New Zealand’s Bay of Islands

We flew from Sydney to Auckland to begin our New Zealand adventures, and in the process, escaped the torrential rain that had plagued our last three days Down Under. I will admit that the weather did not disappear gracefully… It caused a near-three hour delay by shorting out the Gate electronics at the airport. So we arrived in Auckland with time to briefly walk around before heading north in the morning.

From what I could see of Auckland, It looked like a harbor city of moderate size…Very strong sailing influences. Lots of nice bistros along the docks. Cars don’t stop here for pedestrians. The harbors reminded me a bit of Copenhagen. The city is situated on a tiny bridge of land with ocean on both sides. At its narrowest, the distance is five miles.

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The next morning we drove north, which isn’t all that easy to do. Auckland is near the northern edge of the North Island. We stopped a couple places and reached the Bay of Islands after a four hour drive.

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A couple of interesting stories from the bus. The first involved the evolution of unusual birds here that don’t fly… “ No predators, no prey here,” said our bus driver. In fact, there are no mammals native to New Zealand. So birds, like the Kiwis, didn’t have to evolve for flight as an evasion.

The other story was how New Zealanders became known as “Kiwis.” It had nothing to do with the birds. Instead, during WWI, local soldiers polished their boots with Kiwi Shoe Polish. They were recognized as being from New Zealand by the shine on their boots, and became known as “Kiwis.”

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This area is where the modern history of New Zealand began. This flag post stands at the spot where a major treaty was signed by the representatives of the British Crown and chieftains from the Maori tribes. The Brits had wanted to establish a colony here and the Maori wanted assurances of continued land ownership as well as protection from French raiders. The treaty also pronounced that the Maori would be given the rights of British citizens. Copies of the treaty were written up in both English and Maori, which became a contention later in the courts about different translations and meanings, depending on which language you were reading the treaty from.  Currently, the various Maori tribes have been conceded large resources by the State. These have included ownership of tribal lands, national parks, or other assets, depending on the tribe and its location. Overall, I was impressed with New Zealand’s use of treaties and the courts to establish and amend treaties between native tribes and colonists. I’m sure there were serious conflicts, but it seems so much more mature than our history with Native American tribes.

The initial British settlement was on Russell island. The town can be seen behind the flagstaff in the photo above. This gave them some separation from the Maori tribes on the mainland who seriously outnumbered them. Russell became known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific,” with sleazy bars and whorehouses along the docks.  As the photos above attest, Russell is not so much of a Hellhole anymore. The British erected a mast for their flags on a hill above he settlement. This as a signal of welcome to passing ships to resupply and give crews liberty. The Maori did not like the debauchery, and made raids to knock the flagpole down. After two successes, the colonists sent to Australia for military guards and anchored the next mast in an iron case. The Maori set up a diversion attack that lured off the guards. They then scaled the cliffs from the water and, once again, knocked the mast head down. This led to a series of meetings and an eventual agreement to allow the flags to stand. We hiked up the hill above the city to take the photos below.

The Bay of Islands is a natural bay about ten miles wide with 144 separate islands that protect it from the open sea. It is a popular sport fishing and sailing destination. We were fortunate enough to cruise the islands before hopping off in a Russell on the way back. The pics below capture some of its beauty:

This beautiful recreation area, coupled with the history of New Zealand’s first settlements, made the Bay of Islands a great beginning to our tour.

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