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Discover Bay of Island wheelchair accessible attractions, things to do, tours and activities for disabled travelers. Read our informative review to learn if the Bay of Islands and Russell Island are wheelchair accessible and wheelchair friendly or if Wheelchair Jimmy recommends this attraction be avoided by travelers in wheelchairs.

Russell was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand. It is situated in the Bay of Islands, in the far north of the North Island. The 2006 Census had a resident population of 816. Much of the accommodation in the area consists of holiday homes or tourist accommodation.

When European and American ships began visiting New Zealand in the early 1800s, the indigenous Māori quickly recognized there were great advantages in trading with these strangers. The Bay of Islands offered a safe anchorage and had a high Māori population. To attract ships, Māori began to supply food and timber. What Māori wanted was respect, plus firearms, alcohol, and other goods of European manufacture.

Russell developed as a result of this trade but soon earned a very bad reputation, a community without laws and full of prostitution, and became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”.

Jim’s Accessibility Comments:

Our Princess Cruise ship docked for the day in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, near Paihia (off the far north east coast of New Zealand). Upon anchoring in the bay, Princess then transported passengers who wished to go ashore via a small Tender craft.  Once on the Paihia shore there is a shuttle bus to transport passengers to town – but the buses are not wheelchair accessible. Luckily one of the very nice local staffers at the dock offered to personally drive us into town in their own car, so we accepted and off we went (everyone in New Zealand is sooo nice).

The town of Paihia is a very small coastal village; very level and wheelchair accessible; but there’s not much to do in Paihia. So we took a small ferry, which was accessible, from Paihia over to Russell Island. There is a reasonably steep ramp down to the small ferry boat at Paihia with the same setup on Russell Island but it is accessible (with a bit of help down the ramp and at the boat entry). The ferry trip is short and runs on the half hour.

The Town of Russell was founded in the early 1800’s and shortly thereafter became the Hell Hole of the Pacific resulting from drinking, prostitution , ex-cons and fights with Maoris. Today it is a small charming seaside village with about 1000 residents located along a very level waterfront. It’s an easy roll along The Strand and elsewhere in town. There are multiple wheelchair accessible restaurants including the Duke of Marlborough (our favorite restaurant and its history is fascinating (see my review)) and Sally’s Café as well as cute local shops and a free public wheelchair accessible restroom.

In particular we enjoyed the Russell Museum (with a $10 charge) which is a nicely done, informative museum which provides a great cultural history of Russell island and is very wheelchair accessible. There is an easy ramped entry into the museum and a large wheelchair accessible restroom.

Getting back from Russell Island to the Princess pickup dock in Piahia was easier as the ferry from Russell Island makes a special stop upon request.

Although Princess Cruises did not provide accessible shuttle transport to Paihia, with a little effort and some local help everything was reasonably wheelchair accessible. We had an absolutely wonderful day cruising thru dozens of islands off the far northern coast of New Zealand and a casual stroll and lunch thru the very charming town of Russell.