How Sweet Is the Penguin

On my second full day in Paihia, I made the short trek down the main road and over a bridge to Waitangi, perhaps the most important historic location in New Zealand. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi, a highly contentious document, was signed by Maori chiefs in 1840, granting Britain rule over NZ. Sadly, the Maori translation was not the same as the English version, so the chiefs basically signed away their rights without even knowing it. They thought Britain would send in a governor to take charge of New Zealand’s British inhabitants only, but in fact unknowingly granted full sovereignty to the Queen. In recent years, much has been done to try and rectify some of the ill effects of the treaty, but there are still a lot of bad feelings on both sides.

The Waitangi grounds were impressive, with a great view out over the Bay of Islands. I started my visit off with a walking tour to learn more about the important history behind this place. Our guide was Maori and a direct descendant of one of the chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi.


There’s our guide, standing in front of Waitangi’s ceremonial war canoe, used every year to celebrate Waitangi Day on the 6th of February. The canoe’s name is Ngātokimatawhaorua (yes, I copy pasted this), and it is the world’s largest. Most impressively, it was carved completely by hand using traditional Maori methods. When the Queen visited in 1974, the ship received the honorary title of “HMS” after carrying her around the bay. If the Royal Navy ever needs a war canoe, Ngātokimatawhaorua is ready to go.


Next, we headed up towards the flagstaff that marks the spot where the treaty was signed.


After the tour concluded, I ventured over to the traditional carved Maori meeting house on the grounds. Built near the Treaty House, where Britain’s representative lived, the meeting house represents the Maori people of New Zealand. The inside was simply stunning.



The Maori can carve like no one else.

I headed over towards the Treaty House, which wasn’t all that incredible, but interesting nonetheless for its historical significance. James Busby, the British government’s representative in New Zealand from 1833 to 1840, conducted much of his official business here.



Before heading out, I stopped by Hobson Beach, the site where the British captain responsible for negotiating and organizing the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi first landed. It’s also the spot where the ceremonial war canoe is launched every year on Waitangi Day.


I glanced across the water at Russell, the island I palnned to vist that afternoon, and said farewell to Waitangi.

The ferry ride from Paihia to Russell only took about 15 minutes. Russell is a beautiful island town that gives no indication it was once dubbed the “Hell Hole of the Pacific,” due to the debauchery that occurred there. It was New Zealand’s first permanent European settlement and sea port. By the 1830s, European law had no influence there and the Maori generally stayed away, so all kinds of nasty stuff went down.

The best tidbit about Russell, though, relates to its Maori name, Kororāreka. The literal translation is “how sweet is the penguin.” Now, why did that name get changed?! Best name ever! Sadly, I didn’t see any penguins.


Here’s the view from the ferry as we approached Russell. It’s very upscale and reminds me of a New Zealand version of Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.


They have a pillory right by the ferry dock, which serves as a nice reminder of the town’s dark history.

I walked Russell’s wide tree-lined streets, enjoying the shade and indulging in some Hokey Pokey ice cream.


Although I couldn’t afford to stay there, Russell was well worth a visit. It has a multitude of historic buildings and some great short walks around town.



Not to mention incredible trees!


Despite all its historic rowdiness, Russell is also home to New Zealand’s oldest church, Christ Church. I guess those sinners needed somewhere to repent from time to time.



The walls are still scarred by musket and cannon fire from a battle between the British and Maori in 1845. Today, the place exudes an air of peacefulness.

I heard that the nearby Flagstaff Hill provided great views over the bay, so I headed in that direction next.


This is another spot marked by British and Maori contention, with the original flagpole being toppled numerous times by the Maori.

The view out over Russell was great.


I even got to see a Weka, another one of New Zealand’s funky ground birds.


I headed back down to Russell to relax on the beach before my ferry back to Paihia.

I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this colorful umbrella.


And this boat perfectly sums up the vibe here…



I walked to the dock and snapped a few more shots as I said goodbye to this swanky, captivating historic spot.



Peace, Russell!

4 thoughts on “How Sweet Is the Penguin

  1. Great virtual tour. Thanks, Kelsey!


  2. How sweet is this blog? Great tour, Kelsey, and, as usual, great pictures and descriptions. Lots of history there. More, please.


    1. More to come! So many pictures to edit, so little time.


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