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A Fun Sailing Day on the Bay of Islands

Updated: Apr 15

One of the highlights of a trip to Paihia, on the northeast coast of the North Island

Photo: courtesy of R. Tucker Thompson

Paihia offers many fun and interesting things to see and do. On the east coast of the north island, Paihia is the main town associated with the Bay of Islands. It's close to the town of Waitangi and its historic treaty grounds and also close to the town of Russell, once known by sailers as the 'hell hole of the Pacific' - it's of course quite nice today! Sailing and water craft are a big part of the local culture, for both Pākeā (locals with European ancestry) and Māori (the Polynesian indigenous settlers of New Zealand).

One of the iconic tourism activities in the area is to sail on the R. Tucker Thompson, a traditional gaff-rigged schooner tall sailing ship, for a day on the waters in the Bay of Islands. It actually sails from the wharf at Russell, which is a short ferry ride from Paihia (the ferry is included in the ticket price). It runs consistently during the summer months or can be privately booked throughout the year. It's run by a charitable trust and all of the profits go to supporting the people of Taitokearau Northland, with the focus on youth development and youth sailing.

The summer sailing includes a morning tea with scones; a sail around the bay and a chance to take the helm, hoist a sale and climb the rigging (if you are so inclined!); stop over at a local island for swimming, sunning and exploring; a BBQ lunch; a cash bar on board featuring Kiwi beer and wine; and maybe best of all, hearing from the crew about sailing and the local culture.

As you can see, they also offer the opportunity to use the some rigging for a rope swing, which was quite fun. They take you ashore using a motorised dingy (or you can stay on the ship), so for that part of the trip you need to count on getting a little wet. Otherwise you may get some salt spray or some rain. It's important to bring a few layers, including a rain jacket and hat, and a change of clothes if you plan on swimming. The sun is intense, so plan on lathering up some sunscreen before you leave the shore.

After your sailing day on the water, I recommend getting a drink and some appetisers at the historic Russell hotel called The Duke of Marlborough Hotel. You can catch the ferry back to Paihia every 30 minutes or relax after your cruise and take in the sights and sounds of Russell. Overall a really fun day on the water!

The wharf at Russell and the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel

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