Russell was a great place to spend the better part of a week. It’s one of the larger towns in the Bay of Islands. It also has a lot of history from the early times of the Europeans in New Zealand and is close to some other interesting spots. It’s a very walk-able town with some nice restaurants. All in all, a great base from which to explore and relax.
We saw the flyers up around town for the Short Ships Race, so we went down to the Russell Boating Club to see the action. It was a nice chance to see a different side of Russell, as almost everyone there was at least a part time resident of Russell.
Russell was one of the sites of early European settlers. As the whalers and sealers made their way to the Bay of Islands, things got rough enough that Russell earned the nickname of “Hellhole of the Pacific.” So, then the missionaries showed up to try to bring civilization to the whalers and sealers and to bring Christianity to the Maori who already called this area home. Some of the buildings set up as a mission by French Catholics still remain and are now a museum. The mission is most famous for its printing press, which printing over 30,000 books and tracts, all in the Maori language. The guided tour shows how these books were made, and we got a chance to try some of the many steps involved in making a book.
Across the bay from Russell is the Waitangi Treaty grounds. In 1840, representatives of the British Crown and many Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitaingi, which resulted in British sovereignty over New Zealand. It is a founding document of the nation of New Zealand. The treaty was written in English and translated in to Maori. Differences in the meaning of these two versions reverberate to this day.
Not far from Russell is the small town of Kawakawa, which is most widely known for its public toilets. In New Zealand, public toilets are widely available and clearly marked, but rarely are they tourist attractions in their own right. But the Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa are famous. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an Austrian architect and artist who made his home in Kawakawa. In 1998, the town needed to upgrade its public toilets, and Hundertwasser offered a design. The toilets were built with local and recycled materials, and they opened in 1999. Hundertwasser passed away in 2000. The project’s influence spreads throughout the town.