Donkey Bay Inn is nestled on its own beach near Russell, 3.5 hours north of Auckland.
As a long-term American expat in New Zealand, something that has struck me since the first day I arrived here is how there always seems to be a place for independence, in every sense of the world. Independent businesses that thrive in the heart of bustling cities. The independent attitude of “she’ll be right” and just bucking up and getting things done.
An independence with creative thinking, that unique thought and art is revered. Whether it’s a mate of a mate who lives in a caravan in the bush searching for moa or an artist that makes eerie sculptures of scavenged bones, New Zealand makes space for individuality. It’s a place where dreams come true.
As we move towards a more homogenized world, perhaps it’s a really good time to sit back and be proud of living in a country where uniqueness still thrives. Modern Kiwi culture is often evocative of our past frontier mentality, of having to make do at the ends of the Earth.
The view from Donkey Bay Inn is unparalleled.
Most of the hardwood at Donkey Bay Inn has been repurposed from the original America’s Cup development on the Auckland waterfront.
DIY and quirky creations run strong in the blood of Kiwis. As someone who has made a living out of traversing up and down the country (and the world), sniffing out noteworthy experiences to share with the Internet, I’ve come to not only appreciate the quirky but actively seek it out on my travels. And when I found myself in the Bay of Islands come summertime, I knew I had to visit Donkey Bay Inn.
Famous or infamous, depending on who you ask, Donkey Bay is an icon when it comes to exclusive getaways in New Zealand. Lording over, you guessed it, Donkey Bay (Waitata Bay), the Donkey Bay Inn blends in with the surrounding native bush, and I don’t say that metaphorically. It quite literally, blends in with the largest living roof this side of the planet.
The crystalline waters of the private Donkey Bay will blow you away! Not pictured: the nudists.
Meander down to the sandy beach for sunrise and you’ll have the place to yourself. Naturally separated from the larger nearby beaches of Russell, Donkey Bay is the perfect place to strip down to your birthday suit for an ocean plunge. A mostly nudist beach (you can take the American out of America but you can’t get her to ditch her togs completely), sheltered and quiet, it’s a great place to forget the weight of the world and just simply, let go.
Eco-friendly yet Dali-esque, Donkey Bay Inn is a dream come true. Upon arriving you walk through a canary yellow garden tunnel à la The Wizard of Oz before stepping inside one of New Zealand’s greatest architectural achievements.
Exotic yet homey, you step into a space that evokes peace and wonder at the same time. Everyone is welcome. Unless you’re under 16, then you have to wait a while. This corner of the Bay of Islands is for adults only.
Splurging on the Skyfall Suite is a must for special occasions, if only for the most spectacular bathroom and mirrored wardrobes.
Even the name Donkey Bay is curious and enigmatic. Reportedly it gets its name from a tale that during the World Wars, it was used as a lookout and donkeys were used to transport munitions up the hill. Nowadays if you’re lucky, you might catch the owner and proprietor Antonio Pasquale delivering his wines by donkey.
Winemaker, purveyor of stories and art, philosopher, creative, and guardian of all things that grow, Antonio is the beating heart of Donkey Bay that brought this incredible place to life and opened it up to the world to enjoy too. With a beautiful smile and infectious laugh, his presence is magnetic, making you want to stay at the Inn and never leave. Imagine be during lockdown? Heaven.
Summer sunsets in the Bay of Islands are liquid gold and nature’s work.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time in Northland to realise how special the climate is here. A truly abundant place, with incredible seafood, lush vegetation and produce, and sun that seems to never stop shining, I’m not surprised it fosters such independence and visionary thinking.
And with its wild west history of lawlessness as a port town pre-missionaries, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised. While the pirates may be long gone from its shores, there’s plenty of joyful sailors and unforgettable locals who march to the beat of their own drums and continue to