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Russell - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

russell aerialRussell was never a planned European settlement. It offered fresh food, water and a safe anchorage in the bay. By the late 1830's commerce was well established.

Rum and women were top priority for visiting sailors, who had often spent months at sea. Fights, abduction, murder and no law enforcement made it a fearful place. It's reputation strengthened by such names as "The devil's playground" and "The Hell Hole of the Pacific".

Yet Kororareka ('sweet penguin' as it was called then) had hopes of becoming New Zealand's capital. But in 1840, the British made Okiato (then called Russell) the first capital. A year later, the capital moved to Auckland. In 1844 official note declared "that Kororareka be henceforth included within the township of Russell and be officially designated by the said name of Russell".

Russell sunsetThe white picket fences, craft galleries and weather board architecture belies the village's violent history. Russell is now a charming and elegant township. American novelist Zane Grey helped build international interest in Russell when he described the area as ' the angler's El Dorado' The population of just over 1000 people are employed mostly in tourism, oyster farming, fishing and cottage industries. Russell opens itself to the relaxed and most tours and activities that leave from Paihia will pick up in Russell. It also has its own tours and activities.

Russell has many historic sites to visit. A must see is the rammed earth Catholic Mission Building that houses the 1840's working Bookbinding, Printery & Tannery called Pompallier. Also Christ Church, New Zealand's oldest church which still carries the bullet holes from the Maori Wars. If you want to learn about Russell's exciting past call into the Russell Museum. Three different heritage trails give comprehensive coverage, including Flagstaff Hill.

How to get there: Either take a car ferry at the Opua wharf operates every 10-15min, or passenger ferry at the Paihia wharf operates every 20-30min.

Places of interest: Russell Museum, Christ Church - NZ's oldest church, Pompallier Mission - NZ's heritage printery, Long Beach, Walking Track to Flagstaff Hill

Maori place name: Russell's original name Kororareka means sweet penguin, korora (blue penguin), reka (sweet or tasty).

Accommodation in and around Russell

Major Towns in the Bay of Islands:
Waitangi | Paihia | Opua | Russell | Kerikeri | Kawakawa

Bay of Islands History


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