Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

17th Feb - 19th Feb

Before I headed from Whangarai I made sure that I booked a place ahead for the bay of islands. The place to go appeared to be Paihai (I wrongly pronounced it as pee-high) which seemed to have the most accommodation available. I booked myself into the Saltwater lodge for 2 days before heading off.

At around 3pm I arrived and signed myself into the hostel. The hostel looked like a good enough place to hang out and it had the bonus of free parking underneath it so I extended my stay to 3 nights. Once I settled in I checked out the excursions on offer and after consulting with the receptionist in the hostel decided on a combination dolphin watch / yachting trip with a company called explore NZ. The trip would be leaving pretty early the next morning - that left me the rest of the day to look around the town and get my bearings so I went for a walk along the water front.

The place had a really good vibe to it (it helped that it wasn't raining!) with a good combination of touristy shops and restaurants. What it seemed to lack was a good bar!

Boats and islands


After searching in vain for a good place to have a pint I settled for the bar attached to the saltwater lodge itself. The reason was quite simply - HAPPY HOUR 5-7pm and they had a cheap pizza and pint deal. The pizza was rather small but did the job for the moment. I then had another happy hour pint. I was given a raffle ticket with my pint and in the middle of enjoying it the quiet barman that had been serving me came from behind the bar and went to the DJ's area. He then proceeded to transform himself from mild manned barman to super loud bingo host as he started to call out raffle numbers for the people in the bar - which consisted of me, several (other?) lushes and a large crowd of 19-20 somethings who were sitting in the far corner and lapping it all up.

As each number was called the lucky winner had to go up and do a 'take your pick' from a list of boxes. These gave them chances of proper prizes, booby prizes and karaoke! The major prize was a free skydive but I decided to sneak off before my number came up and I would be forced up to do a rendition of 'baby, one more time' or some other song.

I did another walk around the town looking to get some more food to supplement my meager pizza. Eventually I settled on a large bag of chips (more healthy food!). Afterwards I went back to the hostel - past the raffle bar which had managed to entice more punters inside and was now a 'take your pick'/Karaoke frenzy. It was still early so I went to the bar in the base hostel near my own hostel. At least in the base bars you were guaranteed to have a decent crowd - especially as their own happy hour had only just kicked off :)

While there I got chatting to a Scottish girl Mhairi, her English friend Sarah and Donald, another friend of Mhairi's. Donald was a character to say the least - a middle aged guy in his late 50's (or is that 60's?) from Mhairi's village on the isle of Skye who was travelling around New Zealand by himself. Before I could say "Three, Tui, One" I was in a round with them and was also ordering shots - a great way to prepare for the sailing trip the next day! I eventually managed to force myself to go back to hostel for some much needed shut-eye.

My days on the shark dive boat prepared me well for being able to get up with a hangover and still manage to go on a boat. As I said the trip I booked onto was a combination trip of a dolphin watch followed by a sailing trip on a very large 'America cup' type catamaran.

First the boat headed across the bay to pick up more passengers from Russell then we made our way past lots of small picturesque islands searching for dolphins. It wasn't too long until we found them - a large pod of bottlenose dolphins merrily swimming round our boat and another smaller boat owned by the same company. The smaller boat seemed to be getting all the best views - including having some of the dolphins ride the bow wave of their boat.

I did get to see some great sights including several with babies:

Dolphin riding bow wave of nearby boat

Mother and calf

Dolphin right beside our boat

Mother and calf

We stayed around the dolphins for a good while watching them jump out of the water in the distance (never did get a good shot of that!).

My best attempt of a photo of jumping dolphin

It was soon time to go and rendezvous with the yacht for the second part of the trip. Myself and about 20 other passengers were taken across from one boat to the other on small inflatables. Once on board the catamaran I found myself a nice sunny perch on one side of the yacht as it started its journey.

Our yacht

The sail.

It was an almost mesmerising experience. We were gently sailing along (slightly too slow for my liking) on a calm blue sea past beautiful islands. There were scantly clad women sunbathing at the front of the boat and best of all you could get nice cool beers. Each person could get a drink from cooler boxes and put a mark on a tally sheet so they could pay up at the end of the trip.

Sea and islands

At lunchtime we anchored beside one of the islands and had a hot buffet of beef, chicken and various salads - at last proper food! The drink tally sheet was looking interesting at this point with myself and some other guy neck and neck in the lead - a challenge if ever i saw one!

After lunch we were allowed to go to the island for walking, swimming, sunbathing and even kayaking. I am sorry to say all I did was sit and try to rid myself of the beer buzz that was filling my head. After we got back on board I decided not to indulge in any more alcohol and just sat wishing I had stuck to cokes.

Kayaking at island

View from island beach

On the way back they were able to put up the spinnaker (that's the big sail they put at the front of yachts when they are going downwind) so we were able to go a lot faster on the return journey. At around 4pm after dropping passengers back off at Russell we arrived back at Paihai. Once I settled my drinks bill (which thankfully was not as bad as it could have been) I returned to the hostel for a kip before going out for the night.

The night was basically a rerun of the previous night as I met up Donald, Mhairi and Sarah plus some other people which included Annette - one of the Kiwi experience people I had met on the south island and who I had already bumped into in Taupo. Not only did she know Mhairi and Donald but she was in fact from their same village! It's a small world - but I don't think you could cover it in a kilt!

As I got more and more drunk the conversation turned to scuba diving and before I knew it I was booked onto a diving trip the following day. Unfortunately (see glossary update) I awoke the next morning to find the sky was overcast and any chance of going diving would be a out of the question. The heavens soon opened up and for most of the rest of the day it poured down. I knew the bad weather would catch up with me eventually - all I could do was sit around the hostel and hope the rain would subside.

I tried to extend my stay in my hostel to the Friday night but it was booked up. The people at the hostel did try to get me booked into other places but they too were fully booked. It was a real pity - even with the rainy weather Paihai was a great place to stay.

I had one last night's boozing with Donald and co (vowing to make sure I go to Skye over the summer) then the next morning I checked out ready to head back down towards Auckland.

Lions red Beer: The happy hour beer I had in the raffle bar. Nice enough for the price!

Bottlenose dolphin - obviously
Black Petrel - while watching the dolphins

According to online dictionary its meanings are:
1. suffering from bad luck: an unfortunate person. (see for examples)
2. unfavorable or inauspicious: an unfortunate beginning.
3. regrettable or deplorable: an unfortunate remark.
4. marked by or inviting misfortune: an unfortunate development.
5. lamentable; sad: the unfortunate death of her parents.

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