Dolphin Cruise to ‘Hole in the Rock’ at Bay of Islands, New Zealand – Why this was not our cup of tea
After intensive travelling around Auckland our first week in New Zealand, we set off for Northland region the 2nd week. We stayed in historical Kerikeri and explore the Bay of Islands over the next four days. We did the first day quite unplanned and managed to cover a lot of ground – history, nature and fun at the beach all in one day!
The second day we decided to do a boat cruise around the islands, as it seemed to be a popular activity and was mentioned in Lonely Planet and several websites. You get to see many of the 150 islands and hopefully see dolphins while out at sea. We went with Fuller Great Sights Dolphin Cruise to the Hole in the Rock as opposed to their Dolphin Eco Experience where you get to swim with dolphins. I hadn’t had the chance to read up on the ethics of such close encounters with wild dolphins and figured we were likely to see them while on the Dolphin Boat Cruise anyhow. In retrospect, we could have also chosen their other options Island Adventurer Cruises which would have been better suited for us. I will explain in a little bit why! It seemed like there were two big tour companies running these cruises – Fullers and Explore but later we found several other smaller ones offering the same cruises. Again, this will be all lessons learnt for our future visits here 🙂
The boats leave from Paihia or Russel twice a day. We chose to go in the afternoon rather than rushing in the morning. Plus we had an unexpected trip to the The Farmers Market in Kerikeri, which was literally opposite the Motel we were staying at – Kauri Park Motel. It was such a lovely experience! So much local produce, some organic, all fresh, many goodies to eat, food we tried for the first time (hāngi), listening to live folk music, and just wonderful vibes all around. We had a lovely time here.
We got to Paihia a bit late and just had enough time to pick up our tickets at the Pier and get on the Boat. The boat was full as it was Easter holiday weekend – or maybe it’s always this busy (?) We managed to find seats inside near the front but could not hear the Captain very well through the sound system. She gave a briefing of the different islands we passed with bits of their history. Thankfully we were given a little hand out which gave some details of the places we sailed through. Anytime we stepped outside to admire the turquoise color of the sea or the many islands, there were crowds of people trying to take pictures (we were guilty of this too, I guess!)
And so passed majority of more than half of our 4 hour tour..just cruising along the islands, taking in the beauty of the turquoise waters and the rugged islands. Perhaps if it wasn’t so crowded, or if we had seats outside, maybe we would have enjoyed it more? The scenery was stunning but you don’t really get to experience it, other than visually. We are more of a ‘doing/exploring’ kind of family then just ‘seeing’ things….I think our kind of island cruise would be to take a boat to one or two islands and just explore those on foot or go swimming on the shores. Now we know that is also possible, next time we will choose to go on a single island trip or even better have our own boat and go sailing around, stopping when we want to, wherever we want to, rather than being shepherded around in flocks. The kids did enjoy riding the front of the boat with the strong wind on their faces, looking at the colourful fish, and the boat going through the Hole in the Rock. We were all disappointed not to have seen any dolphins 🙁
Finally after what seemed like forever, we got off at Urupukapuka Island Recreational Reserve , walked to the top of the hills where we had stunning views of the entire bay, and more importantly, we got to stretch our legs, walk about, explore a little bit on our own! We barely had 45 minutes on the island, just enough time to go up and back down again for a quick swim if anyone wanted to. We didn’t this time as the beach didn’t look that appealing with so many boats docked nearby. This place is very popular for hiking and water sports and you can chose to just take the ferry here and spend the day here kayaking, swimming and hiking. I liked our time here more than being on the ship, but it felt quite rushed.
We were happy to get back to Paihia, which is a very cute tourist town. Lot of Restaurants, bars and lovely shops to browse through. Our first meal here were alright, we ate at Frank’s Pizza Bar and Cafe, not the best food we have had in New Zealand to date – We did have delicious frozen Yogurt from a place I cannot remember, but it was one of the best we have ever had!
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