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BUG New Zealand travel guidebook

Destination guides > Pacific Islands > New Zealand > Northland > Bay of Islands > Russell


Russell, just a short ferry ride across the bay from Paihia has a very different feel from its party-town neighbour. Russell was the first capital of New Zealand, and has a great deal of historical buildings and sites that are worth a visit. Pompallier is a Catholic mission that was used as a printer, tannery, and storehouse; it’s New Zealand’s oldest remaining Roman Catholic building and is now a museum. Christ Church is the oldest church in New Zealand, and still has musket-ball holes from the Maori Wars. There are good beaches and walks around here as well.

The town likes to call itself “Romantic Russell”, and it has a kind of antique charm that generally appeals to an older crowd. It’s a long way from Russell’s rough and ready past, when it was once known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific”, a lawless town teeming with criminals and prostitutes. Nowadays, Russell makes a good alternative to Paihia if you want to avoid the noise and drunken revelry but still partake in all the activities the region has to offer.

Hostel accommodation

The End of the Road Backpackers

13 Brind Road, Russell
Tel (09) 403 8827

Pukeko Cottage Backpackers

14 Brind Road, Russell
Tel 09 403 8498

Sheltered Waters Backpackers

18 Florance Avenue, Russell
Tel (09) 403 8818


Many of the activities available in Paihia can also be done through Russell, this includes many of the cruises, which pick up passengers here. See the Paihia section for more information.

Sightseeing, museums & tourist attractions


New Zealand’s oldest building associated with the Catholic Church has been used as a printer’s workshop as well as a tannery and storehouse. It is unique in the fact that it is the oldest surviving example of a rammed earth building. There is a museum on site featuring demonstrations of printing, binding, leatherwork and tanning.

The Strand, Russell
Tel (09) 403 7861
Admission $7.50
Open Jan-Apr 10am-5pm daily; May-Nov 10am-4pm daily; Dec 10am-5pm daily

Russell Museum

This interesting museum recounts the history of the early years of Maori-European contact and also has some fascinating displays about the whaling industry. One of the museum’s main attractions is the 1:5 scale model of Captain Cook’s ship the Endeavour.

2 York Street, Russell
Tel (09) 403 7701
Website www.russellmuseum.org.nz
Admission $5
Open Jan 10am-5pm daily; Feb-Dec 10am-4pm daily

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