As one of New Zealand’s most popular summer destinations, the breathtaking natural beauty and 144 islands makes for an idyllic aquatic playground.
Ipipiri, 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, sailing and snorkelling 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
- The geothermal hot springs at Ngawha Springs, only a few minutes off State Highway 12
- Christ Church in Russell from the 1845 Battle of Kororāreka
- Waiomio Glowworm Caves south of Kawakawa, home to thousands of luminous glow worms
- The Bay of Islands Coastal Walkway where you can complete the full circle around the inner bay on foot.
- The towns of the Bay of Islands have a fantastic range of restaurants, cafés and bars to suit all tastes – many with stunning ocean, bush or orchard views. Enjoy local produce, freshly caught seafood, and artisan products.
- 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 was the first licensed hotel in New Zealand
- Nearby Kerikeri, world-renowned for high-quality fruit production also boasts many popular eateries and wineries.
- Wherever you are make sure to sample some of the varieties of delicious, succulent oysters from around Northland.
- Paihia boasts a number of gift, souvenir and clothing shops to provide some retail therapy.
- The Bay of Islands Farmers Market which sets up on a Thursday afternoon in the Village Green has spectacular local produce and artisan goods.
- 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 on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and the Farmers’ Market on a Sunday.
- Getting there
Discover the Northland Journeys in the Bay of Islands.
- Te Ara Coast to Coast follows the ancient pathway between east and west, connecting the Bay of Islands to the Hokianga Harbour.
- All About Islands explores the aquatic playground and seaside attractions of the Bay of Islands by boat, foot and ferry.
- The Secret Coast Route traverses the seemingly forgotten coastal roads that connect the Bay of Islands and Whangārei.
Towns & Villages
Paihia is the hub of the Bay of Islands, and an excellent base from which to explore the wider area. A huge range of accommodation options to suit all travellers can be found in Paihia and the town centre covers all your needs, from banking and postal services, to supermarkets and shops.
A range of activities depart from Paihia, with tour and activity operators conveniently located in a hub on the waterfront. Those looking for water-based activities are spoiled for choice, with dolphin-viewing cruises, fast boats to the Hole in the rock, fishing, sea kayaks, sailing, scuba diving and more. For a birds' eye view, try parasailing, a scenic helicopter flight, or for the more adventurous, skydiving.
For a more relaxed pace, Paihia has numerous options for wine-ing and dining, plenty of which have spectacular waterfront views. Finding a keepsake to take home is easy too, with several diverse and fun shops to browse.
Keep active by walking the Bay of Islands Coastal Walkway, which passes through Paihia, or board a boat to one of the island recreation reserves and hike to some of the scenic viewpoints that look over the Bay.
Russell | Kororāreka
Russell is an elegant town with more than 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. Also 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, the Duke of Marlborough Tavern and the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club. The Bay of Islands including Russell hosts a range of events, with entertainment and festivals across the year.
Passenger ferries run regularly from Paihia and the crossing is only about 10 minutes. A vehicle ferry from Ōpua will take you to Okiato, which is just a short drive from Russell. Russell is also accessible via the scenic Old Russell Road, and is the endpoint of The Secret Coast Route journey.
One of New Zealand's most iconic historic sites - Te Maiki Flagstaff Hill is in Russell. You can drive to the top, take a local tour, or walk the Flagstaff Hill Loop Track which starts near the boat ramp on The Strand. You might come across the endangered North Island Weka which has been successfully reintroduced to the Russell Peninsula by the Russell Landcare Trust.
Accommodation in Russell ranges from the ultra-luxury to the traditional kiwi holiday park.
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 historic Treaty House where the treaty was drafted, marvel at the fully carved Māori meeting house and one of the largest Māori war canoes in the country. Live cultural performances are also held regularly and with two museums to wander you could spend all day here.
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.
There are over 140 islands in the Bay of Islands, full of walking tracks, stunning bays, and beautiful wildlife. Half the fun is getting to the islands, with plenty of options from ferries and tours, to private boats and sailing, or even kayaking and paddling.
Urupukapuka is the largest island in the Bay, and a hub of activity. During the summer months the fully licenced café is open and there are loads of activities both on water and land. It is also now one of the seven main islands in Project Island Song, a now decade-long project that has returned the islands to a pest-free state and restored the natural eco-systems, creating a wildlife sanctuary. Exploring the island on foot is easy with numerous hikes, and those who want to stay over are spoiled for choice with three Department of Conservation campsites.
Other islands include; photogenic Waewaetorea Island, a peaceful and extremely picturesque island in the outer reaches of the Bay; iconic Motuarohia | Roberton Island with its stunning twin lagoons, earning it the title of most photographed scene in the Bay; scenic Moturua Island with lush vegetation and crystal-clear waters; and of course, the distinctive Motukōkako | Piercy Island with its iconic "Hole in the Rock".
Just around the corner from Paihia is the beautiful Haruru Falls on the Waitangi River. The water falls in a rare and quite spectacular horseshoe shape and the name translates as 'roaring', the reason being especially obvious after heavy rain. In the 1800s, more than 100 Māori villages lined the banks of the Haruru River which flows down to the sea at Waitangi.
Visit Haruru Falls on foot via the 6km long walking track from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where you can hear the thunderous roar of the falls as you approach. Alternatively, you can approach from the base, by paddling a kayak or waka up the river, but keep your eyes peeled - Māori legend says that a taniwha (water monster) lives in the lagoon below.
If you love history, nature, niche food products, boutique vineyards, art galleries, cafés and markets, you will love Kerikeri.
Explore Kerikeri’s Kororipo Heritage Park incorporating the Stone Store (New Zealand’s oldest surviving stone building), Kemp House, Te Ahurea (Northland's Living Village and Cultural Experience) and the Kororipo Pa Site.
Kerikeri is a market-lover’s dream. The Old Packhouse Market on Saturdays and Sunday mornings draw crowds from near and far, for delicious food, great coffee, local products, and arts and craft. Foodies can also find the Bay of Islands Farmers’ Market further down the road on Sunday mornings.
Northland vintners can lay claim to cultivating their craft in New Zealand's oldest wine growing region, and today there are several excellent wineries in the area producing award-winning wines. 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.
Beautiful Kerikeri has two 'Gardens of National Significance’ and the spectacular 27-metre curtain Rainbow Falls are on the must-do list. The Rainbow Falls Walk is a short walk that begins in the carpark and leads to the top of Rainbow Falls where three platforms allow you to take in stunning views. A network of walks leads to four other waterfalls in the area.
For indoor entertainment catch a show or performance at The Turner Centre, Kerikeri’s arts and performance venue.
Kaikohe and Okaihau
The Mid North joining the Hokianga and the Bay of Islands, has a rich cultural and pioneering history, being home to Ngāpuhi, New Zealand’s largest iwi (Māori tribe). Kaikohe is the central service town and a great place to base yourself if cycling the Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail along with the small rural town of Okaihau. Nearby, the hot pools at geothermal Ngāwhā Springs are prized for their therapeutic thermal waters.
Kawakawa is a colourful, quirky little town that is not to be missed! While public toilets aren’t generally featured in travel itineraries, the facilities in Kawakawa designed by Austrian-born New Zealand artist and architect Frederick Hundertwasser are an exception. Showcasing his artistic style, they feature bold and bright colours, irregular forms, mosiacs, sculptures, and natural features like the grass roof.
Directly behind the world-famous toilets is Te Hononga Hundertwasser Memorial Park, a new arts, cultural and environmental centre that celebrates the town's connection with Hundertwasser, and acts as a hub for the rich culture in the area complete with gallery, interpretive centre and more.
Kawakawa is also the only town in New Zealand to boast a railway track through the centre of its commercial main street.The vintage engines take passengers from the quaint railway station at the southern end of town, along the main street and out into the countryside.
From Kawakawa you can ride the Twin Coast Cycle Trail in either direction and even take your bicycle on the vintage railway from the town station out to Taumarere, some 3km from town, before continuing on to Ōpua.
Don't miss the spectacular Waiomio Glowworm Caves just south of Kawakawa. A guided tour follows a wooden boardwalk through the caves, with thousands of luminous glowworms overhead.
Ōpua is an attractive port settlement located just five minutes' drive from Paihia, with a range of hill-side accommodation overlooking the water.
For those who arrive in the Bay of Islands by sea, Ōpua is the easiest and primary port of entry into New Zealand. Facilities in Ōpua include a post office, cafes, marine, wharf, yacht club, and historic over the water Ōpua Store where you can buy freshly baked bread, ice-cream, fishing gear, wine, beer and more.
The vehicle ferry departs from here on a regular basis, for the 10 minute ride over to Okiato from which Russell, Rāwhiti and the Secret Coast Route can be accessed.
Ōpua is also the start of finish of the Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail, which connects the east coast to the west at Hokianga. The Bay of islands Coastal Walkway also passes through Ōpua, and a quick detour to the top of the hill rewards with a beautiful view over the marina and inlet.
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.
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 Whangamumu 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. 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).