There aren’t many pockets of New Zealand I’ve yet to explore, but there was one genuinely iconic spot missing from my list – the Bay of Islands.
While I’ve been to Northland before and loved it, the top of the North Island is pretty huge. From Auckland to Cape Reinga, the tippy top of New Zealand is well over 400 kilometers long and roughly six hours driving.
So over the years, I’ve just taken my time and explored bit by bit. I fell in love with the ancient forests along the Kauri Coast and fell asleep listening to kiwi calling at night. I’ve met one of New Zealand’s grandest trees and spent days hiking the coastlines around Whangarei.
But I held off on visiting the Bay of Islands. Knowing that one day I’d get there and be able to take it in properly, I waited.
And this January was finally the time! Giulio and I headed up to the North Island for a week to see friends, do a bit of work, but mostly have a holiday. Until we arrived, I didn’t know how much I needed a proper holiday.
The end of 2019 did a real toll on me, physically and mentally, that I wasn’t quite aware of until the holidays hit and I became a zombie. Without the impending feeling of constant deadlines and jobs hanging over my head like a guillotine, my body just sagged into a dire state of fatigue.
It turns out; you can only go at full speed ahead for so long before you crash.
By New Years, I just slept and slept and slept some more, and luckily in New Zealand, things quiet down over the end of December and January, so I caved in to my body’s demand for peace and just relaxed.
And let me be the first to say, there’s nowhere better to relax than in the Bay of Islands.
There was so much that I wanted to see and do in this magical part of New Zealand. I had a list a page long of bucket list spots and things to check off my travel list. Your girl loves a list.
As we unpacked our bags after arriving in Russell, I put my phone away. We basically did sweet fuck all the whole time, and it was great!
And it was awesome!
We based ourselves in Russell, hiring a car in Auckland and driving up north for three hours. There’s a car ferry that links Russell and Opua that runs every ten minutes or so. This makes it easy to access, though there’s a road a long way around as well.
While Russell isn’t an island, it operates on island time and feels like an island here.
The vibe is most definitely beachy and relaxed. Russell is tiny and exceptionally charming. No one is in a hurry here, and the tropical climate invites you to sit back, relax, and enjoy life.
Russell is historically an important place in New Zealand. It was the first seaport and first European settlement. Russell was also New Zealand’s first capital in the 19th century.
Before Europeans arrived, Russell was called Kororāreka, and it was a lawless and wild, full of prostitution; it was even nicknamed “the hellhole of the Pacific!”
Nowadays it’s charming to the extreme, with lots of traditional historic buildings, beautiful flowers, and warm, inviting beaches. Russell is also home to New Zealand’s first hotel, bar, and restaurant – The Duke of Marlborough. It’s a popular spot, right on the waterfront, and the perfect base for Russell itself. We spent heaps of time here.
After a week in the Bay of Islands, I didn’t take too many photos.
But I did reset my soul, which I desperately needed. From falling asleep on a beach and getting sunburned to fishing and siestas, it was the perfect getaway for a holiday.
Every morning I would wake up, sip coffee, and read a chapter from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things to begin my day before taking it easy. It was extraordinary.
Even though I didn’t come home with a hard drive of images, I thought I’d go ahead and share a snippet of my favorite shots from the Bay of Island with the hopes it might inspire you to take a break too – enjoy!
The view from Donkey Bay Inn – the beach below is a nudist beach
Our room at the incredible Donkey Bay Inn – quirky boutique accommodation in Russell, and one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed.
Oysters at Terra Restaurant in Paihia, we took a short passenger ferry over for dinner here one night.
My partner Giulio Sturla prepping a fantastic dinner at Donkey Bay, with all ingredients sourced from their garden with the fish we caught the day before.
I caught a massive snapper when we went fishing