The Best way to see New Zealand's Bay Of Islands


Do you ever feel you are exactly where you need to be? As we are driving down the forgotten back streets of the far north, stopping only to pick up the hubcap we lost on the narrow gravel roads, I can taste the salt as I lick my lips and feel the coarse sand as my fingers get stuck in my knotty hair. The sea breeze catches me perfectly- bring on the summer holiday!

So, to start from the start, I grabbed a few friends, hired a car and set off on an epic two week roadie around New Zealand gorgeous Bay of Islands. 

While New Zealand's coast line has no shortage of wondrous nooks and crannies, the Bay of Islands has sealed in its beauty with its sheltered anchorage, awash in glistening turquoise waters. 

Although when I was young and grew up in the North Island, I spend many a holiday by the beach. There is something about the small beach towns of Russell and Waitangi which provide nourishment for the body and the soul. Having spent the past few years in Dunedin and Christchurch, I find pleasure in travelling somewhere smaller and escaping the big city only to return more mindful.

Has there been a time where you don't even want to blink for a second in case you miss something wondrous?

Although I just scraped the surface of this glorious countryside, during our road trip, we didn’t need to search far to find some of the most picturesque and secluded places the Bay of Islands has to offer.

As we left the big smoke of Auckland over the hill into Whangarei and down the narrow dirt roads to Russell, I can safely say I found what it meant to be completely relaxed. The township itself has plenty going on, in between bustling restaurants serving the catch of the day, and the crowds waiting patiently in line at the ice cream stall. You can find your spot on a bench, to watch kids playing in the water and the seagulls fighting over the last scoop of fish and chips.

We parked ourselves on the edge of the bush, neighboring with the audacious Keas and artful Weka’s. Long nights spend exchanging stories with travelers over a gooey marshmallow s’mores whilst ferociously batting off the sandflies.  

I find it strange to think that back in the day camping wouldn't have been called ‘camping’ it would have just been a way of life. No one needed to escape the city life, you were already free. Now people flock to far off fields just to get a breath of serenity. People own the paddocks but no one owns the view.

There is something magical about coming together around a campfire. In an age where technology is at the forefront stripping food down to the basics using what you have and making the most out of your situation binds us together as humans and makes for an experience out of mind and body.

Someone asks me recently what my favourite memory was as a child. I have countless but in particular, sliding down hills upon Nikau palm leaves with family friends the Smiths. These outdoor experiences seem to the things that stick with us forever.

I could sit forever, silently mindfully watching the deep golden sunset radiate through the trees. 

As there is a natural drift to the cities due to work and money, it’s frantic to think about the amount of information we are all processing. It’s upsetting that spending time away in the wilderness is looked upon as exotic. Camping is a reaction to an industrialised life.

As we are going hurtling through into modern eras and the future, everything is getting so far away from the basics. You can watch any number of Michelin star chefs rustling up foam dry ice spectaculars but to me the essence of cooking and the joy of sharing food you have cooked belongs to us all- even if we are the worst cooks in the world, there is a joy in sharing time with people.

I was lucky enough to be involved in a fishing charter whist in the Bay of Islands. The magical feeling you get as you slowly reel the line back in. Your heart pounding in anticipation as you either bring up a hefty snapper or a coil of seaweed. As you can see from the photo- I was pretty stoked with my achievement. There is a gratifying feeling that comes from sourcing your own food. In the outdoors you don’t have the luxury of a fully stocked pantry. See how I stripped the recipe back to basics using only fresh and natural ingredients. You can even have a go cooking over the campfire. There is something about the campfire which is very egalitarian. The notion that everyone gets an equal share in the food.    

The camp light brings this magically uncertainty. An in between phase to it tell stories. A chance to share different opinions and not be shut down. These opportunities are becoming increasingly rare. 

So my challenge to you today. Put down your phone, grab a good book and a sleeping bag and challenge yourself to be more mindful. My new goal has been to just do one task at a time. If I’m eating breakfast, I’m just eating breakfast. I’m not reading an article and doing my hair and folding the washing. I'm just eating my breakfast. I find grounding in this technique and challenge you to dedicate time to just enjoy the simple things. 

Ella List