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Historic hell-hole of the Pacific

Russell 09-01-2014 08-21-38

It’s hard to believe that serene little Russell was once known as ‘the hell-hole of the Pacific’ in the 1830s. Whaling ships used to turn up in what was then the port of Kororareka, unload sailors intent on a little R&R (read debauchery), then head back out to sea after wreaking havoc. Charles Darwin described Kororareka as full of ‘the very refuse of society’ in 1839.

Just above town is where Hone Heke chopped down the British flagpole four times in 1844/45, apparently egged on by American traders. Visitors can hike up from town for fine views.

Russell makes an excellent spot to stay, or a top daytrip from Paihia.

Whichever you go for, make sure to check out the historic waterfront Duke Of Marlborough Hotel, that boasts of ‘refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827’, though it’s been burnt down and had to be rebuilt twice since then. Either stay or have a meal. The Duke holds the country’s oldest pub licence.

There are lots of historical hotspots to explore such as Pompallier Mission, built in 1842 to house the Catholic mission’s printing press, and Russell Museum.

Ferries make the 10-minute trip back and forth between Paihia and Russell with great regularity. There’s also a car ferry from Opua to Okiato (8km from Russell).

Practical Info Practical Info icon

Russell Booking and Information Centre – on the Wharf (this entry’s map location).

Bay of Islands


Exploring the North

Visit the Bay of Islands & the top (3-4 days)

Text © Craig McLachlan

Image by Mark in New Zealand