By Sandy Myhre
It’s the age-old question; what do you do with the kids in the school holidays or, in fact, even on a weekend away? It’s one not always satisfied, even in activity-crazy New Zealand.
It can depend on the age of your children. If they’re into their teens they may be keen to bungy jump in Queenstown or white-water raft in Whakatane. But what if they’re not in that age group? How many hotels, motels or camp grounds are child-friendly and not on a main road? For that matter, are parents also adequately catered for?
The solution is a chalet and not one high on a mountain that’s freezing cold in winter and stiflingly hot in summer, and with not much else to do but tramp around steep scree or dusty tracks.
Just a three-hour drive from Auckland is the historic and wonderfully picturesque little town of Russell in the stunningly beautiful Bay of Islands. It’s accessible by road and car ferry or passenger ferry from Paihia, so that’s a unique selling point for starters. But there’s more.
Six kilometres from the Russell township is scenic Paroa Bay overlooking, yes, Paroa Bay in the Bay of Islands. High on the hill above a vineyard are three self-contained architecturally-designed chalets purpose-built for families.
A large kitchen dining and lounge area (with unsurpassed views) separates the bedroom and bathroom spaces which means the kids can sleep at one end of the chalet while parents enjoy the other. Perfect.
It means, too, the kids can run around the grassed areas almost unsupervised because it’s safe. It’s not a township after all, it’s a verdant valley quiet enough to hear tui singing by day and kiwi by night. Where else in New Zealand can you hear the shy nocturnal ground-dwelling kiwi in full voice flight? And with the chalets there’s a spa pool on site so you could probably hear those kiwi as you soak with a glass of wine in hand. That’s another unique selling point.
If you don’t want to cook, there’s an Italian restaurant with wine-tasting offerings in the vineyard within walking distance. But there’s still more.
A short drive into Russell is the complete historical experience. The museum details the bawdy whaling days of what was then Kororareka and remnants of boats and whaling pots are still on the foreshore. Christ Church a block back from the waterfront is the oldest working church in New Zealand and still with the musket holes in a side wall inflicted during the Battle of Kororareka in 1845. The kids will thrill to that real-life dramatic depiction of war.
A stroll around the graveyard is a palpable heritage trail with history lessons not always taught in schools. A little booklet available from the church details names and dates of the burial of early settlers, Maori chiefs, rascals and reprobates, surgeons and sailors and other early citizenry both law-abiding and not.
Maki Hill (where the flagstaff was famously chopped down by Maori warrior, Hone Heke, a staggering four times and which lead to the Battle of Kororareka) is a five-minute drive from here and, as with so much of the region, comes complete with staggering views of the bays and beaches yet again.
Russell is also home to the famous Duke of Marlborough Hotel and there are other eateries scattered around the town that welcome children as much as adults. An excellent grocery store can supply all the victuals if you choose to cook and Pacific oysters and smoked fish are available fresh just down the road.
Then there are the dolphin experience cruises in the bay, or fishing charters, or yacht charters or just plain old swimming from the foreshore beach, sitting on the grass verge and watching the kids jump off a pontoon near the wharf. Or you can all kayak or paddle board close to the beach.
Paroa Bay Chalets were built by NZer, Claire Pearson, who spent several years overseas in various cities before deciding to come back home and settle for the quiet life. As a mother, she knew the value of providing family accommodation and as a former urbanite she certainly knew the benefits of tranquil rural surroundings.
What the chalets offer is seclusion and serenity away from the Russell tourist bustle and yet close enough to have every amenity and activity available within a ten-minute drive, all mod cons and technology, and the factor known as ‘ah!’.