We don’t always plan to splurge for birthdays and other special occasions … but when we do, we tend to really go all out (like learning to cook in Rome or hot air ballooning over Colorado Springs). So, when we decided to go to New Zealand for my big 3-0, I immediately started searching for unique experiences that would make the day extra memorable – and The Rock Overnight Cruise from Paihia showed up in EVERY.SINGLE.SEARCH. There really wasn’t a chance we weren’t going to book this epic Bay of Islands overnight cruise!
The Rock Overnight Cruise Overview
We have very high standards for which tours we’ll book. They really have to be worth the money to us and offer a unique experience. At NZ$297 (~US$192) each – with YHA membership discount of 20%, The Rock Overnight Cruise was a bit pricey for our budget. But after looking at everything it included, we knew it would be well worth it!
In addition to food and accommodations, we’d get to go out on the water multiple times, fish to our hearts’ content, explore a remote island, and have plenty of time to get to know everyone else on the boat through games and fun icebreaker activities. Plus, getting to live on a boat for close to 24 hours was an epic way to bring in my 30th! (We even upgraded to our own private room since they gave us a great discount as a birthday gift!)
The Boat & Accommodations
After being picked up at the Paihia marina at 5 p.m., we were shuttled to our home for the night by a much smaller, faster boat. The Rock is hard to miss since it is a lot less modern and shiny than the other boats on the harbor. But, I’d be willing to bet it is more intelligently designed and far more unique.
Having been a car ferry in a previous life, it has a unique shape and features. A second floor was added on to accommodate guests and the hinged platform cars would use to drive on was now the fishing and diving area. A pool table and bar were also added below and smart storage solutions for kayaks, fishing poles, and other necessities could be found throughout. We absolutely loved the setup and had fun admiring the smart DIY fixes!
While most guests opted for the less expensive bunk option, we were very happy with our private room as a couple – with plenty of room to spread out, have multiple wardrobe changes, and enjoy a more private experience. On a hot night, it was also nice to have a little fewer people breathing in our personal space. With the door open, it was perfect!
The Rock Overnight Cruise Itinerary
Target Shooting Ice Breaker
Lucky for us, we were on the boat with a smaller group of about 10 – including the crew of three. It could have been about quadruple that, so we were quite relieved. And we liked everyone instantly as well!
After getting settled in and ordering our drinks at the bar (not included in the price, but nice to have!), we got to have a target practice challenge. Before shooting paintballs at a fake duck being pulled behind the boat, we got to introduce ourselves and share a fun fact. Whoever shot the duck first got a free drink! Unfortunately, our group didn’t have great aim, so no one won. But, it was a good laugh watching each guest give it a try and a unique idea for introductions.
Fishing & Swimming
As the sun was setting, we were invited to hop into the bay for a swim. While a little apprehensive, I gave into the peer pressure and hung out in the water with the rest of the group, playing a game of catch. The water temperature was ideal and it made for a fun group activity and made me feel a little more like a local.
Afterward, we all tried our hand at fishing. The crew always took advantage of every opportunity to teach us about the area and its wildlife. So, after the first fish was caught, the captain dissected it – showing the smaller fish in its stomach and even removing its still-beating heart! While a little too intense for some, it really gave us all a genuine appreciation for the fish we would eat the next day and the cycle of life in general.
With all of us working up an appetite paddling around and fishing, a large buffet-style dinner was served as the sun began to dip. I think everyone went back for seconds, so that’s good proof the food was yummy!
Night Kayaking in the Bay of Islands
Although the sun had set, we weren’t quite done with our adventures yet. Before bed, we all had the opportunity to go night kayaking in the Bay of Islands where we were anchored for the night! On a moonless night, you can see the phosphorescence in the water. However, the glow of the moon prevented us from seeing more than just a flicker here and there. Bummer!
It was fun to paddle around in the moonlight, though. And taking in alllll the stars above us while out on the bay was quite magical. Did you know the southern hemisphere of the world actually has more stars that you are able to see? What a treat!
Sunrise on the Water
Although our crowd was a young and lively bunch, we all turned in pretty early after a busy day and with the knowledge of an early wake-up call. However, I was the first up – before the sun.
Turning 30 had my head churning out thoughts all night. From gratitude for the amazing life Buddy and I have built (by the grace of God!) to spending some time mourning my 20s a bit – a time that just flew by for me without much thought of embracing it until the end.
However, waking up before everyone else – including the sun, made for a meditative and peaceful start to my day. It was impossible to not feel that I was exactly where I was meant to be (and who I am meant to be) while staring off at those gorgeous sunrise views in freaking New Zealand of all places! What a life! I have a feeling my 20s won’t be missed too much…
Snorkeling & Sea Urchin (Kina) Collecting
After a wonderful breakfast of muesli (granola) and toast, we changed into our swimsuits (“cozzies” as the Aussies called them – short for swim costumes), and hopped back in the water. Again, I let the group outing push me to overcome my fear of the open ocean. As we swam over to the snorkeling spot, I thought of the captain mentioning that hammerhead sharks often breed in the area. “Don’t worry, they are more afraid of you,” he said. Unlikely.
The weather was lovely and the temperature was perfect as we swam the five minutes or so over to the snorkeling area. At first, I was just trying not to panic. But for some reason, realizing I wasn’t the only one a little freaked out made it easier. A few of us opted for pool noodles to keep us afloat easier and laughed off our fears as we swam about. Meanwhile, others explored with snorkels below. While not tropical, it was interesting to get to see what was living beneath the surface.
Some of the group also collected local sea urchin (Kina) – a delicacy that sells for upwards of $500 in some overseas markets and that a few brave souls opted to taste a bit later. It just looked a little bit too much like intestines to me, and Buddy confirmed the texture similarity!
Paddling & Island Exploring at Motuarohia Island
The highlight of the Rock cruise for us was definitely paddling over to one of the islands only reachable by boat. We had the option of taking a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to Motuarohia Island.
Once there, Sam (a very knowledgeable member of the crew) explained some of the local traditions and stories to us. It was wonderful to learn so much about the Bay of Islands area of New Zealand as we took in the stunning views.
And the short hike to the viewing platform was definitely worth it, even in the heat! Motuarohia Island was a beautiful place and made me dream of a life filled with more mornings on the water and island hopping our days away.
After our quick, but informative tour, we had an hour to wander around on our own, play in the water, or just lounge on the beach. Eventually, we reluctantly paddled back to the boat to eat a delicious lunch and make our way back to Paihia.
After a beautiful lunch – including some delicious fresh fish ceviche and the option to try raw sea urchin (kina) – the crew surprised me with a mini birthday celebration. As everyone sang happy birthday to me, I blew out the candles on my brownie cake and soaked up all the happy vibes of such a special day.
Before making our way back to the mainland, we exchanged contact information with our awesome new friends, gave each other big hugs, and promised to share all our many photos with each other.
What a fantastic way to begin our visit to New Zealand and my 30th year! Sometimes we can feel a little isolated during our travels. But, more often than not, we find our people along the way and any sense of loneliness is filled with the joy of new friendships and happy memories in amazing places. We are fortunate to always have very full hearts on this journey we’ve set out on together!
Have you taken this cruise? What was your favorite part?