An idyllic spot in the heart of the Bay of Islands, Russell (originally called Kororareka) was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand, established in the early 1800s. It was an important mercantile centre and resupply port for whaling and sealing operations, that became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. Nowadays it is probably one of the most pleasant places in New Zealand, if also one of the most popular with tourists who either stay here, or catch the ferry over from Paihia. I’ve visited a few times, but the majority of these photos are from my last visit in February 2020, exploring just after sunrise.
Flagstaff Hill is a good place to get your bearings. It offers stunning 360 degree views over the town and the surrounding Bay of Islands. It has been a controversial place, with the British flag becoming a target for Maori understandably upset with how the British behaved in New Zealand, directly contradicting the Treaty of Waitangi signed just across the water.
Walking along the pedestrianised waterfront is quite lovely in the early hours, but more like an obstacle course after the ferries start to arrive.
A couple of blocks back from the water Christ Church Russell is New Zealand’s oldest surviving church, dating from 1835, surrounded by a fascinating graveyard.
Many of the memorials relate to the H.M.S. Hazard, whose crew were involved in fighting about 600 armed Maori who attacked Russell in 1845.
At the southern end of the waterfront the Pompallier Mission and Printery shows the early French influence in the settlement. It’s a fascinating place, a French-style printery and tannery, with attractive gardens, set in a lovely location by the bay. Built in 1842, it was used to print Church texts translated from Latin to te reo Māori.
There are some great beaches around Russell, including Oneroa Bay Beach (Long Bay), a long sandy bay, popular with runners and dog walkers first thing.
Tapeka Point Beach and Rocky Bay Reserve offered good views out across the water.
The easiest way to reach Russell by car is to use the Opua-Russell Car Ferry, which runs every 15 minutes, saving a lengthy and winding road around the peninsula.
Close to the ferry wharf is Okiato, home of New Zealand’s first capital, established in 1840. It didn’t last long though, being almost entirely burnt down in 1841, with the capital then moving to Auckland, and eventually Wellington. There isn’t much left now other than a 12m deep well, and a well maintained giant roundabout layout.
To end with the short walk down to Pipiroa Bay, past some ridiculous houses, to a lovely quiet beach.
1 thought on “Russell and Okiato”