How not to do it.
Getting onto the Kiwi Experience bus was straightforward, and our driver guide had the right sort of mix of humour and information that makes the trip interesting. All the organisation (apart from the initial booking) is done en route, via clipboards that are passed around the bus. The driver guide runs through the different activities available at the destination, and the accommodation options, and we sign up. It’s all optional, but it does make life somewhat easier.
The trouble started with the Kiwi Experience website’s idea of the minimum trip time for the Bay of Islands – 1 day. This is technically true, and I thought at the time, not knowing anything about it, that it would be sufficient. It wasn’t even close. Paihia is not a day trip – it’s where day trips go from. Going by the bus timetable online, the bus was scheduled to depart the area at about 5pm. The actual departure time turned out to be 3pm, we having arrived at noon, and this instantly eliminated just about all the possible adventure activities.
The driver guide tried to talk me into spending a night in Paihia, and this would have been a wise move had I not already booked a dorm in Auckland (which currently contained my laptop, chained to the bed and simultaneously locked inside my suitcase). Failing that, he suggested that a walk around Russell and a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds would be about the only options given my small window of time.
Even that ended up being too optimistic. I caught the ferry to Russell without drama, and it was pleasant enough, but time was too short to explore much of the town itself. The ferry ride back was a much faster one, which was also pleasant enough. However, this all should have come after I visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, as I discovered once I’d made the half-hour walk to Waitangi. There are regular miscellaneous events throughout the day showcasing Maori culture and thus providing background on the Treaty between the Maori and the European settlers. Unfortunately, the only event I had time to see had already started, and the only one I was in time to see would have taken too long. Minus several million points for good planning. I consoled myself as best I could in a cafe next door to the visitor information centre.
After all, it wasn’t as though I’d actually paid for the bus to Paihia – it had been a freebie thrown in with the “Sheep Dog” tour.
At the time of writing I’m in Rotorua, and I’ll post something about this and the trip to Mercury Bay shortly.