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Russell holds an important place in New Zealand’s history, being the country’s first sea port, its first European settlement and New Zealand’s first capital in nearby Okiato. The town’s streets retain their original layout and names from 1843, and many of its historic buildings can still be visited today.
A stroll around the streets will lead you to the Catholic Mission ‘Pompallier’, which is New Zealand’s oldest surviving Roman Catholic building. Built in 1841-42, under the direction of architect Louis Perret, it was used as a printery, tannery and storehouse for the French Marist mission. Pompallier has undergone extensive award-winning conservation work and is now a working museum where past methods of tanning, printing and bookbinding can be appreciated.
Another building to admire is Christ Church, the oldest existing church in New Zealand, which still carries musket ball holes from the New Zealand Land Wars.
Russell was once known as ‘The hell hole of the Pacific’, because it was a shore leave destination for sailors, whalers and traders during the 19th century. Today the atmosphere is much more savoury – Russell is a popular a holiday town, with plenty of shops, restaurants and accommodation to suit the whole family.
At the wharf you can catch a game fishing boat to hunt for marlin, tuna, broad bill and shark. Nearby Long Beach is a nice place for a swim. Many of the Bay of Islands daily cruises also use Russell as a departure point out to the Bay of Islands.
Russell is accessible by road, but the easiest way to visit is to catch a vehicle ferry from Opua (5 minutes), or passenger ferry from Paihia, which takes around 15 minutes.
Functional facts: Approx. population 820, information centre, ferry service to/from Paihia, vehicular ferry to/from Opua.