One thing that I was always shocked about was when I heard that Russell used to be the capital of New Zealand. It's such a tiny, isolated village now -- though charming and quaint -- that it seems impossible that it was New Zealand's first capital (before both Auckland and the current Wellington) even if that was only from 1840 to 1841. It is possible to drive there, but it's quite a long trip because it is at the end of a long peninsula. Most local visitors take the Opua ferry, but even that is a shortcut. When I visited as a child, we often only took the passenger ferry across from Paihia.
However, the capital was actually Okiato (Old Russell), 7km south of present-day Russell (which was then Kororareka). New Russell (which adopted the same name as Old Russell became deserted) was, however, the first European settlement. Russell was named after the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord John Russell). Originally a whaling and sealing community, Russell was infamous, known as the 'Hell Hole of the Pacific' rife with prostitution and being lawless, despite being named literally as 'How sweet the penguin is' (Kororareka). It's most significant part of history was for the flagpole on Flagstaff Hill, which was cut down by Hone Heke (John Heke) several times in protest that the British were no longer welcomed by many tribes despite the Treaty of Waitangi.
|Aerial view of Russell from jasons.co.nz|
|Map of the lower Bay of Islands with Russel at center. From maps.google.com|