Northland: Local cruiser adds heat to battle of the bays

By Rachel Tiffen

The overnight ship Ipipiri, named by Bay of Islands hapu, coasts along at 12 knots and is designed for minimum movement. Photo / Supplied
The overnight ship Ipipiri, named by Bay of Islands hapu, coasts along at 12 knots and is designed for minimum movement. Photo / Supplied

I'm sitting back aboard the luxury four-storey catamaran Ipipiri, sipping a chilled local sav blanc and savouring the magnificent rugged seascape of our finest bay.

Of course that begs the question: which bay? In a sea-circled nation like Aotearoa, it is no wonder we argue over whose bay reigns supreme.

Well, the one I'm singing the praises of at the moment is Northland's Bay of Islands. And that - I might add - is a big call from a Mount Maunganui fan like myself.

The missionary who named the small coastal town of Paihia - a five-minute drive from Opua, where Ipipiri set off - got the bay's crusade off to a rollicking start. After all, "pai" means good in Maori and "hia" sounded close enough to "here" ...

With its golden shores flanked by tree-dotted grassy banks, Paihia township is a tourist hub in the summer, but hasn't let that go to its head.

Locals still smile and say gidday, and when I asked for my soy chai latte to be reheated because it wasn't piping hot, the barista didn't roll his eyes and put me in the stroppy Jafa basket. Or if he did, he didn't let on ...

Boarding the brand-new, 46m Ipipiri - a name gifted to Fullers Great Sights Bay of Islands by local hapu - I couldn't help but think back to my time working on luxury yachts in the French Riviera.

As "Madame" (as I was directed to call her) screamed "Rachelllllle!!" and her petit monsters ran riot making mess faster than I could clean it, I dreamed of the day that I would be a guest on a boat.

My time had finally come and Ipipiri (pronounced Ee-pee-pee-ree) did not disappoint.

Billed as "a maritime platform that showcases the Bay of Islands overnight", the cruise suits both the seafaring and the sea-fearing.

Coasting along at 12 knots in a vessel designed for minimum movement, the only time my legs got the shakes was when I'd downed a few too many savs.

And despite the gifting of earplugs and warning about early-morning noise from the galley, my partner and I didn't hear a peep.

The largest cruising ship based permanently in New Zealand, Ipipiri is spread over 30 rooms, with a spacious rooftop sundeck which we were told could just about host a chopper. Unfortunately my plans to sneak in a bit of pre-summer tanning were dashed by New Zealand's changeable weather.

Cruising the Bay, we were treated to a historical commentary: the signing of the treaty at Waitangi, the debauchery of seamen at Russell, and the unfortunate tale of French explorer Marion du Fresne and his men, who messed with local Maori and were eaten for their troubles.

All that talk of French cuisine had the tummy growling, so I was grateful for the scones, jam and cream that followed.

Then it was anchor down and "activity time". In a lame attempt to earn the looming buffet dinner, we hopped into kayaks for a paddle around Motuarohia Island.

The water was calm and fun for a frolic, but disappointingly lacking in fish and dolphins.

Then came the offer of a swim. While the other (sane) females stayed warm and dry, I dive-bombed over the edge, desperately hoping my triangle bikini would stay on. While my crucial bits remained covered, my vocal chords were put out of action for a moment by the temperature of the water.

The buffet put on that night by comic chef Richard was fit for a king. From delectable locally sourced seafood to roast lamb, I was grateful for the king-sized bed to starfish in later.

But alas, no time for a sleep-in in the morning. Waking to a drizzly sea view, we had five minutes to get upstairs for breakfast as the mighty Ipipiri headed back to dry land.

As the rain came down and visions of paddock-sized beds covered in pillows danced in my fuzzy head, I kicked myself for signing up for the Excitor fastboat experience.

I feared that the first fast thing I'd experience would be my breakfast racing up my throat.

Enter big red waterproof suits, an assortment of retro sunnies (for the sea spray) and a fastboat tour guide whose commentary was intonated like the rolling waves. Despite the disappointing lack of monster swell and bizarrely selected soundtrack (how on earth is Mrs Robinson speed material?), it was great ... and the breakfast stayed put.

An overnight cruise was really too short. But it was long enough for me to change my allegiance. These days when I shout "Go the Bay", I'll be wistfully looking north.

Further information: The Ipipiri is a 46m catamaran, which includes 30 deluxe state rooms and a 70-seat restaurant and bar. As well as cruises, the vessel is also available for charter for conferences, weddings and incentive groups. For more information, visit overnightcruise.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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