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Escaping winter without leaving the country

June 28, 2011, 10:27 am Anna Murray Yahoo! New Zealand

Now that winter is finally showing its hand, it's about this time that Kiwis start to think about a holiday to escape the increasingly bitter weather.

Escaping winter without leaving the country

Now that winter is finally showing its hand, it's about this time that Kiwis start to think about a holiday to escape the increasingly bitter weather.

While some consider an island escape, Australia's Gold Coast, even Hawaii with the Kiwi dollar so strong at the moment, there is another option out there - the famous "winter-less" north of the country.

With its warmer temperatures, history, culture and stunning scenery, the Bay of Islands is perfect for escaping the worst of winter without leaving your backyard.

We found this out for ourselves towards the end of May during a stay at the palatial Eagles Nest in Russell. Not only did we manage a swim (admittedly in a heated pool attached to our villa) but we wandered Russell and nearby Paihia in short sleeves, basking in the positively balmy weather.

At Long Beach, which is a very short drive from the main township of Russell, we even spied a few children running into the ocean for a dip. While we didn't feel the north was winter-less enough for such an activity, those two children didn’t look to be complaining.

But Russell and the rest of the Bay of Islands has greater appeal than just good weather.

As the scene of the formation of the New Zealand nation, the area has more culture and history than you can shake a stick at.

A stroll around Russell takes in beautiful old houses, most notably the local police station with its impressive Moreton Bay fig tree towering overhead. Planted in 1870, the tree is begging for a bit of artistic photography. Although a sign advises to refrain from photos of the police station next to it, seeing as it's still home to the local law enforcement. (I didn't read that sign until after I'd taken a photo. Sorry, officer.)

The country's oldest church

Russell is also home to New Zealand's oldest church – the Anglican Christ Church, which survived Hone Heke's attack in 1845. Just. The nation's friendliest cat can also be found in the church grounds - the grey moggy who greeted us is apparently a bit of a local institution.

For those who like a bit of pub in their culture, they need go no further than the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel. It can lay claim to being the oldest pub in New Zealand, having served a variety of patrons since 1827.

We chose to dine at the Duke one night after enjoying a pint next to the hotel's extremely cosy fire. With hearty, tasty dishes and a gorgeous setting looking out over the bay towards Paihia, we were a couple of happy campers, to say the least.

But if you prefer your holidays to be less about cute shops and history and more about action, then the Bay of Islands has almost an embarrassment of water-based activities.

A variety of operators offer various fishing, sailing and jet-boating activities – or you can choose to take to the air to check out the numerous islands that make up the area.

Photo courtesy of Eagles Nest

The folks at Eagles Nest organised our own helicopter flight around the Bay with Salt Air.

Our 20-minute chopper ride in absolutely perfect conditions took in the islands and their beautiful beaches. Our pilot shared the history of each of the islands we passed over, as we got to get a glimpse of some of the houses that sit on the islands, the light house, and the famous Hole in the Rock nearby.

Salt Air also offers other experiences, including being helicoptered out to their barge, before being whisked away to an "island of choice" for a bit of hiking, swimming, fishing – and a gourmet picnic. The pilot pointed out one of these "Heli-Island-Heli" locations and it looked a divine spot for a bit of snorkelling and gourmet picnic action.

Photo courtesy of Eagles Nest

Suffice to say, we were just a little bit sad as we boarded the car ferry from Russell at the end of the weekend – but already making plans to head back to the area come summer time.

Anna Murray was a guest of Eagles Nest. For more information on Eagles nest, go to

For more information about Salt Air go to

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