For a great little weekend escape, I have discovered the grand old Duke of Marlborough in Russell.
Of course it’s not new – in fact it was the first licensed hotel in New Zealand in 1827, and my parents honeymooned here in 1965, but 2 years ago it changed hands again and is being slowly and carefully renovated by 2 young couples. Right smack on the water’s edge, this is quite the place to be and be seen in the sleepy seaside town of Russell in the Bay of Islands.
Just 3.5 hours drive north of Auckland, or a 1 simple hour north of Whangarei (including 10 minutes on the car ferry across the harbour from Opua – $24 round trip).
There are 25 rooms and 4 are along the waterfront here at the Duke and right now I am in a waterfront room on the end with my own personal balcony with a table and chairs to happy hour my afternoon away. Big leather chairs and an ottoman I want to steal are under the picture window and the king size bed is covered with a linen quilt cover and white feather pillows to prop up on and watch the flat screen telly (if you really must have the goggle box on. Ok it is rugby season).
Downstairs is the restaurant and bar which has been “refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827” and last night we joined probably the entire town and a three-course Bastille Day meal for $70 pp. Yes I ate the snails!
Russell was the first capital city of New Zealand back in the day when whalers and sailors, settlers and women of ill repute roamed the town. When the missionaries arrived here, the town was known as the Hell Hole of the Pacific. Take a stroll around the streets and pop into the little wooden church which still has musket holes in the walls.
The Duke is also just behind the pier for ferries to Paihia and joining all the dolphin watching (and swimming), a wander through the grounds of Waitangi and plenty of other things to do in these parts.