As the sun broke over the horizon, National Geographic Orion set anchor in Whangamata on the northeastern side of North Island. Impressive geological sea stacks were dotted around the ship, creating an epic landscape to explore via Zodiac and kayak. After our breakfast, we set out to explore the small town. Activities included shore walks, bird watching, a journey to observe the local scenery, and a kayaking adventure that forded a narrow crevasse through a mountainous island. So narrow, in fact, that not even our Zodiacs could make it through. It was a lovely day, with many more to come.
National Geographic Orion
The morning commenced with a quick Zodiac journey across the bay to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Each group had a local guide, and guests learned about New Zealand’s founding document, which was first signed on February 6, 1840. After getting up close to the traditional wakas (large Māori war canoes) and learning about their construction, we continued up the hill to the treaty grounds and looked inside the Treaty House. The guided part of the tour ended there, and we gathered near the entrance of the fully carved Māori meeting house. We were invited in and welcomed in the traditional Māori way. We responded by singing a Māori song that we have practiced throughout our expedition with Hotu, our lead cultural expert. Inside the meeting house, we enjoyed the traditional welcome and listened to stories about the carvings. It was a moving experience. Responding with our song gave us all immense pride, and it was greeted warmly by our Māori friends. After lunch, we crossed the bay again to the small historic village of Russell. This was a destination for sailors, whalers, and traders during the 18th and 19th centuries. Now it is a vibrant spot for locals, tourists, and boat enthusiasts, and it boasts an assortment of quirky art and gift shops.