Russell (Bay of Islands), New Zealand
The idyllic Bay of Islands is a popular vacation area for New Zealanders. Unassuming Russell holds a premier position in the nation’s history. It was at nearby Waitangi that the Maori chieftains signed a treaty in 1840 ceding their lands to the British Crown. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds remains an important national landmark. Strolling Russell’s tidy streets today, it is difficult to imagine that in the 19th century, this was called the “hellhole of the Pacific” -- a nearly lawless outpost for whalers, sailors and ambitious traders flooding the new imperial frontier. Popular excursions from Russell include surveys of the surviving forests of ancient kauri trees, many well over a thousand years old, and the phantasmagorical formations of volcanic basalt rock; kayaking the crucial mangrove forests of the estuaries; and visiting a traditional Maori marae, or meetinghouse, to learn about the indigenous people’s heritage. Other recreational alternatives include the spectacular 18-hole Kauri Cliffs golf course, rated as the best in the world by Golf Digest.