Bay of Islands: The milky way

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright takes a boat trip with a touch of history around the scenic Bay of Islands

The Cream Trip retraces the path taken in 1927 by the boat delivering mail and supplies in the Bay of Islands, and collecting cream from isolated farms in return.
The Cream Trip retraces the path taken in 1927 by the boat delivering mail and supplies in the Bay of Islands, and collecting cream from isolated farms in return.

The Cream Trip retraces the path taken in 1927 by the boat delivering mail and supplies in the Bay of Islands, and collecting cream from isolated farms in return. We're on the Tangaroa III for the Cream Trip, which retraces the original journey that began in 1927, dropping off mail and supplies to the islands in the Bay of Islands, collecting cream in return. In the 1960s the Cream Trip was a popular tourist attraction. For five shillings, visitors could spend all day on the launch, then called the Bay Belle, while she picked up cream cans from isolated farms. It was a great day out in the bay then, and it still is today.

First stop for us is a quick pass by Russell, which was once known as the hellhole of the Pacific because of the pubs (the Duke of Wellington was the first in New Zealand to have a liquor license), the criminals and the "loose" women. Today, it's gentrified and quaint, but there was a time when looting and setting buildings alight was such a part of life here that only places of religion, such as Christ Church, the oldest standing church in New Zealand, were spared.

On the way to a plotted course of islands in the Bay, we chase a pod of dolphins, hoping they will slow down long enough for people onboard to jump in and swim with them. The bottlenose dolphins we see apparently live for 80-90 years and the crew know many by name, recognising them from patterns on their dorsal fins. "Sadly, in captivity, they only live 12 years," says Billy, our narrator on the journey.

We stop chasing the dolphins and head to the volcanic "black rocks" which look like massive coal icebergs covered in lichen. Red and black billed gulls, as well as oyster catchers and terns will be on top of the rocks soon, with their young. Today, there are just a few red billed gulls and a few hardy pohutukawas.

We island-hop to other spots, such as Assassination Cove, where Marion du Fresne was killed, and Roberton Island where Captain Cook anchored the Endeavour. There's also Marsden Cross, which has a large cross, a pa site and driftwood strewn along the coastline, as a kind of offering to the gods. It's here the first Christian sermon was held on Christmas Day in 1814.

Billy's history lesson paints quite a brutal picture of life here in days gone by - lots of mistaken identity and bloodshed - yet there's also a glamorous modern contrast, with figures such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Zane Grey, the American author of adventure novels and pulp fiction about the Old West, showcasing its reputation as a playground for the rich and famous.

It's quite gloomy out in the dark ocean, with hundreds of seabirds dipping and diving. The monochromatic tones, from the white spray of waves against the boat to the black ocean and grey sky, are broken up at last by the bright green of more sheltered islands.

We cross over to the eastern side to stop for lunch at Urupukapuka, the largest island in the bay. After lunch we head up the mountain past a beautifully derelict house. It's worth the effort, even giving my 4-year-old a piggy-back, but very windy - just the cure for any seasickness. The views are spectacular. Forget the cafe and take your picnic up here.

As we head back to Paihia, some people are sleeping, while others are hanging on tight at the front of the boat, the wind making them Michelin Men. Because of the bad weather, they missed out on swimming with dolphins and the Hole in the Rock, but almost getting blown off a boat is apparently something to write home about, too.

Danielle Wright travelled with assistance from Tourism Northland.


Bay-tripper

The Cream Trip with Fullers GreatSights

Ph: 0800 744 487. Adults $119, children $59.50, children under 5 are free. Swimming with the dolphins costs an extra $30 per person.

It's a full day trip starting at 9.15am and finishing at 4.15pm. Stock up on food at the bakery beforehand or pack your own picnic lunch to take with you. Snacks and drinks available onboard.

Paihia Beach Resort and Spa

116 Marsden Rd, Paihia, Bay of Islands. Ph: (09) 402 0111. Prices start at $555 per night for a poolside studio apartment.

It's just outside the main strip, so a bit more private.

The salt water pool and heated spas kept our children entertained while we took in the spectacular sunsets over the ocean across the road.

This is luxury accommodation, but you always get the feeling children are welcome and there's a handy playground on the beach in front of the resort for early risers.

If you're looking for pampering, they have world-class spa facilities including Vichy rain shower massages, hot stones and everything in between.

- NZ Herald

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