A quaint wharf, churches and missions, and long tree-lined avenues – visiting Russell is like falling in love at first sight.
The island town of Russell (Maori name “Kororareka”) in the Northland region of New Zealand is located around 45 minutes by ferry from the Paihia wharf. It is ironic that a town which was considered as the ‘Hellhole of the Pacific’ by whalers in the 1800s is one of the most ‘romantic towns in the Bay of Islands’. When tourists go abroad the “Hole in the rock” cruise, all they are told about Russell is that it is a romantic spot where one can enjoy a scenic lip-smacking lunch and return by ferry to the mainland. The walk that we took around Russell proved that the little gem of a town had more history than the entire region of Paihia had to offer.
A long line of restaurants offering a variety of cuisines beyond one’s imagination greets every tourist who gets off the ferry at Russell. This is the main street of Russell, known as the Strand, which will take you to the inner sections of the lovely little town. As the captain of the ferry will tell you, do grab a bite at Sally’s, which is perhaps the most famous restaurant on the wharf. Sit on the chairs outside the restaurant and munch on some delicious eggs benedict and sandwiches while enjoying the views of the sun-kissed wharf.
As one takes a right and passes by the restaurants towards the famous Pompalier Mission Church, a small blue-coloured sign on the side of the road indicates the entrance to the Walker Passage. Although most tourists hardly even notice it, a short 1-minute walk down the Walker Passage leads one to the remnants of the brick house of the great Ngapuhi chief Tamati Waka Nene. The Maori chieftain was part of the Flagstaff War and even supported the Treaty of Waitangi, which is one of the most important chapters in Maori history. The bricks from his original house have been now arranged in the form of a seat. The quiet, peaceful place will beckon you to stand there for a while and pay homage to a man who is now an important part of Maori history.
The next stop down the Strand is the 59 year-old Russell Museum, which displays the history of the town. It also houses many locally made trinkets and souvenirs including the paua shell jewellery that New Zealand is famous for. Check out the many designs of Paua shell necklaces that Kiwi-land is famous for.
Across the street from the quaint museum lies New Zealand’s oldest church, the Christ Church. Walking through the gates of the church premises is like stepping back in time, as one sees musket holes on the walls and a memorial dedicated to Tamati Waka Nene. The graveyard on the premises and the original pew retained from the 1800s gives tourists a glimpse into the great Maori history.
A round trip up and down the Strand is enough to make anyone wish that they were living in Russell. Individual houses complete with front gardens, patio furniture, and wicker fences line the road, offering beautiful views of the Bay of Islands and the Pacific Ocean.
When you do visit Paihia on your New Zealand trip, take half a day just to visit this picturesque love town – it will leave you wanting for more.