On Christmas Eve, I joined the Contiki tour and met my new tour mates. The group of about 30 was composed mostly of Australians plus 3 Europeans and 3 Americans (including me). As it was a modular tour, this distribution would shift slightly in the coming days, but not by much. The Australians outnumbered all of us by a wide margin throughout, which meant I got to learn a lot of interesting slang in addition to making some fascinating new friends. Our tour manager Soki and coach driver Pat are both from New Zealand and did an awesome job throughout the tour.
After meeting up with my tour mates in Auckland, we loaded up the coach and set off 4 hours north to Paihia on the Bay of Islands. Upon arriving, about 20 of us hopped straight onto a boat trip through the Bay of Islands. Captain Cook stopped in this area on his accidental trip to New Zealand in 1769, and Russell, the major town, was the first capital of New Zealand after the Europeans came.
Capt. Cook counted 144 islands in the bay, but it’s likely he was actually counting about 60 rocks, since the locals now count only 86 islands in the bay. New Zealand officially classifies land as an island if it stays dry and supports vegetation. Maybe Capt. Cook just wasn’t as fastidious in his classifications.
Very few of the islands in the bay are inhabited, and about 90% of them are owned by the New Zealand government. All of them are protected to preserve the unique ecosystems they possess. However, it is permissible for anyone to visit any island as long as they arrive by sea and leave before sundown. In other words, no camping.
The cruise took us through the bay, and our skipper showed us some of the key features of various islands, including a sea cave and explained how the birds go fishing straight out of the sea. The weather was a little murky, so the atmosphere was moody but still gorgeous.
Check back tomorrow for pictures from our trek into the first island on which Capt. Cook landed.
Title quote: Capt. James Cook