Weekenders Guide: Russell
Once known as 'the hell hole of the pacific' Russell is now a quaint seaside village perfect for a relaxing weekend away.
Russell is a settlement in the Bay of Islands, about four hours north of Auckland. If your not taking a car to Russell, the best way to get there is via passenger ferry from Paihia, but there is a car ferry available from Opua.
As we found over a long weekend, there is more to do in Russell than meets the eye.
The Russell Mini Tour runs from the end of the wharf every hour and drives all around the island while giving a running commentary on everywhere you pass. You do stop and get out at the top of Flagstaff Hill, so if the weather's not great or you can't walk up the hill then this is perfect. The guide is awesome, a local man who lives in town and knows everything about the town, and all the history.
Hole in the Rock Boat Trip
We did the Fullers GreatSights half day Hole in the rock trip, which was awesome, we had a great day to do it, the sun was shining and it wasn't too rough. The particular trip we were on, we chose because it had a dolphin license, so if there were dolphins around the Captain had the license to follow them and be around them, we did see a pod of dolphins and hung around them for quite a while, and there was even a mother and a baby, there is a time limit on how long you can be around the dolphins, and you can only visit them once per trip.
The actual visit to the Hole was really cool, it was calm enough for us to actually go through the rock, which was amazing. The entrance to the hole is 16 metres, so the boat actually only has 1 metre either side of the boat to get through, but at its widest point inside it is 25 metres wide, so quite a bit of room to get through.
We had a really great afternoon on board, the crew was lovely, and I would definitely recommend going on one of these tours if you're in the area.
Pompellier House and Printery
Pompellier House is a mission on the island, with the main building serving as a printery, the French-Catholic Priest Pompellier printed three different books here, but what was unique about this printery, was that the books were actually printed in Maori, and it was the only printing press in Maori in New Zealand at the time, Pompellier and his team of three men printed about 30, 000 books on the island in three years, which is a remarkable feat considering how long it took to make and print them. There are a few other unique things about the mission including the building technique used to build it, and that there is a tannery on sight, if your ever in Russell, I would highly recommend paying the $10 entry fee, you get a guided tour around the printery from David who is incredibly knowledgeable about the property.
Christ's Church Russell
Christ's Church is the oldest church in New Zealand and is actually one of the only buildings that was left standing when Russell was sacked and burned to the ground. There are actually also musket holes in the sides of the church from when the war was going on. Obviously, it is an incredibly beautiful church, but it is actually still a running church as well as being part of the heritage trail.
There's plenty of history in Russell so the museum is the place to go if you want to learn all about it. We didn't go, just because we did the mini tour where we got told quite a bit of history, there is a charge to get in, I think it was $10.
If you got to Russell via passenger ferry, you probably would've already been in Paihia, there are a few things to do over in Paihia, the main one being the Waitangi treaty grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Paihia is also where most of the boat cruises leave from, some of them do stop in Russell to pick people up, but there are some that leave from Paihia. Paihia is also home to the best ice-cream, I think I've had in New Zealand, so if your ever in Paihia, make sure you go to Cellini's.
The Duke of Marlborough
The Duke was the first place in New Zealand to receive a liquor license and is the oldest pub in the country. We visited a few times for a drink and then to eat as well, we had a platter, which was lovely, and all the food coming out around us looked delicious. The service was a little hit and miss, one visit the waiter we had was great, and then the other time, the service wasn't as good, I think it depends who is working.
York Street Cafe
Oh my delicious, we had a lovely breakfast here, a big plate of pancakes for $14, yes please. Clearly a family run business, and one that the locals go to, York Street Cafe do breakfast and lunch, and is costed reasonably considering how much food you get.
The Gables is the oldest working restaurant in the country, originally a brothel and pub before being burned down and then rebuilt. We did eat here, and the food was absolutely beautiful. The pate was exceptional, and I had the lamb which was stunning. The service was really lovely, and the spot is amazing, I would recommend making a booking early, particularly if you want a table by the window.
Advertising the best chocolate drink in the country, obviously, we had to give it a go. Basically a cup of melted chocolate mixed with a very small amount of milk, it was delicious, whether it was worth the $11, I dunno.
Delish Coffee and Ice Cream
If you're after some ice-cream head to Delish, they have Kapiti ice cream, which is obviously the most important thing to know.
We didn't eat here, we were going to but decided against it. But it was very busy when we wandered past, and the bagels they had on the menu sounded delish.
This is where we stayed, it is a good 5-minute walk from town, which is not a big deal unless you have lots of luggage. We had a one-bedroom apartment, which was great, there is wi-fi however you only get 2gb per day. The apartment was clean, and there was a decent fridge and a microwave in the kitchen. The staff were friendly and we had a lovely stay, there is also a pool on the property too.
Other places to stay:
The Duke of Marlborough
Hananui Lodge Motel or Apartments