On my first full day in Paihia, I booked a ferry to visit Urupukapuka Island, the largest of the bay’s 144 islands. The small boat was lashed with rain as we made the 30-minute trip out into the bay. Luckily, fortune smiled upon us, and the clouds became less menacing as soon as we entered Otehei Bay, the gateway to Urupukapuka.
After docking, everyone headed to the small cafe that doubles as the island’s information center. I wanted to cover as much of the island as I could during my visit, so I got a map of Urupukapuka’s extensive trail network. Fortunately, most of the other visitors were looking for shorter, meandering walks, and I was one of the only ones who set out in the direction of the longer tracks. On the way, I passed quite a few sheep enjoying the cushy green grass. These three sheep in a row were just begging to be photographed, even if they seem nonchalant.
I passed one of Urupukapuka’s two main campgrounds and continued up the steeply ascending trail, which soon rewarded me with incredible views.
You can see the rain out over the water to the right.
Next, I came across some dizzying cliffs, decked out in holiday splendor.
Having only walked about 20 minutes, I was pleasantly surprised by how profound the views already were.
The rain briefly made an appearance, so I sought shelter under a gnarled old tree, clinging tightly to the crest of a hill.
Fortunately, weather in New Zealand usually blows over pretty fast, so I was able to move on shortly. More stunning cliffs awaited me.
The island map mentioned that it takes about five hours to do the entire island circuit, but I was making good time. I’ve found that the guides usually give you a generous estimate so that people don’t get too ambitious and plan poorly. In reality, the walking times are usually quite a bit shorter than they say.
Since I didn’t encounter too many people, I was able to set up a self-timer shots.
See, there is a person behind the camera!
Urupukapuka looks good from every angle, and the views just got better and better around each bend.
One of the side trails I took passed by ancient Maori fortifications, and I can certainly see why they chose this as a strategic location. Palisades and a village existed on this site at least as early as the 18th Century, but probably date back even further. This clifftop perch provided a perfect vantage point to keep an eye on the bay and easily spot any potential invaders. Needless to say, the path to the historical site was pretty steep.
As with most Maori sites, nothing much remains beyond earthen works. Just look at the view they would have had!
Nobody’s going to sneak up on you here.
I joined up with the main track again and soon took another detour down a small peninsula.
As I skirted this lovely tree dominating the end of the peninsula, the path wound down to Akeake Beach, which was completely devoid of fellow homo sapiens.
What an amazing spot. I took some time to sit down on the rocks and just enjoy the solitude… and a sandwich.
After a nice break, I climbed back up the hill and continued onward to see what else this unbelievable island had in store.
Lest you think Urupukapuka is all fun and games, THIS is what can happen to you if you wander out on a cliff…
Poor floating-head guy. That couldn’t have ended well.
The next beach I encountered, though less secluded, was incredibly beautiful. The name couldn’t be more fitting – Paradise Bay.
It must be great to have a boat and be able to anchor off the shore of Urupukapuka.
After Paradise, I headed back towards Otehei Bay to ensure I had plenty of time to catch the ferry back. I ended up with time to spare, so I meandered around the hills overlooking the bay, where almost all of the tourists seemed to be congregating. Can’t really blame them, with views like this so readily available and easily accessible. This area also has a campground that I’d love to stay at.
One of the hills had a Maori burial ground on its slopes. Although they don’t live on the island any longer, at least their ancestors can remain on Urupukapuka.
I sat down on one of the hills to enjoy the view and soak it all in before heading back to the harbor. Sure… I suppose it’s not really “candid.”
By Otehei Bay, I passed some buildings that called to me, with my love for anything weatherworn and slightly decrepit.
I had just enough time to enjoy a flat white (New Zealand’s signature coffee) and listen to Serial while reclining on one of the cafe’s beanbags before my ferry arrived.
I’m still not done with the Bay of Islands. In the ensuing days, I packed quite a bit in, so next, we’ll be visiting the historic site of Waitangi and Russell Island, former “hellhole of the Pacific” turned upscale holiday retreat.