Bay of Islands: Hole, Treaty, Toilets, and Glowworms

posted in: Down Under 2024 | 0

My time in New Zealand finished with a few days at the Bay of Islands. Now I am in my room at the Novotel Auckland Airport, awaiting the first of my four flights home (AKL — NAD — LAX — MEX — GDL).

Here is a rundown of the last few days.

Or you can always skip reading and just look at the pictures.

Getting there

It was a long day of travel to get to the Bay of Islands from Queenstown. We started with a two-hour flight to Auckland. Then we drove, with a few stops along the way. Driving directly, it’s 260 kilometers, about four hours. We got to our hotel around 6:30pm.

Our first stop was for lunch in Puhoi. I had a little time to wander around the town, but there wasn’t a lot to see. Puhoi was settled in 1863 by immigrants from Bohemia, and there are a still a few old structures. The church was built in 1880; the pub where we had lunch opened in 1879. First things first!

Our next stop was at Parry Kauri Park for a short walk through the bush. (“Bush” is what New Zealanders call what we think of as forest. When they use the word “forest,” they are talking about timber farms.)

Lots of bromeliads
Tree fern
An 800-year-old kauri tree. Kauri are the largest (not tallest) tree species in New Zealand, growing only in the northernmost part of the country. This one has a girth of 7.62 meters (25 feet).

Oh, and there was a toilet stop too. But that’s not the toilet I’m referring to in the title of this post. Read on.

Waitangi and Paihia

I woke to this pretty sunrise right out my hotel window.

We had some free time in the morning, so I walked from the hotel (in Waitangi) to Paihia. Waitangi is not really a town, but it’s a place that’s very important in New Zealand history. (More about that later.) Paihia is a popular town for visitors to the Bay of Islands. From here you can take ferries and cruises in the Bay and engage in water-based activities like parasailing.

We were heading out for an afternoon cruise, so I enjoyed the walk along the beach and had plenty of time to explore Paihia and have lunch. There’s not a lot to see in the town itself; just shops and eateries. Oh, and I might have had an ice cream.

Cruise to the Hole in the Rock

We boarded a boat and headed out onto the Bay of Islands, which definitely deserves its name. There are 144 islands, ranging from rocky outcrops to inhabited islands with farms.

Way out at the far end of the Bay, we actually went into choppy ocean waters to get to the Hole in the Rock. There was some doubt about whether we could sail through, but our captain made it happen. It was pretty cool. The size of the boat relative to the size of the hole made it seem very tricky. Mark, our TEL (trip experience leader) said this is the first time he’s been on a trip where they went through.

After that we stopped on one of the largest islands, Urupukapuka, for some time to check out the birds and sheep and views.

Variable oystercatcher
New Zealand saddleback. These once plentiful birds were nearly extinct in the 1890s. The remaining specimens inhabited just one small island. Efforts since then have been highly successful, and the population is not thought to be around 10,000 across many northern islands. They’ve only recently been spotted on Urupukapuka. Sorry I didn’t get a better photo, but you can see why they are called saddleback’s. Here’s a better picture.
Weka, another vulnerable species

After Urupukapuka, we stopped in Russell for dinner. Russell was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand.

Christ Church in Russell, built in 1835, is the oldest surviving church in New Zealand.

The Treaty of Waitangi

The next day we awoke to steady rains. Undeterred, we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, right next to our hotel. But slightly deterred, we got a van from the hotel to take us there so we wouldn’t have to walk in the rain.

We started with a visit to the museum, followed by a tour, and then a cultural show.

The museum was filled with interesting information about the history of the Maori, the beginnings of European settlement, and the events leading to the signing of the Treaty. 

In the English version, Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell, and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects.

But there were discrepancies with the Māori version due to inaccuracies in translation.

Most significantly, the word ‘sovereignty’ was translated as ‘kawanatanga’ (governance). Some Māori believed they were giving up government over their lands but retaining the right to manage their own affairs. The English version guaranteed ‘undisturbed possession’ of all their ‘properties’, but the Māori version guaranteed ‘tino rangatiratanga’ (full authority) over ‘taonga’ (treasures, which may be intangible). Māori understanding was at odds with the understanding of those negotiating the Treaty for the Crown, and as Māori society valued the spoken word, explanations given at the time were probably as important as the wording of the document.

During my time in New Zealand I’ve learned a lot about the relations between Europeans and Māori. The loss of land suffered by the Māori is immeasurable. For a long time the Māori language was suppressed; there are Māori alive today who remember being punished for speaking Maori at school. Gradually this changed. Māori became an official language in 1987.Today the country is working hard to honour Māori culture and heritage and atone for years of mistreatment.

The tour

The tour (in the pouring rain) was okay but didn’t really add a lot to my understanding. It did take us to the Treaty House. This house was the residence of James Busby, the official British Resident, or representative, in New Zealand. This is where the Treaty was drafted; it was signed on the grounds outside.

Cultural Show

This was pretty bad.


I know when you saw the title of this post, you wondered about the toilets. Wonder no longer.

According to the Far North District Council, the public toilets in Kawakawa are “probably the most unlikely building to have ever captured international visitor attention anywhere.”

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928–2000) was an Austrian artist and architect who came to New Zealand in the 1970s. An enemy of straight lines, Hundertwasser designed a number of buildings in the Bay of Islands area, including the famous toilets in Kawakawa, which we visited.


When I told people I was going to New Zealand, many of the said not to miss the glowworm caves. Sadly, there was no mention of glowworm caves in the OAT itinerary.

But just outside Kawakawa are the Kawiti Glowworm Caves, and we made an unscheduled stop there.

Arachnocampa luminosa, the New Zealand glowworm, is a species of gnat endemic to New Zealand. This is the only place in the world to see them.

They live in caves as larva for about a year. They dangle up to 30 silk threads covered with sticky beads of saliva, and their glow attracts insects. When insects are trapped in the silk threads, the glowworms eat them alive, silk and all. After a year, during which time they grow as long as 4 cm, they pupate. After two weeks, they emerge from the pupa, mate, lay eggs, and die within about four days.

We weren’t allowed to take photos in the cave, but here are a few I found online.

This doesn’t quite capture it. The ceilings of the caves were aglow with little stars. 
By Mnolf — Photo taken in Waitomo, New Zealand, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A waterfall and a hike

By afternoon the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Mark had originally planned to take any of us who were interested in a hike to a waterfall, and then have our driver pick us up at the waterfall to drive us back to the hotel. We were going to do that right after the Waitangi Treaty Grounds tour, but the rain caused the change in plans. So we did the hike in the afternoon instead. I suggested we have our driver take us to the waterfall so we could hike back, and then he wouldn’t have to pick us up at an uncertain time. And that’s what we did.

Haruru Waterfall

The hike was about 5 or 6 km, and went along a tidal inlet and through a mangrove forest as well as some dense bush.

Final dinner

That night we had a final dinner with Mark.

L‑R: Pat and Harold (from New Mexico), Diane and Scott (from Texas), Mark (our TEL), Rachel and Moshe (from Los Angeles), and me

Back to Auckland

On the way back to Auckland the next day, we stopped at Whangarei Falls. Because no trip can include too many waterfalls.

We also stopped in the town of Whangarei, which is very pleasant. it has its own Hundertwasser Arts Centre.

And we stopped in Warkworth, where a popular New Zealand TV show, The Brokenwood Mysteries, is filmed. A few of our group were fans of the show.

And then we got to the airport. Everyone else had flights out last night, but since my flight isn’t until this afternoon, I spent the night at the Novotel. 

I’m finishing this now at the airport. I loved New Zealand. This was my first OAT tour to a first-world country, and it sometimes felt weird to be in a tour group seeing and doing first-world things. I think there were things about the itinerary that weren’t ideal, but the overall experience was fabulous.

Come to New Zealand!

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