|Bay of Islands - Paihia
With the weather still looking as it was going to decide things for me I started to look north from Auckland for places to go. The first attractive sounding area north of the city is the highly rated Bay of Islands and in particular the little seaside town of Paihia.
I took the Northliner bus to Paihia and settled in at the Peppertree Lodge for no other reason than Lonely Planet's line that they have free kayaks and bicycles. It was here that I clued in to getting a BBH card (Budget Backpackers Hostels). The VIP card that had served me really well in Australia was relatively useless in New Zealand and the rumour (which proved to be true for one hostel I stayed at) was that VIP hostels in NZ are crappy. Peppertree gets a 83% BBH rating and I'd say it was spot on the place was excellent.
I hooked up with two (separate) travelling Brits Ollie and Becky and we made a plan to dive the Rainbow Warrior wreck with Paihia Dive. Ollie and I spent a morning over at the neighbouring village of Russell which is reached by a short and scenic ferry ride across the bay from Paihia. The town was quaint and there's a short walk up to a flag pole on a hill with a local legend and a great view to entice.
Dive day dawned clear and calm which was a relief after yet more days of blustery showery weather. We gathered at the dive store meeting Junya our guide and two other divers Ian and Phil, also Brits. The boat ride out to the dive site was really scenic and the boat skipper Darren was a certified character who entertained with Marlin fishing stories that were virtually unintelligible through his thick kiwi accent and the roar of the ancient Chevy V8.
As Becky and Ollie had yet to do a deep dive they were to stick with Junya for the wreck dive which bottoms out at 24 metres. I teamed up with Ian and Phil and we all suited up and dropped the buoy line into the murky water. Yes it was cold but we were kitted out in 7mm wet suits which kept the cold at bay. The wreck was pretty cool. A bit of a personal pilgrammage for me I suppose with my BC connections and recent run for the Green Party. There was a big school of fish in the cabin and I had an encounter with an eel on the deck. Other than that I was a bit underwhelmed considering the hype.
Our second dive was a little closer inshore at Lion Rock and was an interesting cruise through rocks and swaying kelp forest. The visibility was limited which wasn't helped by the dark clouds pouring rain above. Luckily it only rained while we were underwater and the sun returned to warm us on the return trip to Paihia.
In pursuit of more sun I booked a bus ride further north to Kaitaia and on the recommendation of Simon at Peppertree I was aiming for Endless Summer Lodge at Ahipara.
Next - Cape Reinga