Phenomenal Paihia, an afternoon cruising to Hole in the Rock & Dolphin Watching
March 25, 2017
Located near the historic Treaty House at Waitangi Treaty Grounds which marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation, Paihia is the perfect place to start if you want to explore the Bay of Islands. You would’ve known that I’m an animal lover if you’ve read about my whale-watching adventure previously. So, this time round, I joined an afternoon cruise for dolphin watching, and to see New Zealand’s iconic Hole in the Rock that sits in the middle of the ocean.
The boat takes off from the wharf, and passes by Russell Island (there are other boats that dock at Russell Island if you’re interested to explore it). You will pass by random huge rocks along the way, but don’t mistake them as the Hole in the Rock. The boat will bring you further to Cape Brett Lighthouse, which seems so lonely, standing atop the hill. Situated on the Northern-most tip of Rakaumangamanga Peninsula in the Bay of Islands, the lighthouse and first assistant keeper’s house have a rich and well-documented human history.
The light was first lit in February 1910, and kept watch on the coast until October 1978. What’s impressive and unique is that Cape Brett Lighthouse was the first in New Zealand to use a mercury bath for its rotational device. The lighthouse has also survived in place with its original equipment substantially intact through the years.
You’ll finally reach the majestic Hole in the Rock after passing Cape Brett Lighthouse. This island is also known as “MotuKokako” in Maori. It was created over centuries by wind and waves, making it one of New Zealand’s naturally beautiful sites. Conservation of this island is very strict hence the Hole in the Rock is in pristine condition, with no animals introduced onto the island.
I’ve heard different beliefs from the tour guides. While “Motu” means island, some people said “Kokako” was a bird that once inhabited the island. Its feathers were valued by a Maori tribe called “Ngapuhi”. So, young male warriors would journey to MotuKokako, and climb its steep cliffs to gather Kokako feathers for their feathered cloak.
There’s another saying that the island was historically associated with a range of sacred customary activities. It was the landing place of great canoes used for migrations, Tunui-a-rangi, before it went to Ngunguru and Whangarei. So, people are reminded of the whakatauki te toka tu moana (the rock standing in the sea). This refers to someone who’s able to stand against all odds, just like how the rock resists the power of the sea.
The boat ride takes you through the hole, and circles around the island, so you get spectacular views from different angles.
After you’re done admiring the Hole in the Rock, the boat speeds off to an area where you can see plenty of dolphins. There are also some tours that allow you to swim with the dolphins if the weather permits. It was a magical experience to see dolphins in their natural habitat, as they jump happily, bob their heads out of the water, play with each other, and swim freely in the ocean.
The boat will take you back to Paihia’s wharf after the tour. There are a multitude of tours offered at Paihia, but I engaged Fullers GreatSights as they’ve got many good reviews. Well, I certainly did enjoy my afternoon out at sea – learnt a little about the Maori culture, seen stunning sights, and got to watch dolphins up-close in their natural habitat – all down within 3 to 4 hours!
I like the size of Paihia’s town centre and the locals make it very cozy. If you have more time to spare in Paihia, you might want to check out Haruru, where you’ll find a gorgeous waterfall and a boardwalk. There are also bus tours that take you to see the 2,000 years old Tane Mahuta, a majestic lord of the Waipoua Kauri Forest, or go even further up North to Cape Reinga, the departing place of the spirits in Maori legend.