Our day off

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Paihia from the ferry to Russell

Coach tours are not for everybody. Of necessity they run to a fairly tight schedule and it’s important that the tour group adheres to the times for the day. Every evening Linda would tell us what time the wake-up call would be next morning, when we should have our suitcases outside our door for collection, and what time we should be on the coach. Often that was 6, 7, and 8, other times 7, 8, and 9. We were also given times to return to the coach after a tea or lunch break. If anyone was late it would affect all subsequent arrangements. Our group was punctual if not downright early almost every time which made for a happy coach captain. She could start off the day with a smile on her face.

The upside of a coach tour is everything is done for you. You don’t have to book accommodation – and take the risk it’s a dive. You’re taken to the most important spots and your tour guide provides information about the location, flora and fauna, and the history. And will tell you a few fun stories along the way. The other thing – you don’t have to drive.

Part of the scheduling was determined by the regulations covering the coach drivers. Linda had to have a half-hour stop after a certain time at the wheel. That tended to be at tea and lunch breaks at stops chosen to be able to provide refreshments and toilet facilities for twenty people. She also had to have a full 24-hour break after a set number of days. That was reasonable, given that she worked effectively 24/7.

As it happened, her 24-hour break coincided with our stop at Paihia on the Bay of Islands. It was a lovely day with sunshine and light breezes, perfect for the optional extras offered for the day, including a scenic flight, a tour on a motorcycle, a guided tour of Russell, and a bus trip along the beach up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand. At home we’d selected the lunch tour that sailed up the river to a waterfall but that had to be cancelled due to lack of staff.

So we did some washing.

Something else to do at Paihia

There are few opportunities on such tours to do the laundry and although we hadn’t been away very long, it’s nice to top up the clean clothes hamper. Coin operated washers and dryers can have their moments and it all took longer than it should have but we prevailed in the end. Yay us.

After that we strolled down to the little town, a ten-minute walk away. Paihia is built on hills rising around the bay, with lots of houses with a view, reminiscent of Airlie Beach. There’s a short main street opposite the wharf where a regular ferry service takes passengers across to Russell and that’s about it. We walked past lots of motels and hotels – definitely a tourist town.

There are fishing tours from the wharf

On the pier we met Chris and Mary who were also looking for somewhere to have dinner that night, the restaurant in our hotel being closed for the evening. We all agreed that the hot rock steak place looked good so we made a booking for four.

After a look around the main street, Peter and I caught the ferry over to Russell. The place reminded me of Rottnest Island off the coast of Fremantle in Western Australia. Same laid-back vibe and colonial architecture but no quokkas. And not an island. The town is on an arm of the bay. You can drive there but it’s a long way. Here again lack of staff was biting hard. Only a couple of the restaurants were open. But we managed to get a couple of excellent toasted sandwiches and equally good coffee, which we ate at a table on the pavement. As happens often on these trips, we encountered a few of our fellow travellers who said ‘hi’ or stopped for a chat.

A row of houses along the esplanade
The local policeman’s house. It used to be the customs house. The huge Moreton Bay fig beside it was planted in the 1870s.
The Russell wharf. The old cannon was originally set up as a defence against Maori chief Hono Heke.

Russell is a lovely little town, full of history. There’s a small local museum as well as boards explaining things like the cannon on the foreshore. It would be a great place for a family holiday. We found an open ice cream shop and bought an ice cream. After all, Linda had told us that ice cream in New Zealand is calorie free.

Dinner at the hot rock place was convivial. We sat at a table overlooking the water and had a few drinks and chatted. The food arrived with steak literally on a hot rock, plus chips and coleslaw. You cooked the steak to your liking – which reminded us of the steak houses or our youth, but that never involved a hot rock. It was fun, different, and nice. We caught a taxi back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we’d be off back to Auckland after a boat trip around the bay. Don’t forget to join us.

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.

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