55. Russell – No Longer the Hellhole of the Pacific

While staying in Kawakawa we visited Russell and Okiato – the same Okiato which was the site of the first Russell back when it was briefly the capital city of NZ. We drove in on a winding shingle road through the Russell Forest and the small farming village of Waihaha to get there, and later home again via a longer route through Mokau.

Over two days, we visited Waitangi (no 56 blog), one of the places where the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place. There’s a huge Maori Pakeha history around this region and we’re learning a lot, or having our existing understandings consolidated. I’m not going to do it all justice here but will briefly hop on my high horse to say


I really do think Maori Pakeha history should be part of learning in NZ – in my schooling, NZ history was all very glossed over or downright ignored: what’s the point in that?

Russell’s Maori name is Kororareka which means that the penguins once caught and eaten around here were very tasty!

I’m aware I need to work out how to make macrons on wordpress so that I can include them whenever I write Maori words, otherwise it’s like leaving your t’s uncrossed and your i’s undotted…a job for the next wet day…

The road through the Russell Forest.
Driving through Waihaha we see marshes and realise that while we are driving through forests and across farmland, we are also sidling Waikare Inlet.
At Orongo Bay, this boardwalk runs across a branch of Waikare Inlet – our first experience of being right inside a mangrove swamp – I’ve been waiting for this!
The boardwalk is part of a walk that runs all the way from Russell to Okiato and the Opua ferry.
A board with information – yes!! I was hoping one of those would turn up somewhere…
When a mangrove flowers and seeds, the new plant begins to grow shoots and roots before falling from its parent plant, so it can swim off a little way before embedding in a new patch of mud.
Try as we might, we couldn’t find any little plants still attached to their parent plants; must be the wrong time of year.

Mangroves actually help land to grow as mud washes in and gets caught around them, building up and up.
Mangroves can handle salt water easily; their roots stick up into the air, not only holding the tree up but also taking in air and water for their growth.
The decaying matter from the mangrove plants supports mud snails and mud crabs which in turn feed flounder.

The boards had information about manganese found here in the past, and the importance of the hill behind Orongo Bay – we have to press on though and as often happens I feel like I’m missing out on more learning, more seeing.

There are pros and cons with whether to choose to travel in a caravan or a motorhome; and here we have hit one of the disadvantages of a caravan – we have to get back to it each night instead of being able to ‘crash’ and ‘land’ wherever we like. Kevin and I are often discussing these pros and cons at present as we think about the future. New Zealand is so big, and there’s so much to see, do, learn and experience.
Driving on to Russell, we pass bay after bay – absolutely to die for…
In Russell, a wall of cacti on the outside perimeter fence of Hone’s Garden, which is a bar and cafe.
On the Russell beach, looking towards the wharf…
…past the wharf…
…out into the bay…
…and southwards.
Some kind of volcanic rock plonked in the middle of all that shingle.
On the wharf…
It’s so beautiful here, I can’t stop taking photos!
Russell has quite a history, and in early Pakeha times it was reported as the hellhole of the Pacific by a number of sea captains due to the drinking and debauchery that went on – no sign of that today…except when locals celebrate those times by dressing up in sailing and harlot clothing which they apparently do once a year!
We see a notice for the Birdman Festival that’s unbelievably happening tomorrow – wish we’d realised earlier and worked it in.
These rocks lie at the southern end of the beach.
More photos – we’ve just realised we can see Paihia across the inlet. A lot of people catch the ferry to Russell from either Paihia, or Ohua which also has a car ferry.
And directly behind the tallest yacht is Waitangi!
Another shot of Waitangi – it’s where you can see the huge area of green grass. We can see the flagpole. Our next trip will be to Waitangi.
An example of a thrill seeking activity on offer.
Lovely character homes on the hills surrounding Russell.
Walking along the street…
Pohutukawa tree; would love to see it in flower. At one point the local school planted pohutukawa all along the Russell foreshore, replacing the pines that had been previously planted. The plan was to beautify the place. I think it worked!
In this lovely garden, we are introduced through these six carved pou to Tamati Waka Nene, an esteemed Maori chief of the 1700’s and 1800’s who helped ease Moari Pakeha relations as a peacemaker and negotiator. He was given land by the government as a token of appreciation which frankly just leaves me feeling confused – who’s land was it to give, that far back?
A puriri tree in the garden is in flower.
A boulder of manganese that likely came from Orongo Bay.
A seat made using the bricks of the chimney in the house Tamati Waka Nene owned.
An early European whaling boat, renovated from the past and now in the Russell Museum. We went through the museum.
I’ve never before seen these birds, but they are common in the north and we see them daily. They are myna birds, introduced by early Europeans for pest control.
See the jonquils in flower!
Flowers, everywhere we go!
Driving on to Okiato: this is the site of NZ’s first capital city from 1840 – 1841 after which it moved to Auckland then Wellington where it remains today. This site is a large grassy area with an old covered well, a few established trees, some flowers and a view over Veronica Channel.
Continuing on, passing through more gorgeous bays.
Wow, an entire flock of oyster catchers.
Crossing a bridge over a mangrove swamp – we’ve seen a few swamps from high up now, and sometimes there are rivers that weave through them in coils and curls. I am finding mangrove swamps hugely attractive.
Passing beautiful forested hills and farmlands too quickly.
I may have said it before, but if not then this likely won’t be the last time – the beaches and coastlines around here are to die for!!
Last glimpse of the sea before cutting back across inland to Kawakawa and our caravan.

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