As the sun rose on the Bay of Islands (Waitangi), the Viking Sun anchored near the port town of Paihia, an ideal place to start our next nine days in New Zealand. As we made our way to shore, we learned that Waitangi holds a central role in the history of New Zealand. In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here by British officers and Maori chiefs, bestowing sovereignty over the growing nation on Queen Victoria. Today, the 140 sub-tropical Waitangi islands are a fascinating blend of Maori and colonial culture. Paihia provides a gateway to some interesting history, sandy beaches, and diving sites throughout the islands. Sail boats, jet skis, kayaks, parasails, and other recreational watercraft dot the shoreline, all pointing to a beautiful first day in this scenic part of the world.
A short drive through the countryside brought us to the Kerikeri Basin, one of New Zealand’s most historic sites. The Kerikeri Mission Station was founded in 1819. It is the oldest surviving European settlement in New Zealand. The Kemp House, built in 1822, is New Zealand’s oldest surviving building, and the Stone Store, built in 1836, is New Zealand’s oldest stone building and the oldest trading building. The two stand close together and dominate the former wharf frontage to the river. The Kerikeri River meanders through the basin, and Rainbow Falls is one of the outstanding natural features of this area.
New Zealanders take full advantage of the health benefits of their native plants, many of which have their origins in traditional Maori herbal medicine. One example is honey made from the blossoms of the manuka plant, which has been recognized for its medicinal properties and is added to lotions, oils, and balms for export throughout the world. In addition to honey, manuka seeds are said to aid digestion, and the leaves can be steeped into a delicious, soothing tea. Kawakawa, one of New Zealand’s most distinctive plants, has also been an important healing herb in traditional Maori herbal medicine, and is still in use today. Kawakawa plants can be found throughout the countryside, and we had the opportunity to sample some during our visit. And harabeke leaves (a type of flax) contain a sticky sap that is said to have antiseptic properties.
Kawakawa is also the name of a quaint town that was literally put on the map by the world-famous Bohemian architect/designer Frederick Hundertwasser for his design of public restrooms, described by Atlas Obscura as “possibly the world’s most architecturally important public bathrooms!” Hundertwasser spent his whole career championing the curve of organic nature against the straight line. From the mid 70s, all of his imaginative buildings – such as Hundertwasser House in Vienna (1985) and the hot springs village of Blumau in Styria (1990-97) – were ergonomically curved and ecologically integrated with rooftop gardens. In consultation with the Bay of Islands College, students prepared ceramic tiles which were used throughout the building. The bricks came from a former Bank of New Zealand building, and both young and old from the local community volunteered their services to the construction process. The finished product is a work of art, from the grass roof, to gold balls, ceramic tiles, bottle glass windows, mosaic tiling, copper handwork, cobblestone flooring, individual sculptures, and a living tree integrated into the design structure.
It’s going to be hard to top the bathroom story, but if our first day in New Zealand is any indication, we’re in for a pretty spectacular visit!