Monday, 12 March 2012

Cruising the Bay of Islands on the Ipipiri

I thought it was time I tested the waters - literally!- and went for a cruise.  As a single person I wasn't sure how I would feel to be on a boat with everyone else in couples but I shouldn't have worried, I had a wonderful time on this overnight cruise around the stunning Bay of Islands north of Auckland.
Kayaking from the Ipipiri

The Ipipiri is a beautiful cataraman, 44 metres long, 13 metres wide and 11 metres high. It has 4 decks and 30 identical cabins with kingsized beds, en suites and panoramic windows.  The name Ipipiri means "many places" an appropriate name for a boat which cruises around and amongst the 144 islands in the bay.

A secluded historic homestead in the bay
Although the boat can take 60 there were only 23 passengers, on this trip;  a couple from England, a couple from the USA a Taiwanese family and the rest from Australia with me the only New Zealander.  Needless to say that with 9 crew  we were well looked after. We left Opua, the Bay's deep water port, around midday for a slow cruise past Russell, a picturesque and historic village which, while sleepy now, has a colourful past including being the first capital of New Zealand.  The captain provided us with an entertaining and informative commentary on the history of the area as we meandered around the bay and got chatting to each other whilst drinking in the stunning scenery.  We were invited to chose activities for the afternoon which included kayaking, snorkelling, swimming or bush walking or just staying aboard the boat and relaxing.  I chose kayaking.

Kayaking, snorkelling, bush walking.... Ipipiri in the background

The captain found a sheltered anchorage off Moturua Island and we were all set to go.  A large grill stern plate came up at the back of the boat and all the kayaks were lined up on it.  We got into the kayaks and then the plate was slowly lowered into the water and away we went.  A brilliant system. About a dozen of us set off to pick and poke about the bays and coves in smooth water so pristine we could see right down to the sea bed. After about an hour we pulled up on the beach to meet the others who had elected to bush walk or snorkel.  I decided to do the bush walk too and headed off up the track, meeting the others on the way down.  I continued to the top  alone relishing the peace, tranquillity and sheer beauty of the area.  This island is a nature reserve so is thick with birdlife and song.
The well named Bay of Islands from my bush walk

Convivial dinner time
Back aboard the boat it was time for showers, fresh clothes and evening drinks from the bar with platters of complimentary finger food before dinner.  We sat around chatting as the sun went down turning the sea a burnished gold. A full buffet dinner of delicious, fresh local foods was laid out and  about a dozen of us joined our tables together and enjoyed a big friendly, chatty evening getting to know each other.  One of the couples had a very dramatic story to tell.  They had simply got on the wrong bus in Auckland thinking they were being taken to an Auckland harbour cruise.  The bus driver protested but they assured him they were on the right bus...all they heard was the word "cruise".  They had arrived in the Bay of Islands with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and had already paid for accommodation  in Auckland.  Needless to say they realised something was wrong when their expected 15 minute bus trip took 4 hours!   Undaunted they had gone to an Op shop in Paihia, bought some clothes and were happily enjoying their unexpected cruise, while trying to forget the unexpected price tag!

We anchored for the night in  a sheltered bay off Motuarohia Island and with the fresh sea air and afternoon activities taking their toll were all in bed early.  I left my blinds up and fell asleep looking out on a glass-like sea reflecting a full moon and a million twinkling stars....magical.

Everyone was up early the next morning to a full cooked breakfast and more chat with new found friends. The captain spotted some dolphins in the bay and headed across to view them.  I have seen plenty of dolphins in my time but nothing like this before, it was spectacular.  There would have been around 50 of them and the captain said they were probably mating.  They put on the most amazing performance, leaping into the air, looking us right in the eye, cavorting around each other, rolling on their backs and swimming right under and around the boat.  They were showing off and we were captivated.

My family and I stayed in this historic cottage on the waterfront at Russell
But, sadly, it was time to head back to port...our cruise was coming to an end.  The captain invited anyone who wished to join him on the bridge.  A few of us took up the offer as we cruised back to port.  Opua looked serene and beautiful under an overcast sky as we tied up at the dock and boarded the bus back to Paihia. We swapped e-mail addresses and I arranged to take the American visitors on
a tour of Auckland the next day. There were a few hours to fill in before the coach trip back to Auckland so I took the ferry to Russell and enjoyed a wander around this lovely village, remembering the many good times I had had there with my husband and sons and lingering over lunch at a seafront cafe.
Sightseeing in Auckland the next day with my new American friends
I would highly recommend this cruise as a taste of what life must be like on a super yacht.  It is probably the best tourist activity I have ever done in New Zealand and I would happily do it again.  Everyone was friendly and as a single person I did not feel the least out of place or excluded.

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