New Zealand Island-Hopping

Chapters of adventure in Northland

A Maori woman told us the island’s name means “beginning of a book” in the language of her tribe.

At 11 letters, the New Zealand isle of Urupukapuka could practically qualify as a book on its length alone. Coincidental that book-writing guy Zane Grey once stayed on the island?

Locals around the Bay of Islands, at “the top of the North Island” as they say, tell that the famed American cowboy scribe took to writing about fishing here on the other side of the world from the wild, wild west.

Kicking back on Urupukapuka Island.

“He holds the record for the number of marlin caught in New Zealand in one day,” our guide told us on our Bay of Islands dolphin tour boat when it landed for a little terra firma break last week during my first-time NZ adventure. That record has never been broken, mainly because laws have since restricted the number of marlin taken at one time.

Chapter 1: Goat Island

My love of islands coerced me off the main North and South islands in Kiwiland to the Northland and its Goat Island, Poor Knights Islands, and Bay of Islands — the latter of which embraces 144 islands, including Urupukapuka, a tiny island where budget travelers can find cabins and bunkhouses among the peace and beauty of the rocky and forested island maze.

One of the North Island’s most popular resort areas, Bay of Islands is known for its snorkeling, dolphin swimming tours, charming towns, and dramatic geographic features like the Hole in the Wall. Chill spring waters, for a warmth-seeker from south Florida such as myself, kept me fixated on above-deck and on-land activities.

Not that I didn’t try. The first day out from Goat Island, I donned the thickest wetsuit I’ve worn, determinedly jumped in, immediately screamed obscenities.

“I can’t feel my face!” I shrieked after a minute, but obstinately continued in the below-60-degree water, figuring I’d adjust. After three attempts, however, my head began to ache, and I remembered the vows I made following my scuba certification dive in Febrrrr-uary Crystal Springs, Florida, waters: Never again!

Chapter 2: Poor Knights Islands

My husband and fellow travelers filled me in on the snapper, spiny lobsters, sea urchins, and other underwater life below the rocks. Me? I was equally thrilled with the feeding frenzy of Bullin’s shearwaters – migratory birds that arrive to Poor Knights Islands to nest in the spring, their only breeding grounds in the world.

Bullin's shearwaters feeding in Poor Knights Islands.

I kayaked in Brady’s Corner bay while the others dived. Our tour boat, A Perfect Day, toured Poor Knights, squeezing into the world’s largest sea cave and through one of the many archways carved into the rocky precipices that punctuate the marine and nature preserve.

Each night of our four-day adventure we stayed in a different spot. Night one, we fell exhausted into bunk beds from jet lag and sea adventure at Sawmill in the eye-blink town of Leigh. But not before sampling the unexpectedly well-crafted home-brewed beer and locally farmed and caught dinner specialties in the setting of an old logging mill.

Headquarters for Poor Knights Island, day two, was at the Oceans Resort Hotel in Tutukaka, less rustic and steps from the marina, dive shop, and Schnappa Rock Cafe, where we dug into a feast that showcased New Zealand’s best seafood and lamb.

Chapter 3: Bay of Islands

Day three landed us at Copthorne Resort in Paihia, a salty coastal town known for its Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a nice introduction into New Zealand’s native Maori culture. I spent a half-day ferrying across to storybook-charming Russell, once the nation’s capital and a bawdy whalers

Maori carving at Waitangi


Trips to the famed Hole in the Wall arch and dolphin swimming tours ranging from a half-day to two or more days, are the first choice for most visitors.

Like most of the dolphin tours, our operators, Fullers GreatSights, adhered to strict guidelines about allowing guests to get in the waters to swim with wild bottlenose and common dolphins. Most importantly, no babies can be present in the pods if guests are allowed to slip into the waters with them.

We saw dozens of dolphins that rainy morning, and they merrily swam and leaped alongside the boat for great photo ops. Unfortunately conditions never presented themselves for swimming with them.

The stop at Urupukapuka came as a pleasant surprise as the sun opened the sky and we settled into picnic tables with hot chocolate or cold NZ beer against yet one more backdrop of pure, enviably green beauty – island beauty that deserves a book to capture its breadth of captivation.


One Response to New Zealand Island-Hopping

  1. Sounds wonderful and you look super! Welcome Home!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: