As one of New Zealand’s most popular summer destinations, the breathtaking natural beauty and 144 islands makes for an idyllic aquatic playground.
Ipiipiri, Peowhairangi | Bay of Islands
From the picturesque towns of Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri, you can access almost all the Bay has to offer. Whilst boating, fishing and swimming with dolphins are some of the favourite maritime activities, the Bay is also rich with history and stories to discover. Ipipiri (many places) is the original name of this area. Peowhairangi is an early transliteration of Bay of Islands
- Te Ara Coast to Coast touring route (a Northland Journey) from Bay of Islands to Hokianga
- Taking a dip in Ngawha Springs geothermal hot pools, only a few minutes off State Highway 12
- Looking for musket ball holes left in Christ Church (Russell) from the 1845 Battle of Kororāreka
- Kawiti Caves south of Kawakawa is home to thousands of luminous glow worms
- The towns of the Bay of Islands have a fantastic range of restaurants, cafés and bars – many with ocean, bush or orchard views
- There are dining options to suit all tastes, or dine with a difference on a dinner cruise
- Romantic Russell is only a short 15-minute ferry ride from Paihia with waterfront restaurants that offer the perfect chance to catch the evening sun. Dine or have a drink at the Duke of Marlborough which is the first licensed hotel in New Zealand
- Nearby Kerikeri also boasts many popular eateries and wineries, and wherever you are make sure to sample some of the varieties of delicious, succulent oysters from around Northland.
- Paihia gift, souvenir and clothing shops cater for the international visitor. An art and craft market is set up on days when the cruise ships are in the Bay, and the Bay of Islands Farmers Market sets up on Thursdays
- Russell has numerous galleries, craft shops, souvenir outlets and clothing stores, all an easy stroll within the town precinct
- Kerikeri offers fantastic boutique shopping, art galleries, The Old Packhouse Market offers fresh local produce and crafts on a Saturday and vintage, crafts and food on a Sunday. The Farmers’ market is also on a Sunday and offers fresh local produce.
- The Bay of Islands is approximately three hours’ drive North of Auckland
- Bay of Islands Airport (Kerikeri) is a seven minute drive to Kerikeri, and 25 minutes from Paihia
- Approximate flight time is 45 minutes from Auckland
- Taxis and rental cars are available
Towns & Villages
Paihia is an excellent base from which to explore the Bay of Islands. It has an extensive choice of accommodation, dining options and a good-sized town centre with banking, postal and supermarket facilities. There is a range of activities for adventure-seekers from scuba diving to parasailing and skydiving, exploring on a sea kayak or taking a fast boat to the Hole in the Rock. For something more relaxing, head to Paihia’s vibrant waterfront to wine and dine in one of the restaurants, lie on the beach, or browse the shops which are as diverse as they are fun.
Tour and activity operators are conveniently located in a hub on the waterfront so check them out – maybe even take a trip out to the islands and walk on one of the tracks such as Motuarohia (Roberton) and Urupukapuka Islands, which are accessible by boat only.
All About Islands is part of one of the Northland Journeys. With over 140 islands to choose from in the Bay of Islands, there are so many options to get yourself onto an island including; tour cruise, ferry, private boat, kayak, sail, row, paddle, swim.
Russell is an elegant town with over 200 years of stories to discover; rich in history with an esplanade of shops, cafés, restaurants, galleries and colonial architecture that maintain the old charm. Formerly known as Kororāreka, Russell was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand, and the young nation’s first capital.
Hours can be spent in the museum tracing the town’s past from the first European settlers, whaling and marine history. Even the headstones at New Zealand's first church have a story to tell. Visit New Zealand’s oldest licensed pub and oldest existing church, which is still scarred with musket ball holes from the war in 1845.
The Catholic mission building of Pompallier, built from rammed earth, once hand-printed 40,000 bibles in Māori and you can still see how they traditionally cured the tans for the covers and printed pages of these beautiful pieces of art. A sightseeing tour of Russell ensures you don’t miss any of the highlights.
Restaurants cater from café and bistro dining to award-winning establishments and even vineyard restaurants nearby. Bars range from the famous Duke of Marlborough hotel to the Bay of Island Swordfish club. The Bay of Islands including Russell hosts a range of entertainment, with summer jazz and country rock festivals.
To get from Paihia to Russell take a passenger ferry from the end of the Paihia wharf, or the Opua/Russell vehicle ferry. Russell is also accessible via the scenic Old Russell Road, and is an end point of The Secret Coast Route journey.
Waitangi is less than 2km from Paihia. One of New Zealand's most significant historic sites, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in 1840 between the British Crown and more than 500 Māori chiefs. The treaty agreed the terms by which New Zealand would become a British colony.
Today the Treaty Grounds are an opportunity to learn about Māori culture and the historical events associated with the signing of the treaty. Visit the Treaty House itself to see a replica of the original treaty; marvel at the fully carved Māori meeting house and one of the largest Māori war canoes in the country; and watch a film at the visitor centre. Live kapa haka performances are also held regularly and there’s a hotel located within the reserve that has a restaurant and bar.
Not only is Waitangi engaging from an educational point of view, it's also a very beautiful place to explore. From the small semi-formal garden that surrounds the Treaty House to the 6-kilometre forest walk that leads to Haruru Falls, the natural environment is spectacular. The shoreline provides a continuously changing panorama of the bay where warriors, whalers, sailors and settlers arrived in New Zealand.
Just around the corner from Paihia is Haruru Falls – the name translates as ‘big noise’. The water falls in a horseshoe shape - very rare and quite spectacular. In the 1800s, more than 100 Māori villages lined the banks of the Haruru River which flows down to the sea at Waitangi. Māori legend says that a taniwha (water monster) lives in the lagoon below.
There is a relatively easy 6 km (2.5 hours) walk through mangroves and forest from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to the falls. As you approach you will hear the thundering roar of the falls.
If you love history, nature, niche food products, boutique vineyards, art galleries, cafés and markets, you will love Kerikeri – Kerikeri is a market-lover’s dream. The Old Packhouse Market on Saturdays and Sundays draws crowds from near and far, and foodies flock to the Bay of Islands Farmers’ Market every Sunday. The Crafts Market, just across the road from the Farmers’ Market, is a great place to find unique gifts and mementos made by a wide variety of local artists and craftspeople, and the Kerikeri Art Trail will showcase even more local and unique creativity.
Northland wine growers can lay claim to cultivating their craft in New Zealand's oldest wine growing region, and today there are no less than eight wineries in the area. Kerikeri is also known for its citrus and kiwifruit, so make sure you stop off at the roadside stalls – they are easy to spot as they’re generally right in front of orchards that are bursting with colour.
Explore Kerikeri’s Kororipo Heritage Park incorporating the Stone Store (New Zealand’s oldest surviving stone building), Kemp House, Rewa’s Village and Kororipo Pa Site.
Beautiful Kerikeri has two 'Gardens of National Significance’ and the spectacular Rainbow Falls are on the must-do list. For indoor entertainment catch a show or performance at The Turner Centre, Kerikeri’s new arts and performance venue.
Kaikohe and Okaihau
Take time to explore the Mid North - the heart of Northland. The area has a rich cultural and pioneering history, being home to Ngāpuhi, New Zealand’s largest iwi (Māori tribe). The Mid North joins Hokianga and the Bay of Islands. Kaikohe is the central service town and a great place to stock up if cycling the Twin Coast Cycle Trail (Pou Herenga Tai) through to the small rural town of Okaihau. Nearby Ngāwha Hot Springs is prized for its therapeutic thermal waters.
Kawakawa is a colourful, quirky little town that is not to be missed! It is also the only town in New Zealand to boast a railway track through the centre of its commercial main street. Gabriel, the vintage steam train, takes passengers for a 30 minute ride through the centre of town and out into the countryside. While public toilets aren’t generally featured in travel itineraries, the facilities in Kawakawa are an exception. Designed by Austrian-born New Zealand artist and architect Frederick Hundertwasser, the famous Kawakawa public toilets showcase his artistic style of bold and bright colours, irregular forms, and the incorporation of natural features.
Just five minutes’ drive from Paihia you will find Opua, an attractive port settlement with a marina, yachts for charter, café and general store. For those who arrive in the Bay of Islands by sea, Opua is the easiest and primary port of entry into New Zealand. It is also the start (or finish) of the Bay of Islands section of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail which goes through to Hokianga. The views are spectacular as you follow the road down onto the car ferry, bound for Russell, which is an adventure in itself.
Te Rāwhiti to Oakura
Te Rāwhiti is a small beachfront town in the Bay of Islands, about 27km from Russell. This holiday haven with beautiful beaches, spectacular views, sailing, fishing and water sports is also a starting point for the Cape Brett walk.
Oakura Bay is a beautiful east facing beach, almost a kilometre long adjacent to the deep water entrance to the Whangaruru harbour. The area was reputedly named by Puhimoanariki, the captain of the legendary waka Mataatua. After searching for a long time Puhimoanariki found shelter from bad weather here. Whangaruru means ‘sheltered harbour’ in Te Reo Māori (the Māori language).
The coastal route from Te Rāwhiti to Oakura is part of one of the Northland Journeys – The Secret Coast Route, which extends from Russell to Helena Bay. Rich in history, the drive from Te Rāwhiti to Oakura will take you via Whangamumu, which is nestled into one of Northland’s most picturesque harbours and accessible only by private boat or the Whangamuru Track on Rawhiti Road.
Continuing on your journey you’ll pass a series of stunning bays and harbours – Elliot Bay, Taupiri Bay, Bland Bay/Whangaruru Peninsula and onto Oakura Bay. Enjoy a peaceful walk in the Russell Forest on the way, escape to a dive location or charter a fishing boat. Be sure to take your time on this journey – breathe the fresh sea air, grab an ice cream, and enjoy this unique environment. You won’t be sorry you veered off the beaten track.