Paihia Profile: Sarah Greener from The Rock Houseboat

The Bay of Islands is a place of adventure, passionate locals with a zest for life, and one-of-a-kind experiences. We talk to Sarah Greener who co-owns The Rock (the largest houseboat in New Zealand, with epic accommodation and activities) about what brought her to the Bay of Islands, about her unique business, and what she loves best about the Bay of Islands.

Tell me about yourself – who are you and what were you doing before you started The Rock here in the beautiful Bay of Islands?

I’m a Kiwi and my husband (and The Rock co-owner) Jonny is English. We met in Thailand, in the beautiful province of Krabi on the Andaman Sea, where we were running kayaking and diving businesses. I was drawn to Thailand initially for the rock climbing: Krabi is the land of soaring limestone cliffs, vertical islands, turquoise waters, and picture-perfect white-sand beaches (think James Bond Island). We then ran a kayaking business together there for 3 years, and it was when we came back to New Zealand for a wedding that life changed again. I’d been on The Rock adventure houseboat with my dad previously but wanted to take Jonny on the boat this time, to see if what made The Rock successful would work in our business in Thailand. Instead, while we were chatting with the owner Pete, he mentioned it was for sale – so we said we would buy it. Six months later we owned the boat! After 14 years of epic adventure, our boat is again up for sale for health reasons.

What makes The Rock unique – that keeps customers coming back?

The boat itself is one-of-a-kind – it’s New Zealand’s biggest houseboat. Before it was converted to a houseboat, it was a car ferry called the Normville, operating between Opua and Okiato. But when the route became busier and needed a larger ferry, the boat switched to operating from Rawene to Kohukohu in the Hokianga Harbour. In Rawene it was purchased by Peter and Stacee Honey, who welded a caravan to it and sailed it round Cape Reinga to the Bay of Islands. They then built the houseboat structure on top to create The Rock. Not many boats have a pool table, piano, table tennis table, a wood-burning fireplace, a bar, and views from so high up.

Another unique aspect to The Rock is our crew: they are super welcoming, and the people who come onto the boat will leave knowing they are part of The Rock family. We make sure every age and stage is having a great time – for example, recently we had families aboard so we took the little ones around the rocks in small boats, so the parents could have a break.

There’s so much you can experience on our trips: we are very focused on experiencing the BOI with all senses – touch, taste, smell, listen, and look – so people get to see a little of everything. For example, night kayaking in phosphorescence is stunning out in the bay with no light pollution, or diving for kina to eat. It amazes me the people who haven’t fished regularly, or stayed overnight on a boat: there are lots of firsts.

We also are the only DOC-approved cruise operator that can take visitors on guided walks on the DOC-run islands.

What do you love about Paihia and the Bay of Islands in general?

I love that in the Bay of Islands, the ocean and bush are so close together. You can’t fault it. We live 600m from sea, which is ever-changing with storms and flat calm days, but we’re up against the bush with morning tui song around our house – I even recently saw kiwi. Our native forest and ocean is so close together we can interact with both.

What are your top 3 recommendations for things visitors must do when visiting Paihia?

The Rock, of course! For an overnight experience, you’ll never forget.

I love the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park. It’s special because its creation was a community project. It also adds that nice connection between being up in the bush and down by the sea. You can look out over the Bay of Islands while riding – you can’t get better than that.

You have to go to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Kiwis don’t go because we think we know everything, but you must go for the storytelling. We have a history that can be confronting, but the stories are done in a beautiful way. You can learn about and see what the Treaty looks like, and the challenges that have come out of it – in a way we can all understand. They have two museums there now, and so many of the people telling the stories are direct descendants, with a strong connection to the history of the place. It’s important we understand this history because it’s a part of who we are as people of New Zealand. Visit on Waitangi Day if you can, it’s almost a spiritual experience: what you see on TV is not the Waitangi Day we enjoy here year after year.

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