There are only actually five full sea days on the passage from Bora Bora to the Bay of Islands even though it looks like six on the calendar. This is of course due to the fact that we crossed the international dateline and effectively lost the 16th, with everyone having to advance clocks 24 hours on the night of the 15th before retiring.
The passage itself took us through the Cook Islands over the Aguila Fracture Zone, Louisville and Kermadec Ridges and across the Kermadic Trench with depths of water in excess of six miles. Of course that sounds all very dramatic, though in truth, on the surface after passing the Cook Islands, all you see is blue sea!
We also encountered our first proper wet weather on 17th. It had rained hard the night before and the following morning heavy showers and periods of intermittent rain lingered, which lasted into mid afternoon. This was all due to an tropical cyclone, Jasmine, that had been down rated to a tropical storm and was way up to the north effecting Tonga and Fiji more intensely. The sea was still quite reasonable with only a two-metre (6ft) swell to remind everyone that the ship was at sea.
We arrived in the Bay of Islands, making first “landfall” on the coast of New Zealand a little after sunrise, and preceded into the bay to drop anchor a little under three cables (0.3 nautical miles) from the shallows off of the small town of Russell.
The Bay of Islands are in the Northland Region of the North Island of New Zealand close to the northern tip of the country. The bay itself is an irregular 10-mile-wide inlet in the northeastern coast of the island. A natural harbour, it has several arms which extend into the land, notably Waikare Inlet in the south and Kerikeri and Te Puna (Mangonui) inlets in the northwest. The small town of Russell is located at the end of a short peninsula that extends into the bay from the southeast. Several islands lie to the north of this peninsula, notably Urupukapuka Island to the east and Moturoa Island to the north.
The first European to visit the area was Captain Cook, who named the region in 1769. The Bay of Islands was the first area in New Zealand to be settled by Europeans. Whalers arrived towards the end of the 18th century, while the first missionaries settled in 1814. The first full-blooded European child recorded as being born in the country, Thomas King, was born in 1815 at Oihi Bay in the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands was another place I’d only ever visited the quayside, so I decided to change that today by getting a tender to shore and having a look around. The tender docked at Waitangi and took about 20 minutes from the ship. Waitangi was the original Maori capital and was where the first treaty was signed between the Maori Tribes and the British. The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on February 6, 1840 and conflict between the British Crown and Maori tribes was to some extent inevitable after that. Ostensibly the Treaty established the legal basis for the British presence in New Zealand. It is still seen today as the document that established New Zealand. However, both parties, and indeed most of the signatories, had different understandings of its meaning. The Maori believed that it guaranteed them the continued possession of their land and the preservation of their customs. Many of the British thought that it had opened up the country to mass immigration and settlement. On May 21, 1840, New Zealand was formally annexed by the British Crown and the following year the capital moved to Auckland, some 125 miles south of Waitangi.
From Waitangi there was a shuttle bus into the closest town, Paihia, where ferries run continually to Russell just across the bay. Russell, the first European settlement in New Zealand, boasts the oldest church in New Zealand as well as the first establishment to hold a license to sell alcohol! My first task once landed on the shores in Russell was to climb Maiki Hill also known as Flagstaff Hill and the focus of the Flagstaff War (also known as Hone Heke's Rebellion, or the Northern War), which was fought between 11 March 1845 and 11 January 1846 in and around the Bay of Islands.
The conflict is best remembered for the actions of Hone Heke who challenged the authority of the British by cutting down the flagstaff on Flagstaff Hill. The flagstaff had been a gift from Hone Heke to James Busby, the first British Resident. The Northern War involved many major actions, including the battle at Russell on March 11, 1845 which saw a force of about 600 Maori armed with muskets, double-barrelled guns and tomahawks attack Russell resulting in the town evacuating to the ships moored in the bay. The force proceeded to plunder the buildings and most buildings in the north of the town were burned. However Heke had ordered that the southern end of the town, which included the missionaries' homes and the church, should be left untouched.
The next morning, all surviving inhabitants of Russell sailed for Auckland in HMS Hazard, (whose sailors had taken part in the fighting ashore), the 21-gun United States corvette USS St. Louis, the Government brigantine Victoria and the schooner Dolphin. Around 20 Europeans had been killed and a similar number wounded.
To be honest the historical significance of Flagstaff Hill was lost on me, particularly after walking up its steep slopes in the heat of the day. The 360-degree views however were breathtaking, with this beautiful part of the world and stunning blue skies making for a very picturesque sight that is just not quite possible to capture on a camera. In fact acording to a study, the Bay of Islands is supposed to have the second bluest sky in the world, after Rio de Janeiro.
My next task was far less arduous, lunch, which on this occasion was fish and chips from one of the waterfront establishments near the ferry landing back down in Russell. And something I can highly recommend!
With the onset of early evening came our time to depart the Bay of Islands. Once the anchor was aweigh the Saga Ruby retraced her steps, more or less, back out to the Pacific Ocean, deviating from our path on the odd occasion to keep clear of pleasure craft intent on making the most of the perfect sailing conditions.