An afternoon in Russell, Bay of Islands

I get such a kick out of the fact that Russell was formerly known as the ‘hell hole of the Pacific.’

I’m sure its unsavoury past fully justified the label, but it’s just so incongruous with the quaint, historic port town as it stands today!

I enjoyed my first visit so much that I jumped at the chance to hop on the ferry and head back to Russell when we returned to Northland last December.

Summer in December

Ferry view - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

With summer-in-December fully in swing (I’m still not quite used to the seasons in the southern hemisphere!), we were lucky enough to have immaculate weather for the duration of our Northland trip.

There’s something extraordinarily vivid about the colours in Bay of Islands. On this trip it was almost as though the sea and sky were competing for the ‘most astonishing shade of blue’ award.

While Ben was off visiting a railway, I took the ferry across from Paihia. There are a few different boats that do the crossing – tickets cost 12NZD return for adults.

View from the ferry - Russell - Bay of Islands, New ZealandKororareka Bay from ferry - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The view of Russell as the harbour pulls into view is so picturesque. Shallow water dotted with boats and a sweep of flaming pohutukawa trees extending along the coast…

Fun fact: Pohutukawa trees are known as New Zealand Christmas Trees here due to their festive crimson flowers.

Sweet penguin(?)

Welcome to Kororareka - Russell - Bay of Islands, New ZealandPier - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The maori name for Russell, Kororāreka, means ‘sweet penguin’, which I initially thought was a spectacular name. After all, who could argue that penguins are cute and adorable? Imagine my disappointment when I realised it actually means sweet-tasting penguin. (Legend has it a wounded chief requested some penguin broth and, presumably happy with the dish, remarked “how sweet is the penguin”. I guess the name stuck?)

On disembarking, you’re greeted by the pretty wooden sign above, which features the (poor) eponymous korora, or blue penguin.

You can just see the sails of the R. Tucker Thompson tall ship at anchor at the far end of the pier. Our time aboard was my favourite thing we did in Bay of Islands during our last visit, check out my account of that here, if you haven’t already!

Things to do in Russell

Pohutukawa aka New Zealand Christmas Trees - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The town is so small that there are really only three key things to see, as far as I can tell:

  1. Pompalier Mission and Printing Museum
  2. Christ Church (the oldest church in New Zealand)
  3. Russell Museum

Kororareka Bay - Russell - Bay of Islands, New ZealandThe Strand - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

I’d checked off the Pompalier Mission last time, so this trip was all about Christ Church and Russell Museum. I couldn’t resist returning to The Strand, though – the road along the foreshore where the Pompalier Mission is located is so scenic, sandwiched between the deep blues of the bay and quaint, whitewashed cafés and restaurants..

The oldest church in New Zealand

Christ Church - The oldest church in New Zealand - Russell - Bay of Islands, New ZealandChrist Church - The oldest church in New Zealand - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The streets further inland aren’t quite so charming as the front, but they’re much quieter. Upon arrival at Christ Church I was fortunate enough to have the building and its grounds entirely to myself.

I’m an atheist, but am fond of religious history, art and architecture. The building was pretty unassuming as churches go: white clapboard, modest size, set amongst rows of gravestones and rosebushes. It’s exactly what you’d imagine an early settler church to be. Even though I didn’t spend too much time, it was worthwhile to see something so tied up with the history of the area.

York Street

York Street - Russell - Bay of Islands, New ZealandBlossom - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

I took a quick stroll down York Street, parallel to the harbour, before making my way to the museum. There were a handful of shops to be found here, but my favourite thing by far was all the blossom on display! I don’t know what the tree above is, but its lilac-coloured blossom was so pretty. (Mystery solved: it’s a Jacaranda! Thanks Courtney 😀 )

Russell Museum

Russell Museum - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Entry: 10NZD

Unfortunately photography wasn’t permitted inside. It’s pretty small, which you’d expect with a local museum. There’s one main gallery with a couple of smaller rooms attached: one containing a one fifth scale model of Cook’s Endeavour, the other showing a terrific 13 minute video on the history of the town.

The collection encompasses quite a diverse array of items, covering the history of early Polynesian settlers, artefacts from whaling, war memorabilia and domestic life (postcards, books etc.). There are also some interesting medical pieces from Samuel Ford, New Zealand’s first resident surgeon and Russell’s doctor.


Over to you

Lemonade Ice Lolly - Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Have you been to Russell? Are you tempted by tranquil, historic spots like this or do you prefer places with a faster pace of life? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

 

Linking up with:

Lauren, Van, Isabel and Marcella for Wanderful Wednesday.

Katy, Erin and Clare for Faraway Files.

Sarah, KarenLisa and Claire for Monday Escapes.

26 thoughts on “An afternoon in Russell, Bay of Islands

    1. Lorna Post author

      Awesome! It’s always fun to find places that you feel a connection to – I’m really keen to visit the Firth of Lorn in Scotland for that exact reason 😀

      Reply
  1. Ruth | Tanama Tales

    Well, the former name of the place is not that attractive bur I am sure it was a big surprise to those who had the courage to visit. Ahh, I really like places like this. I am so into cute and charming islands. #WednesdayWanderlust

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Same – cute and charming has me hooked every time! Yeah it was a rather unpleasant place back in the 19th century, but thankfully once the whaling industry moved out it turned into somewhere really lovely. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Same, it’s so small I don’t think it’s a particularly well-known destination. Which is possibly part of the attraction for me, come to think of it! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Erin Gustafson

    No this place is RIGHT UP my alley. Quaint? Cute? Nature? Seaside? Check check check and check! Looks like perfection to me! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    Reply
  3. Katy Clarke

    I adore jacarandas too! I love the Bay of Islands but have never been to Russell. What a picture perfect town. I think I could spend an afternoon hanging out on the pier #FarawayFiles

    Reply
  4. Lauren Bonheim

    For some reason your pictures aren’t loading (my WIFI is feeling testy today), but they way you describe this place is lovely. Sounds incredibly beautiful! Would love to get a look at that blue water 😀

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Aw, sorry to hear that Lauren! The compromise between image size/quality and loading time is such a tricky one – I’m 100% guilty of erring on the side of quality and uploading rather hefty files! In the hopes that it loads better, here’s a miniature version of one of the photos, to give you an idea:

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Nano. 😀 I hope you have an incredible time here in NZ! Where are you headed?

      Reply

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