Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Days 3-5: New Zealand's Stunning Bay of Islands

Let's go back to the very beginning of my trip and revisit one of the most beautiful places I've explored so far: New Zealand's Bay of Islands.

The first leg of my Stray bus itinerary took me north from Auckland to Paihia, a touristy beach town that serves as a hub for activities around the Bay of Islands.

I had only planned to stay one night in the Bay of Islands before heading back to Auckland, but all that changed when the bus arrived in Paihia and I caught sight of the clear, sunny skies and sparkling water.

I spent the afternoon wandering through Paihia with a few friends from the bus — Becky from Boston and Tom from Germany. (Side note: I've met so many German backpackers in every country I've visited so far. It's nuts!)

We visited a small farmer’s market and sampled blueberries, guacamole, limoncello and more. I couldn’t resist a freshly made berry-and-cream crepe.

Later, the three of us sat on the beach and swapped life stories. I proceeded to get sunburned even though I was covered in SPF 50 sunscreen. The New Zealand sun is no joke!

The real fun began the next afternoon, when I boarded The Rock boat for an overnight cruise.

My Stray bus driver really talked up The Rock cruise as an awesome experience, and I remembered reading Gerard and Kieu's post about it and thinking it looked like fun. And, hey — we were all correct!

Within minutes of boarding the boat, I was armed with a paintball gun. Whoa.

We each took three shots at a duck decoy that trailed behind the boat, and whoever hit the duck the most won a free drink from the bar. It... was not me. I didn't even hit it once!

However, I had a bit more luck with our next activity: fishing for snapper. One of the crew members made it look oh-so-easy, as she caught a fish in less than a minute while explaining how to use the fishing pole!

This fish was just barely 17 cm — the required size to be able to keep it — so the crew released him, just to be safe.

I caught a little runt of my own and had to kiss him before he went free.

He kept wriggling as soon as I got close!

Don't worry — I eventually got him good. : )

Another member of the group caught a big-enough snapper, and we enjoyed it — along with steaks, sausages, salad and more — for a delicious dinner prepared by the crew. And let's not forget the incredible sunset that capped off our fishing adventure.

After dinner, we enjoyed the most magical activity of the 22-hour cruise: night kayaking.

The ship had dropped anchor near a pitch-black island, and we paddled toward it in complete darkness. As our eyes adjusted to the cloudy, starless night, we could see phosphorescent algae glittering in the water with each stroke of our paddles.

The experience was quiet, peaceful and just... awesome. I'll never forget it.

The next morning, I was thrilled to wake up to brilliant sunshine.

We fueled up with cereal and muesli for breakfast as we zoomed toward the lovely island where we'd spend our morning. Most of us kayaked from The Rock to the beach...

...as a nice warm-up for some barefoot hiking!

The view from the top of this hill was ridiculous — like a postcard. (The Rock is that rust-colored boat on the left.)

We enjoyed a 360-degree view of the surrounding islands, and our very knowledgeable crew explained various facts about each of them. I can't remember any of the info, but I promise I appreciated it at the time.

As we headed back down to the beach a different way, I almost slipped a few times — and some people weren't so lucky. That sucker was steep.

I grabbed my kayak once again to tour the area, and then we all donned snorkel masks and flippers to search for kina, or New Zealand sea urchins. Apparently the spiny creatures would provide us with an afternoon snack!

The water was a bit too cold for me and the underwater landscape had nothing on Oahu's spectacular Haunauma Bay (I guess I'm a snorkeling snob now?), so I retired to the beach to enjoy my Rock-provided picnic lunch: a sandwich, muesli bar, apple, delicious brownie and bottle of water (soda was also an option). You can pay $20 extra for the lunch and the use of a beach towel, but I got them for free with a credit I received for booking the cruise through my Stray driver.

It was a perfect day to relax on the beautiful beach! We had plenty of time to soak up the sun before we headed back to The Rock.

I was a bit sad once the boat started heading back to Paihia, but the crew had one more adventure in store for us.

Remember those sea urchins I mentioned earlier? One crew member cracked open a few and encouraged us to sample the roe.

Well, I'll try anything!

And it tasted just about how you'd expect: slimy and ocean-y. I preferred the lamb testicles, to be honest. : )

Overall, The Rock overnight cruise was wonderful and I'd recommend it to anyone! At $188/person for a shared cabin (I bunked with a pair of girlfriends in their 20s), I felt like I got my money's worth considering it included all those activities, yummy food and a night of accommodation.

We only had 13 people on our cruise — the boat's capacity is 36 — and I was actually the thirteenth wheel! There were five couples ranging in age from mid 20s to early 60s, one pair of friends... and me. I felt a bit awkward at first, but everyone was really friendly. The crew told me that the vibe of each cruise depends on the crowd, and I can imagine that a bigger group would make for an even livelier experience.

So, that was my first big adventure in New Zealand! Thanks to beautiful weather and a great time on The Rock, it was a pretty great start.


New here?


  1. Ahh.. Bay of Islands with The Rock - still one of my favorite days in New Zealand! And you caught a fish!! Wasn't that just an awesome experience?! Glad you enjoyed it as much as we did. :)

    1. Yes, I loved it! Your positive review definitely convinced me to give it a shot, and all my Stray-mates on the bus were jealous afterward and wished they had gone!

  2. Very nice post, as expected always from You :)

    This feels like a collage of all the stories and pics we've been looking in Twitter, Facebook and previous posts, I love it :)

    I want to visit NZ every post more!


    1. Thank you! Be sure to make the trip up to Bay of Islands if you go. NZ is stunning overall, but Bay of Islands was definitely a highlight.

  3. ahhhhhhh I'm so so jealous!! All of those photos are amazing!! I think I might be planning my trip to NZ for next year!

    1. YES, you should go!! Definitely go in the summer (December-February) — I caught the tail-end of nice weather, and it was woooonderful!

  4. This looks amazing.My bf and I are starting our trip in New Zealand in March and we definitely want to do the rock boat trip now!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...