On arrival in Auckland (10th December) we were once again greeted by Mr Sunshine and a warm Maori welcome. After picking up our rental car, it was a three hour drive up to the Northlands, through the most amazing countryside to the aptly named Bay of Islands, in which are 144 islands. We stopped at Bream Bay, Ruakaka to stretch our legs and watch some youths playing rugby in the sea! No wonder the All Blacks are so good, everyone is obsessed with rugby here. We had pre-booked into the Scenic Bay of Islands Hotel in Paihia which certainly didn’t disappoint as we had been upgraded to a deluxe room overlooking subtropical gardens. After our free Welcome Cocktail we took showers and headed out into the village to find an Indian restaurant for dinner and the best mango lassi EVER!

Friday 11th December … Happy Birthday Auntie Lily … Today we went Dolphin watching aboard a cruise ship called “The Dolphin Seeker“ which explores some of the 144 islands in the Bay of Islands. During the cruise we covered around 40 nautical miles, and it wasn’t long before the captain announced that there were dolphins alongside the boat. We soon found ourselves surrounded by a pod of around 40 dolphins, including some babies that were only a couple of weeks old. We were able to take lots of photos, and the captain told us that when he picked up speed for us to continue on our journey, the dolphins would jump up high in the wake of the boat…which they did! They were having such fun. It was a very moving experience and one we wouldn’t have missed for the world. Even the onboard photographer said that they hadn’t seen so many dolphins together for a long time, as usually they only saw three or four…so we were very lucky.The boat then continued on to The Hole in the Rock which is a rocky island with a huge archway at one end that the boat was able to navigate through because the sea was calm. We also saw the Cape Brett peninsula and lighthouse before we were dropped off at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island for an hour or so to explore, relax and enjoy the sunshine, the beach and the amazing views.

All too soon it was time to head ashore, so we elected to get off the boat in the nearby village of Russell, which is on a headland across the bay from Paihia. In the 1800s Russell was the base of the Pacific Whaling fleet, but is now a charming and quaint seaside village .

After dinner, we took a scenic drive past the Waitangi golf course,  made our way to the Haruru Falls on the outskirts of Paihia and took a walk on the pathways through the suroundingforest.