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.