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Picture this: clear blue skies with just a smudge of white gently cruising overhead, the sea sparkling as if strewn with diamonds and dolphins cavorting in their endless aquatic playground.
This is a typical day in the Bay of Islands and one that begs to be enjoyed on the water. And happily enough, there are many options for cruising in this, the jewel of Northland, where the water is so clear you can see the ocean floor.
Pop into the historic Fullers GreatSights building on the wharf at Paihia and choose from a number of nautical options: swim with dolphins, take a boat to one of the remote islands for a hike or a picnic, sail on a tall ship and climb the rigging, join the original cream trip around the islands that started nearly 100 years ago, or even spend a night cruising under the stars sleeping on the Ipipiri catamaran. But today we’re heading out to Motukokako Island and the famous hole in the rock – which should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Depending on what time of year you visit, the hole in the rock cruise might also stop at some of the 144 islands, as counted by Captain James Cook, to drop off mail to the residents and give their excited dogs a treat. For many of these locals, the Fullers GreatSights visit is still their main source of contact to the mainland.
Once aboard Dolphin Seeker, the purpose-built dolphin and whale watching catamaran, stake your claim on one of the two levels to capture that perfect photo and bask in the sun – or stay indoors and grab some of the onboard refreshments. There’s plenty of room to move about when the dolphins start playing and our skipper, Taira, and passionate guide, Floppy – who has worked on these waters for 20 years, know many of them by name and will make sure everyone gets a good look.
Seeing dolphins gracefully diving around you is an amazing sight and one that you won’t get tired of even when your memory card is full. And running from one side of the boat to the other, arms outstretched in the direction of a grey fin, lest your fellow passengers haven’t spotted them, is just as fun. So certain are the crew that you will see dolphins, or even orca, that if by some unlikely happenstance they are elsewhere when you go, you’ll be given a free voucher for another cruise.
The dolphins out here are bottlenose & common traveling and playing in pods. And if orca show up the dolphins scatter, but these majestic killer whales are a special treat and do visit quite regularly, so keep your fingers crossed.
The hole in the rock dolphin cruise is one of Fullers GreatSights best-loved cruises. It takes you all the way out to Cape Brett and the lighthouse which was operated manually for 70 years until 1978. These days you can visit in the lighthouse keeper’s hut, managed by DoC, and imagine just how remote life must have been for the bloke living out here.
Once at the rock, and depending on the swell, your skipper will attempt to navigate the boat through the hole with barely room for error. Like threading a needle, Taira said most days he drives the two-level cat through this hole just 16 metres wide and about 80-90 metres long. This tricky manoeuvre is weather dependent, but about 80% of the time you can get your cameras out and take a great Facebook pic of the towering cave above you.
On the way back take the chance to hop off at one of the gems of islands with a picnic lunch (you can purchase on board) and walk to the top to drink in the spectacular scenery and ponder for the umpteenth time today whether you might actually move here.
And as an extra treat, we got to join John, the Maori elder who told us all about the history of his people in this area and what many traditions, like the hongi, mean.
Once back at Paihia or Russell, jump on another boat for a second adventure or enjoy the rest of your day exploring on land and find a primo spot for a sunset drink.
Cruises to the Hole in the Rock with Fullers GreatSights Bay of Islands start from just $89 Adult and $44.50 Child. Reservations can be made at dolphincruises.co.nz, at their local booking offices in Paihia and Russell or with your local accommodation provider.
Cruise the Bay of Islands in search of Dolphin on board our purpose built catamaran to the 'Hole in the Rock'. Includes an island stopover.