Travel Nav

Each inky spiral, each dark curled tendril, represents a different part of Hone's tribal homeland. He walks across the design with his fingers - around Taiamai (the Maori word for the inland area of the Bay of Islands), through rivers and forests to Northland's largest freshwater lake: Lake Omapere. 'My head looks North,' says Hone. 'To the ancestors' pathway to our spiritual homeland, Hawaiki.' Maori believe that the souls of the dead walk along 90 Mile Beach, a strip of sandy coast lined with steep dunes, before eventually reaching Cape Reinga. Here, at New Zealand's most northerly point, they take the leap into the afterlife. 'Then,' says Hone, 'the whole of the Pacific Ocean becomes our playground.'

Today, the playground is an earthly one - the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the main celebrations for New Zealand's national day are held. The festivities are representative of the strange alchemy that has occurred between the two cultures since the document was signed 170 years ago. Alongside stands selling Maori favourites, such as hangi (meat, steamed in a fire in the ground) and mussel fritters, are stalls offering confections reminiscent of a British village fête: flapjack and Victoria sponge. At four o'clock, local boys perform a spirited haka to welcome the safe return of the canoes after the morning's ceremonial procession. An hour later, the New Zealand navy band starts up, mixing nautical standards with tongue-in-cheek covers of pop hits and showtunes.

Crisp in their pristine white uniforms, the musicians' brass trombones and French horns gleam in the last of the day's sunlight. A Maori family sat under the shade of a tree listen to the band's final number while eating watermelon sundaes: green shells filled with ice cream, nuts and lurid strawberry sauce. As well as New Zealand's birthday, the group have another to celebrate. Presenting a cake to the youngest of the group, a boy, a woman begins to sing softly. Soon she is joined by a dozen voices singing in Maori, all falling effortlessly into three-part harmony. Happy Birthday has never sounded more beautiful.

Find your sea legs yacht racing
At 40 foot, Revs is the biggest yacht at Opua Cruising Club. The colour of a fire engine and capable of speeds of 20 knots, she is worth over £250,000. But in the Bay of Islands, sailing isn't just something rich people do - everyone's at it. 'There's no class division,' says Reece Hesketh, the Club's Vice Commodore. 'We're labourers, teachers, small businessowners - people from all walks of life.' Reece, who runs a plumbing company, doesn't even own a boat. 'I don't need one,' he says. 'If I want to go sailing, there's always a place for me in someone's crew.'

This inclusive approach extends to outsiders - the club is happy for anyone who wants to try their hand at sailing to take part in one of their race nights. Aspiring sailors are taken under the wing of an experienced seadog and shown the ropes, free of charge. 'We get a buzz out of seeing you guys get a buzz,' says Reece.

Down at the marina, I am welcomed aboard Revs. A horn sounds the start of the race, and as the boat begins to pick up speed I taste the metallic tang of adrenalin. Silently, Reece hands me a bottle from a cooler stacked with Tui beer. As a beginner, my role is chiefly to act as ballast - scampering from one side of the boat to the other when instructed by an emphatic shout of 'Tack!' from the captain. 'The flatter she is, the faster we go,' Reece says.

Page 3 of 4     First | < Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Next > | Last

Follow us on

Best of Travel

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.