Russell, also known as Kororareka, is a charming little seaside town which has an interesting history. It was the country’s first seaport and also the first European settlement. There are many historic buildings and we spent several happy hours wandering through the Museums and learning about the former “hellhole of the Pacific” named because it was a shoreline destination for whalers, traders and seamen during the 19th century.
The Duke of Marlborough Hotel, the oldest hotel in the town has been restored and is in a perfect position for dining on the waterfront. Tables have also been set under the trees by the beach and we watched a couple of beautiful sunsets from there.
The little passenger ferry runs continually across the bay to Pahia.
Legend says that a chief wounded in battle asked for penguin and after drinking some of the broth, murmured “Ka reka te korora” (how sweet is the penguin). The town was named Russell in 1884. Many of the original buildings remain and a fine example is the Catholic Mission “Pompallier” which was built in 1841 and used as a printery, tannery and storehouse for the Marist Brothers. The building is made of rammed earth and has been restored as a working museum where every aspect of tanning, printing and binding is described and in some cases visitors can participate with hands on. The garden is magnificent and was created first of all to grow vegetables to feed the residents and then as a peaceful place to contemplate.
The oldest existing Church in New Zealand is in Russell and is worth a visit if only to see the musket ball holes from the New Zealand land wars!
We spent three nights here and could have stayed longer. More history is to be had at Waitangi, across the bay, and we spent another fascinating day there, but that’s another story…..