Seaside Setting

Visiting New Zealand's Bay of Islands

By: Janice Mucalov

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 meets Washing-
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 setting.

On a hot, sunny, blue-sky day, we set off in a 50-foot catamaran with Carino Sailing & Dolphin Adventures ( Not long after morning coffee was served, we were joined by a pod of 25 to 30 bottlenose dolphins.

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.

Eagles Nest

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 warm breeze.

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 Auckland.

Rates start at $550 for the two-person First Light Temple.

Commission: 20 percent