Ask any New Zealander what their favorite spot in the country is
and you will hear the Bay of Islands mentioned often. That’s
because these 144 sun-kissed islands at the top of New Zealand’s
North Island offer an idyllic sub-tropical escape. Think Kauai
ton state’s San Juan Island lush hills dusted with palm trees,
Norfolk pines and hibiscus; sailboats bobbing in aquamarine waters;
golden sand beaches; tiny car and passenger ferries crossing narrow
inlets; and quaint seaside villages.
Our luxury villa at Eagles Nest, a five-minute drive from the
picturesque town of Russell, was ideally located for enjoying the
Bay’s attractions. On the top of our list was a day sail around the
islands and maybe even a swim with the dolphins in their natural
On a hot, sunny, blue-sky day, we set off in a 50-foot catamaran
with Carino Sailing & Dolphin Adventures
(www.sailingdolphins.co.nz). Not long after morning coffee was
served, we were joined by a pod of 25 to 30 bottlenose
If there are no babies with the dolphins, clients can slide into
the sea with them.
“When the dolphins feel like playing, they’ll swim right up to
you, jump over you and dart in and around you,” Carino’s skipper
Vanessa McKay told us.
But babies were frolicking with this group.
“Babies suckle every five to 10 minutes, so you can’t swim with
the dolphins when babies are around, as a baby might get separated
from its mother and become malnourished.”
Still, just to see these delightful marine creatures cavorting
up close was pleasure enough. A beach stop for a swim, snorkel and
barbecue lunch rounded out the day.
Another must-do activity is to visit the Waitangi Treaty
Reserve, the birthplace of New Zealand, where Maori chiefs signed
the first treaty with the British in 1840. We admired an
intricately carved Maori meeting house, along with a magnificent
war canoe requiring a minimum of 76 paddlers.
Afterward, we hiked into the nearby forest on one of New
Zealand’s famous “bush walks.” The musical melody of Tui birds
accompanied us at first then quietly retreated, as the trail gave
way to a boardwalk through a vast mangrove swamp.
Other activities in the Bay of Islands include a visit to the
cafe town of Kerikeri, deep-sea fishing, boning up on Maori history
and its tales of cannibalism at the Russell Museum or simply
relaxing on one of the endless beaches.
Perched at the crest of a hill on an exclusive 75-acre estate,
Eagles Nest rated “New Zealand’s Leading Resort” at the 2004 World
Travel Awards enjoys spectacular 300-degree ocean views. Five
secluded world-class villas can be booked. The four larger villas,
each with private pools, are ideal for discriminating families or
couples traveling together, while the First Light Temple suite is
perfect for a couple.
An ultra-modern sanctuary for two, this villa features soaring
floor-to-ceiling glass walls on three sides that retract, so it’s
completely open to the wraparound deck and garden outside. With the
walls open, we drifted off to sleep each night in the upstairs loft
bedroom, listening to the cicadas and palm fronds rustling in the
As found in all villas, a fully equipped stainless
steel-and-granite kitchen allowed us to make breakfast from the
supplies discreetly delivered each morning. If we wished, a private
chef was also available to cook gourmet dinners for us in our
villa. In the evenings, we soaked in our private outdoor hot tub,
watching the clouds skitter across a full moon.
Eagles Nest is a 3½-hour drive (or 35-minute flight) north of
Rates start at $550 for the two-person First Light Temple.
Commission: 20 percent