By Jodi Bryant
Exploring the Bay of Islands needn't be costly. The kids and I recently had a mini-vacay and, being before Christmas so with little time and money, managed to have an overnight stay where we crammed in lots of adventures on a shoestring budget.
First up was the ferry ride to Russell. We were lucky to arrive at the jetty as Bill's ferry was about to leave. With seven now-grown-up kids himself, our skipper empathetically offers children the ride for free.
Over in Russell, with all the stunning Pohutukawa in full bloom, I got a little distracted taking scenic picture after picture before the kids reminded me we were finding the track to Flagstaff Hill.
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There are two ways up: along the beach and up a track at low tide, or up the road. The tide was out so we asked some passing tourists the way and set off. Spotting weka along the way was a highlight. It was extremely hot and we'd thought to take some water but, once we made it to the top, were thankful for the brilliant day.
Even the kids, who'd just begun making noises, were rendered silent by the stunning 360-degree vista before us. They sat on the bench and drank in the views – and lots of water – while I took more pictures and read out the inscription on the plaque about the history of this site – famed for flying the first Union Jack before being repetitively chopped down by local Maori.
We returned the road way, which seemed quicker, and spotted our ferry. But alas, we were half a minute too late as it pulled away from the wharf. Still, I could think of worse places to be stranded and the kids used their pocket money to buy some sweets from the Four Square and we rested and rehydrated under a tree, before exploring the town some more.
Once back in Paihia, the kids remembered the large circular aquarium in the centre of a restaurant on the wharf so waltzed on in to look at the puffer fish, snapper, and spot the ones lurking along the bottom. We headed back to our accommodation at Ti Beach, via the rocks where they went crab hunting. I'd forgotten what a lovely beach it is there with nice sand, Pohutukawa-lined and with large playground and bbq. Our accommodation was right across the road from this with free kayaks and bikes. We walked into town for dinner, admiring the beautifully-lit-up village on the way home.
The following day, after a walk into town to get a coffee and the $ store for the kids to spend more of their pocket money (for some reason this is a highlight for them wherever we go on holiday), it was time to check-out before heading to Waitangi for a cultural tour. With kids free and New Zealand residents half-price, this is another inexpensive must-do, even just to walk the beautiful grounds – especially on the day we had.
We finished up with a packed lunch under the rouge-infused trees back at the beach, topped with an ice cream treat from across the road, before it was time to return to reality.