our route, one of which ended up in her hair).
Rett traversing the narrow ridge on the high saddle out to the point.
At Tapeka Pont, still no dolphins, but a nice view nonetheless.
Compared to the US, trails in New Zealand are maybe slightly-more (on average) like “eh, here’s a trail. We’re gonna count on you to have the skills/smarts to not get yourself killed”. But this one took it to a whole other level. The lack of stairs to help navigate steep muddy sections getting here maybe were trying to clue me in (or filter people out), but it was still wild to me that this 200-foot vertical cliff face at the end didn’t even have warning signs, much less a fence! “Maori stories tell of a young couple leaping to their deaths…” No shit, and I’m sure those aren’t just “stories”!
A view back down to the hole in the rock that we had explored earlier.


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