|Heading out on another fishing trip!|
Before me, a vast, sail-shaped black rock erupts from the dark blue water like the dorsal fin of some immense breaching leviathan. Behind me, the gentle pulse of the Pacific Ocean is interrupted by the splash of Blue Penguins weaving their way between the undulating swell. Above me, the sky is a sheet of solid blue, punctuated only by a punishingly hot sun. And, in the shadowy depths some hundred metres beneath the boat I'm in, a Barracuda finds the bait on the end of my line, signifying the start of a tiring battle to bring it to the surface.
Welcome to the Bay of Islands.
Here, New Zealand’s eastern stretch of Pacific coastline is shattered; an exploded diagram of almost one hundred and fifty islands, islets and inlets. Together, they form a natural breakwater, reducing the brutal Pacific swells to a calm lagoon of dreamy aquamarine waters teeming with an incredible abundance of sealife.
This is something that has not gone unnoticed to Kiwi anglers, and, beyond the photos of prize-winning Marlin proudly hung in the window of each fishing shop, it means the seafood here is exquisite. While the Duke of Marlborough in Russell offers the premium, mouth-watering game fish steaks, there's a price to match; but excellent, flaky, musky fish can be had at the town smokehouses at a fraction of the cost, and even Paihia's Chinese restaurant, the King Wah, offers enormous, deliciously fresh local scallops as part of its budget all-you-can-eat buffet.
|New Zealand's oldest building, Kerikeri|
The Bay of Islands is the closest thing to Old Zealand as you’re likely to find. These inlets, alcoves and beaches boast the country’s oldest house (in Kerikeri), oldest Church (Russell), its first licensed pub (Russell), first capital (Okiato) and, excitingly, even its most ancient petrol station (Russell, again).
With palm trees perched above red clay cliffs, the landscape here looks like it has been pulled from a chapter of Treasure Island or a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. Long Beach, a bay hidden just behind Russell’s little peninsula, marks the point at which Captain James Cook first weighed anchor when he reached this country. Two and a half centuries later, the HMS Endeavour still wouldn’t look out of place if it were to hove into view! And if the area's history wasn't rich enough, the Waitangi Treaty - signed across the Bay in 1840 - holds the same cultural clout to New Zealanders as the Declaration of Indepedence to Americans.
Our plan was to find work at a holiday park near historic little Russell – a cleaning job we’d arranged through Backpackersboard. Excitedly, we took the little car ferry at Opua and soon found our destination, but after just a night, we realised it wasn’t quite for us. Whereas our holiday park team in Rotorua felt like a family unit, here the staff seemed more like uncannily identical drones of eastern European guys who rarely spoke, all under the rather stringent direction of a terse Australian woman.
A few weeks earlier, we’d seen an ad looking for a couple to carry out some housework and help with farm jobs for a roof over our heads and few dollars, but by the time our email had been received, another pair of backpackers had beaten us to it. Though a bit of a long shot, I thought I’d email the guy again, and as luck had it, the position was vacant again. “So you’re working at Animal Farm?” asked a gruff northern English voice asked when I called. “Get the f**k out of there. They’ll have you working eight hours for just to park your f**king van. Just pack your things and come here and work for me – I’ve got some mulching for you to do”.
Somehow, the colourful language and prospect of making wood mulch had a strange appeal - or at least more appeal than cleaning toilets - and, once again, Amy and I fell on our feet.
Following vague directions out of town, we pulled up to the gates of a ranch surrounded by nothing but fields and forest, owned by an eccentric ex-pat who greeted us at the bottom of his long gravel driveway, surrounded by dogs. We were led to a newly-built though rather unglamourous-looking barn, but it soon transpired that we weren’t going to be sleeping in a pile of hay. Tucked into the side of the main barn was our own little suite, furnished with all the basics – that is, if you include a 47-inch television and Lay-Z Boy as basic… The setup was sweet as!