The Duke of Marlborough Hotel

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The Duke of Marlborough pub in Russell, Bay of Islands.

Ricardo Simich checks into historic Northland accommodation.

By Ricardo Simich

Getting there: Heading up to a wedding, held at The Duke, I tackled the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Auckland in good time, the drive-on ferry from Opua to Okiato was easy, making the 8km meander from the ferry into the centre of Russell a relaxing one.

Check-in experience: Mine was a two-night affair, first a stay in the Duke Motel, which offers family-friendly, modern one and two-bedroom units, with Sky TV and a pool. Then on to the historic Duke. Once I had marvelled at the old-worldly charm, I had a welcoming greeting from the reception team, an explanation of services and I was checked in and escorted to my room.

My Room: I stayed in a Waterfront room, of generous size, with beautiful views across the Bay to Waitangi. It boasted a comfortable, super king bed, a day couch and two lovely, comfortable chairs for good conversation. Lovely linen. The room design surprised with its mix of ultra-modern and classic. A signature coat of arms, painted on the wall above the bedhead, made for extra special detail as well as a piece of art.

Toiletries: A nice range of Koha Spa Aotearoa toiletries.

Bathroom: Small, but perfectly designed.

Free Wi-Fi? Yes.

Price: $210-$375 a night for a Waterfront room.

What's so good about this place? The location — The Duke stands, pride of place — in the centre of Russell's waterfront. The restaurant's menu is full of flavour and local seasonal produce is complemented by a well-thought-out wine and beverage list.

The Duke stands out because of its history — dating back to 1827 it holds New Zealand's first liquor licence. The Duke sets you up to appreciate the importance of the area. Russell is steeped in history, Maori, French and colonial — New Zealand's first church and the Pompallier Mission museum were an education. The bride and groom had their nuptials in front of Pompallier House, the gardens and sense of past helped make for a magical ceremony.

And the bad? The parking was hit-and-miss, but there were plenty of places to park nearby.

What's in the neighbourhood? Russell is the jump-off point for countless activities in the Bay of Islands. With 144 islands on its doorstep, sailing and fishing is top of the pops, with some glorious beaches thrown in. Catch a ferry and explore!

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The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are just up the road from Paihia — allow a good couple of hours to view the $14 million redevelopment of the Treaty Grounds and especially the world-class, 12-month-old Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi. Aside from the hotel's restaurant and bar there are a few others in town. A 20-minute ferry ride to Paihia offers another great restaurant, Charlotte's Kitchen.

Food and drink: A highlight of my stay was The Duke Restaurant, which served up delectable delights for lunch and dinner. The food and service hold their own with the best in Auckland. Keep an eye out for the fresh fish delivered daily to the wharf directly in front of the hotel. The wedding reception was held in The Duke's Grand Ball Room which can seat 140 people. Guests marvelled at how their mains were cooked to individual perfection, and not with that en-masse taste as is often the case when catering for large numbers.

A room with a view? Six of the rooms have a view of the waterfront, the remaining rooms overlook the charming village of Russell or have access to a shared balcony.

Noise: The gentle lapping of the waves on the shoreline and the affable hum from the restaurant downstairs helped to mute the sound of the early morning-after wedding party I hosted.

Value for money: Excellent.

Exercise facilities: Just walk out the door, there are loads of lovely walking tracks close by and swimming at the beach in front of the hotel and at Long Beach — one of the Bay of Islands' most beautiful beaches. Membership to the local tennis club is temporarily available — rackets are provided.

Perfect for: Couples and people wanting to recharge the batteries and have a jolly good time mixing it up with the locals.

The bottom line: A great place for a romantic getaway, which may lead to a spectacular wedding there in the future. Russell and the Bay of Islands have loads to offer — venturing to The Duke is an experience of delight and is full of surprises old and new.

CHECKLIST

The Duke of Marlborough is at 35 The Strand, Russell, Bay of Islands. Phone: (09) 403 7829.

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