Hole in the Rock and the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”

We woke up to torrential rainfall at 4:30 this morning. After a night of rain, I was hoping by some miracle we’d wake to sunshine. The weather forecast called for rain and thunderstorms pretty much all day, with the heaviest being just about the time we were going to be doing our Bay of Islands tour out to the Hole in the Rock. We decided to make the best of it, though!

We arrived at the wharf to catch the tour boat after most people, so the choice of seats was slim. We ended up in the middle of the boat, but Tim said that was better because then we could see easily out of the windows on both sides of the boat.

When we read about this tour, I thought the main draw was to see the Hole in the Rock, a natural formation at the northern end of the Bay of Islands. I didn’t realize it was also a dolphin-watching cruise. We were delighted to see a pod of dolphins swimming alongside us soon after we departed the wharf, including a baby dolphin that is only weeks old.

For a while, it looked like it might clear up, but the clouds would just cover the sun again. Then, right before we got to the Hole in the Rock, the clouds scattered and the sun came out!

Enough talking, right? Let’s get to the pictures!

After the Hole in the Rock, we stopped at Otehei Bay for a gorgeous (albeit muddy) hike for an almost 360 panoramic view of all the islands in the bay.

The climb to the top for that panoramic view had two paths. We should have heeded the shouts we heard coming from the path everyone was taking and taken the other path, but we didn’t. Like sheep, we followed the crowd and soon discovered what all the shouting was about. All the rain had made the already steep path a kind of mudslide that had already claimed a few victims. By the time I realized how slippery the path was, it was too late to turn around. My smooth-bottomed flip-flops were no match for the slick soil. I knew then that my only option was to take my shoes off and go true primal for the rest of the climb–barefoot. For someone who doesn’t even walk barefoot in her own house, this was quite an experience. Add to that my germaphobia and the prevalence of sheep poo everywhere, and it’s a wonder I didn’t come out of my skin. But the view! It made me forget I was barefoot–at least for part of the time!

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Dodging sheep poo on a barefoot hike!

At the end of the cruise, we had the option to return to Paihia, or make a stop-over in Russell, the first and most historically notorious town in New Zealand. Russell, first known as the Hell Hole of the Pacific by missionaries in the 1800s, is actually a quaint little village with lovely views and architecture, not at all like the rough-and-tumble town it was when it was founded as a port for sailors that had almost more pubs than residents and women willing to be your “three-week wife.”

At the recommendation of our friend, Jim, we had lunch at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel. The hotel is the oldest in New Zealand, and was the first place to legally sell alcohol. They have quite a beer and wine selection, and a terrific small menu for lunch. We ate on the veranda overlooking the beach and found the food to be even better than Jim suggested it would be.

After lunch, we walked around Russell, popping into the few shops on the main thoroughfare before catching the ferry back to Paihia for dinner on the wharf.

Really an amazingly beautiful day overall! After thinking it was going to be a wash-out, it was so wonderful to have sunshine and warm temperatures. I’m crossing my fingers for more of the same tomorrow.

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