Many original buildings still stand from the days of whalers and missionaries (the latter trying to keep the former in check!) in the early 1800s. It’s a small town, accessible either by foot ferry from Paihia just a short 15 minute ride across the water, by car ferry from Opua or you can always take the back road for the scenic route to this historic spot (while it looks like one of the smaller islands, in fact it’s firmly attached to the bigger North Island!).
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.
The town has many good restaurants, cafe’s, boutique shops and art galleries to while away a pleasant day. 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.
You can visit the Russell Museum or walk over the hill to Long Beach to look out toward the Pacific Ocean. Flagstaff Hill and Tapeka Point are also great spots for views of the Bay. Flagstaff Hill holds many stories, the most popular being that of Hone Heke and his drive to cut the flag pole down.
There are some beautiful places to stay in Russell where the pace of life is just that bit slower than in Paihia across the water.
Russell was once known as ‘The hellhole 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 sharks. 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.