In the Bay of Islands

05/05/2013 11:36

Captain James Cook, responsible for much of the toponomy of the Pacific Ocean, liked to be inspired by Admiralty friends or the Royals. In other cases never abused imagination and preferred to refer to the obvious. That was the case of Bay of Islands where he anchored, between the islands of Motuarohia and Motukauri, in late November 1769 during his first trip aboard HMS Endeavour, from which he charted with precision New Zealand coastal topography.

Some 147 islands and islets spreads this large bay located on North Island  northeast coast, where, about seven hundred years before the English explorer arrived, was settled by Mataatua crew, one of the Maori migration largest canoes.

The sweet penguin small village, Kororareka in Maori, or even Russell, was one of the first populated areas in the bay. When Cook landed Ngare Raumati tribe was already established. It is said that the name comes from the words spoken by a Maori chief, who, wounded in battle, ordered a penguin broth. After drinking murmured Ka reka te korora, or How sweet the penguin is. With the arrival of the inevitable white man a whaling port grew up. Ex-convicts, grog sellers and other loose moral people were settled in town until they got to be known by the nickname Hellhole of the Pacific.

In the forties of the nineteenth century, many things happened. In February 1840 Waitangi treaty was signed a few kilometres west of Kororareka / Russell. In May 1841 Kororareka became the first capital of New Zealand until less than a year later, in March 1841, was moved to Auckland. Three years later, Governor Hobson named the city with the name of Lord John Russell, the British Colonial Secretary of the time.

Dating from 1836, locals say their church, Anglican, is the oldest in the country. Beside, a secluded cemetery houses some old tombstones, including the Ngapuhi chief, Tamati Waka Nene, first to recognize the sovereignty of the British Queen on New Zealand. Or that one of a young man, died at age 22, remembered for a pious poem: Free at last from all temptation / No more need of watchful care/ Joyful in complete salvation/ Given the victor’s crown to wear. Another grave remember the six sailors of the sloop of eighteen guns HMS Hazard, who died on March 11, 1845 in a skirmish with a group of Maori.


Russell also has its small museum. And despite its size is not less interesting, or at least curious. Retain a 1:5 scale model of the Cook’s Endeavour. They have the most comprehensive collection in the world of antlers demolished by the Maori chief Hone Heke along the 1840 war of flags, and an extensive selection of town historical photographs, like that one of hockey school team in 1911 course, when they beat the neighbouring school of Kawakawa.

The same museum displays some objects, a camera and binoculars, which belonged to the famous writer Zane Grey, who in 1926 visited Bay of Islands, looking for the best spot to throw his fishing rod. The novelist son once said that his father spent an average of three hundred days a year to fishing. He popularized the sport in this New Zealand Bay. The French tested a variant: cause the shipwreck. Especially if the ship’s name was Rainbow Warrior and belonged to an environmental group that had the intention of hindering the nuclear tests conducted at Mururoa. On 10 July 1985 a French secret service command detonated a device that sank the ship in Auckland harbour, killing a photographer who was aboard. It was the first and only terrorist attack ever occurred on New Zealand territory. The ship was refloated but the damage to the hull had decided to sink it again, but this time near the Cavalli Islands, at Bay of Islands mouth, to become a marine biotope. Today is a popular wreck for divers who visit Paihia, in the Bay. At seventy feet deep shows the ship’s silhouette and moray eels and stone fishes now inhabit it.

Paihia, opposite Russell, near at the bay’s bottom, has become a tourist hub for fisherman, divers or just tourists who  crave swimming with dolphins. The latter never will get, there are always offspring among cetaceans, a circumstance that prohibits the activity. Waves do not advice, is another good excuse. Actually when up to five or six boats are concentrated, does anyone imagines two hundred people in the water?. For the dolphins would be swim between humans. So, on a boat trip, get to Hole in the Rock, the hole in the rock, it is almost a prize.

Last night I spent in Paihia I was cooking a fish while watching TV. In the first channel, the One, why not?, were playing a program called Give us a clue, a contest where contenders had to decipher a word through mimics. Before I had opened a Robard Butler bottle of wine, a good Australian shiraz, and browsed the newspaper. That night was the summer solstice, 22 December. Was also full moon and in the nearest point the satellite may be to our planet in its orbit. Theoretically the full moon has to be seen seven percent higher than in a normal phase.  Once I got dinner I went for a walk to Marsden Road, near the pier. I was lucky. There it was, between seven and fourteen percent more beautiful than usual.

© J.L.Nicolas


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