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Northland New Zealand: The Bay of Islands

A drive along the North Island’s east coast to the area referred to as Northland leaves one in awe of the often subtle, other times not so, changes. The drive passes through towering pines intermingled with swaying palms, past rolling, green farmland and hillsides dotted with cattle, sheep and every so often alpaca or emu. The winding and challenging drive is more than worth it as it leads to an area filled with beautiful wineries and groves of kiwi, avocado, macadamia, olive and fig – just to name a few. Here, and across New Zealand, the traditional Bed and Breakfast concept thrives as hundreds of quintessential B&Bs line the roadway.

It seems if you plant it here – it grows. It’s a rare combination of vegetation generally seen in separate regions of the world now growing together in harmony. ┬áIt truly is a farmers paradise, although the word ‘organic’ seems very foreign. During the three hour drive, only one roadside shop boasts organic produce and instead signs along the way advertise helicopter fertilizer and pesticide release services.

New Zealand is proof that main street can thrive, a concept that seems to be lost in the US. Each exquisite town boasts a bustling main thoroughfare filled with quaint coffee, pastry and cheese shops, historic cafes, galleries, bakeries, butchers, grocery and souvenir shops. Wandering the streets of these small towns in a tourists dream, but the Kiwis who have made a life here most likely think nothing of its uniqueness.

While even the most northern tip of New Zealand offers breathtaking scenery and adventure, the most popular destination for Kiwi’s and international tourists alike is the Bay of Islands. The entire area is a glorious combination of southern California, Sonoma and San Francisco as well as the old colonial South and the fisherman’s wharfs of the far Northeast United States. It’s truly indescribable.

Several towns lie at the heart of the Bay of Islands including Russell, Paini and Waipangi. It’s here you’ll find a slew of tour companies offering every adventure you can dream up. From parasailing, extreme speed boating, dolphin watching, sailing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, helicopter tours, etc. to beautiful hikes – this is the place. To get it out on the water is expensive. In fact, very few options add up to less than 50.00 (renting a kayak for an hour is cheaper) and most cost upwards of several hundred dollars.

If you’re looking to do some exploring but aren’t willing to pay the hefty price tag, catch the ferry boat at Paini to Russell. It’s 12.00 nzd a person. While it doesn’t offer the best tour or views of the islands, it does give you a little taste and allows you to spend time in Russell – one of the cutest towns in the Bay. The quaint restaurants lining the waterfront serve up great seafood dishes alongside the staples of fish n’ chips and burgers. Grab a seat along the water and order a bottle of wine and just relax or head upward on of several hiking trails winding through kiwi reserves (no dogs allowed – they can killed the protected birds) and near gorgeous seaside homes.

There are several casual camper van parks along the Bay of Islands and three Department of Conservation sites that must be reserved ahead of time. We paid 17.00 per person to stay at the Holiday Park just outside of Paini mainly to use the free wifi.

There are also several campsites near KeriKeri and a number of motels offer paid parking for self-contained camper vans. KeriKeri itself is a precious town at the northernmost part of the Bay of Islands. It truly resembles a small piece of Sonoma and the surrounding wine country of California. The road coming and going from the heart of KeriKeri is lined with beautiful vineyards and wineries offering tastings daily. Again, you’ll find fruit orchards boasting an array of fre