Russell is a charming, elegant township in the Bay of Islands, in the Northland region of the North Island of New Zealand. A short passenger ferry ride across the bay from Paihia and the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi, this historic town is one of the earliest European settlements in New Zealand, dating back to the early 19th century. Kororāreka, as it was then known, was a lawless trading centre where whalers, seafarers and merchants mixed with adventurers, deserters and escaped convicts from Australia. Today Russell is still a favoured spot for boaties who seek safe anchorage. You will find a wide range of accommodation available and you can also arrange sightseeing, adventure or fishing activity from the Russell waterfront. If you're planning to do any island or bush hiking, be sure to call into the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre.
Okiato, the port on the Russell side for the vehicular ferry from Opua, is also known as Old Russell, as it was the original Russell, when present-day Russell was still Kororāreka. Old Russell was New Zealand's first capital, in 1840, until Auckland was declared the capital in 1841 and the transfer of the administration was completed in 1842.
Take State Highway 11 to Opua and catch the vehicle ferry to Okiato (Old Russell), 7 km from present-day Russell. The ferry sails every 10 minutes from one side or the other, starting from Okiato at 6:40AM and finishing with the 10PM sailing from Opua. Car and driver $12, additional passengers $1 (Feb 2019).
Or, drive the long way round on a now fully tar-sealed, scenic, coastal route via Oakura by turning off State Highway 1 at Whakapara, about 26 km north of Whangarei.
Take a passenger ferry from Paihia. Return fares $12 adults, $6 children (under 15 years). The slower ferry takes about 15 minutes. First sailings 7AM from Russell and 7:20AM from Paihia. Final sailings Oct-May 10PM from Russell and 10:30PM from Paihia, Jun-Sep 7PM from Russell and 7:30PM from Paihia.
- 1 Pompallier Mission, The Strand. Nov-Apr 10AM-5PM, May-Oct 10AM-4PM. Part of the French Catholic mission headquarters to the Western Pacific, which was in Russell. Erected in 1841-42, this building was a print works and tannery. It is the oldest industrial building in New Zealand. The guide may let you try your hand at operating a printing press. Set in colourful gardens. $10.
- 2 Russell Museum, York Street (one block from the waterfront). Jan 10AM-5PM; Feb-Dec 10AM-4PM. A two-room museum with a local history collection. Adult $10.
- 3 Christ Church, Church Street. The oldest remaining church in New Zealand. It still has holes made by musket balls during the Battle of Kororareka between British forces and Maori dissatisfied with British rule on 11 March 1845. The churchyard contains graves of the Maori chief Tamati Waka Nene (c. 1785-1871) and men who died in the 1845 battle.
- Cruises in the Bay of Islands. Explore and Fuller's Great Sights offer cruises that depart Paihia also pick up and drop off passengers at Russell. See the Paihia article for cruise info.
- Walk — there is a 1&km walk through a forest to Long Beach. It starts from Wellington Street which runs perpendicular to the Strand at the north end of the village. There are other walks shown on a map provided by hotels and other lodgings.
- Swimming is better at Long Beach, over the hill, than the town beach. There are public toilets, at a coffee cart in summer.
Russell offers lots of souvenir shops, clothing, and local art.
Two 4 Square supermarkets (on York St and on the Strand) serve self-caterers.
There are lots of restaurants along the Strand that have tables along the beach. They offer good meals and craft beers.
- Diggers Restaurant, 1 Chapel St. At the RSA.
- The Gables Restaurant, ☏ . 19 The Strand. Relaxed fine dining restaurant on the waterfront specializing in local seafood, wine and top cuts of NZ beef and lamb. One of the oldest buildings in the country, it has beautiful wooden floors and panelling, and whale bone foundations.
- Hone's Beer Garden & Burger Bar, 10 York St. Set amongst palm trees, never without a relaxed reggae vibe, Hone's serves up casual meals - home-made burgers, fish and chips and salads.
- Crusty Crab, 2 Cass St. Su-Th 11AM-7PM, F Sa 11AM-8PM. The local fried seafood take-away. Deep fried oysters, wide selection of burgers, chicken, toasted sandwiches, etc. One piece Hoki fish $5, chips $3.50, kumara chips $5, burgers $10-15.
- 1 Duke of Marlborough Hotel, 35 The Strand. Opened in 1827 as "Johnny Johnstone's Grog Shop", this the oldest hotel in the country. Restaurant has dinner mains from $25 to $33. Rooms from $135.
- Motel Russell, 16 Matauwhi Road, ☏ . Motel units with kitchenettes. Short walk to the Russell CBD. Free parking, Wi-Fi. Swimming pool, barbecue area. Studios, 1-bedroom units and 2-bedroom apartments. Queen $120, 2-bedroom $155, 2-bedroom $190.
- Russell Cottages, 16 Chapel St. 15 stand-alone luxury cottages. Part of the Tanoa Hotels group.
- Tapeka Del Mar Beachfront Holiday Home, 22 Du Fresne Place, Tapeka Point, ☏ . This vacation rental has 4 bedrooms sleeping up to 13 guests. All linen is included. On a swimming beach, with a row boat and kayaks.
- Police station, The Strand (on the waterfront), ☏ , fax: .