Historic buildings and a seaside setting full of cafes, restaurants and art galleries gives Russell a truly romantic quality.
This charming town is the perfect base for exploring the Bay of Islands.
Russell holds an important place in New Zealand's history, being the country's first seaport, its first European settlement and New Zealand's first capital in nearby Okiato. The town's streets retain their original layout and names from 1843, and many of its historic buildings can still be visited today. New Zealand's first licensed hotel, bar and restaurant, The Duke of Marlborough is located on the waterfront in the historic village of Russell.
Russell was once known as ‘The hellhole of the Pacific’ because it was a shore leave destination for sailors, whalers and traders during the 19th century. Today the atmosphere is much more savoury - Russell is a popular a holiday town, with plenty of shops, restaurants and accommodation to suit the whole family.
At the wharf you can catch a game fishing boat to hunt for marlin, tuna, broad bill and sharks. Nearby Long Beach is a nice place for a swim. Many of the Bay of Islands daily cruises also use Russell as a departure point out to the Bay of Islands.
A stroll around the streets will lead you to the Catholic Mission ‘Pompallier’, which is New Zealand’s oldest surviving Roman Catholic building. Built in 1841-42, under the direction of architect Louis Perret, it was used as a printery, tannery and storehouse for the French Marist mission. Pompallier has undergone extensive award-winning conservation work and is now a working museum where past methods of tanning, printing and bookbinding can be appreciated.
Stroll up Flagstaff Hill where you can look out to incredible views of the Bay of Islands. Nearby you'll find the Cape Brett Walk. Or listen out for thriving populations of Weka and Kiwi that can be heard around Orongo Bay.
Another building to admire is Christ Church, the oldest existing church in New Zealand, which still carries musket ball holes from the New Zealand Land Wars.
Russell is accessible by road, but the easiest way to visit is to catch a vehicle ferry from Opua (5 minutes), or passenger ferry from Paihia, which takes around 15 minutes.