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Its a short, cheap and easy ferry trip to the historic Russell from Pahia. The first troubles of the town started with the 'war of the girls', a fight by two rival girls for the hand of a whaling captain. The disagreement led to a rift between the tribes. Titore, who was the recognised head of the Maori chiefs in the region called for a new border which would lie at the base of the Tapeka Peninsula. European settlers came to the area hoping to earn their fortunes from the wealth of the sea. This quaint, little town was a short-lived capital of the country.
The early Maori name for the area was Kororareka or Sweet Penguin. With the settler's the place soon lost all claim to innocence and became renowned for its rowdy seamen who were adequately catered for by brothels and booze houses. Its wild reputation led Governor William Hobson so far as to move the capital away altogether. The first settlement was to become a seat of discontent. The Maori had failed to see their promises be realised and when the British flew the Union Jack flag in lieu of the flag of The Confederation of Tribes the troubled pot began to boil over. The evidence of British hypocrisy and betrayal was chopped down by the Maori 4 times as a sign of their dissatisfaction. This peaceful protest had little effect however and by 1845, the Maori warriors felt they had no choice but to declare war. Sweet Penguin was practically razed to the ground in the short space of a year.
Russell now boasts a beautiful waterfront and a bunch of interesting old buildings. One of these is Christ Church the oldest church standing in New Zealand. It was mainly built through donations from the community although Charles Darwin also did his bit for its construction when he visited aboard the HMS Beagle. The graveyard lays testament to the turbulent history of the area with gravestones commemorating both the Maori and the British who were killed during the first Maori war. Indeed, some of those who lie here are buried on the site where they drew their last breath. Traces of musket fire can still be seen on some of the gravestones and on the walls of the church.
Pompallier House on the waterfront is a restored French Colonial Mission House. It owes its name to Jean Baptiste Pompallier who was the first Roman Catholic Bishop in the South Pacific. It was founded in 1841 as a mission printing press and today displays bibles printed in Maori. Running displays also show how the book-binding, tanning and printing was worked.
There's more maritime history at the Russell Museum on York Street. Here you can see a fantastic model of the Captain Cook's Endeavour. Displays here detail tales of Captain Cook and his voyages while curious relics lend an anthropological insight to the era with items such as moa bones, whale eardrums and leaden skirt weights designed to keep Victorian ladies' modesty intact.
Head up to Maiki or Flagstaff hill for photo opportunities over Russell and to the Bay of Islands. It was this flag pole which was the source of contention between the Maori and the British. Today this struggle is commemorated for 12 days each year when the flag of the Maori Confederation of Tribes is flown. After all the history take a break at Oneroa Beach (also known as Long Beach and Donkey Bay Beach). It's a short and pleasant 1km walk through bush.
For walking and tramping, visit DOC at Kerikeri or the Bay of Islands Maritime & Historic Park Visitor Centre at Russell. The walks range in levels of difficulty and fitness which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to days tramping around the islands. Walking is the unpressurised way to enjoy the historical sites such as the pas or fortified cities, scenery and the historic reserves as well as the Mimiwhangata Marine Park.
The Waitangi National Reserve was home to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on February 6, 1840. It is now also the resting place of Hone Heke Pokai's musket. He was the first Maori leader to sign the document and would later become its greatest and loudest opposer. The Visitor's Centre also offers a short audio-visual presentation and displays other weapons and artifacts dating back to the 19th century. The Treaty House is nearby and well-worth the short walk. The trip will enable you to see, feel and experience the way the other half lived in New Zealand's early colonial history. The white, timber cottage was pre-built and transported to New Zealand from New South Wales for James Busby. He arrived in 1832 with the unenviable duty of ending the clashes between Maori and immigrant whalers and sealers. Today Busby's house is furnished in the style of his day and also houses the original copy of the Treaty. While you're in the vicinity, drop into the the Maori Whare or meeting house. Between 1934 and 1940, various Maori tribes got together and made a historic communal effort to construct it Northland's tribes also united to construct the Nga Toki Matawhaoru, or war canoe which was named after Kupe, the legendary explorer who is believed to have discovered the North Island. The 35m war canoe is the largest in the world and is an impressive and intricately carved vessel which was fashioned out of two large kauri trees. Each year it is resurrected in honour of the Waitangi Day Celebrations and driven through the water by no less than 80 ceremonial warriors.
Kelly Tarlton's Shipwreck Museum
Kelly Tarlton was a famous Kiwi diver who salvaged artifacts and other treasures totalling to around 1000 pieces. Cross the bridge over the Waitangi River and you will see the three-masted kauri Tui. This old ship has been converted into a maritime museum of treasures including nautical telescopes, chants and Isidore Jonah Rothschild's jewelry.
If you want to visit the Haruru Falls park your car at the Golf course on the other side of the Waitangi National Reserve. The 6km return trip (3hrs) will take you to the Haruru Falls (good for swimming). You can also continue through a mangrove forest up to the summit of Mount Bledisloe for some excellent views to Paihia and the Bay of Islands. The Opua Forest contains some short walking tracks which range from 10 mins to 3 hours. For more information head to DOC in Kerikeri.