The Bay of Islands is an area on the North Island of New Zealand made up of more than 140 subtropical islands. It is known for its beaches, good fishing and Maori culture. It is also the perfect place to spot dolphins, dive, surf and enjoy the subtropical climate. There are several places from where you can admire the bay and there are also many activities to do on land.
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Must see & do
Waitangi Treaty Grounds is THE place to learn about Maori culture and New Zealand history. Enjoy Maori performances, lush native forest and gardens, inspiring art galleries, sculpture studios, traditional Maori waka (canoe) and fun guided tours, all with stunning views of the Bay of Islands. Buy your day pass right here.
If you want to explore the bay, the beaches and the islands, Paihia is the best place. Several boat trips depart from here every day and there is a wide choice of accommodation and activities. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Russell, Haruru Falls and Opua Forest are all within easy reach from there.
Russell is a romantic village with historic buildings, art galleries and many seaside cafes. In Russell there are many restaurants and shops and there is plenty of accommodation to be found, making this also a good place to stay to explore the bay. Many tours to the most beautiful places also depart from Russell.
You can enjoy the stunning bay in many ways, from the beach, the water or from the air. There are several tours per day from Paihia and Russell. In the bay there are dolphins, whales, seals, sea birds and many types of fish. Read more about marine animals in New Zealand. There are also activities such as parasailing, helicopter tours, kayaking or skydiving. Find your activity here.
Haruru Falls are located to the west of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Paihia. The walking trail is 6 km long, starts behind the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and takes about 2 hours one way. If you have a car, you can park at Haruru Falls and walk the last 2 minutes. Another way to see the waterfall is from a kayak. There are several kayak tours per day to the waterfall.
Behind Paihia is the Opua Forest, here you can find several hiking trails, varying from 10 minutes to 5 hours. The most famous walking route is the Paihia School Road Track, it takes about half an hour (one way) and it leads you to a viewpoint over the bay.
Kawakawa is known for the Hundertwasser toilets, designed by the famous Austrian, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Driving through Kawakawa, it’s hard to miss the colourful statues, mosaics, copper, and cobblestones of the public restrooms. Kawakawa is also the only city in New Zealand where a railway runs through the middle of the city.
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Paihia or Russell are the best places to stay in the Bay of Islands, so this is where the most accommodation can be found. In Paihia you will find more affordable options such as hostels and hotels, while Russell has more luxurious apartments and lodges. See some of my tips below.
Bay Adventurer Backpackers & Apartments – Hostel – Paihia – €
This cheap hostel is perfectly located two minutes walk away from the beach and 10 minutes walk from the centre. It has a pool and hot tub in the garden and even a tennis court right outside. The hostel offers several rooms such as shared bedrooms and several private rooms, you can for example rent an apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom. This hostel has a curfew: it should be quiet after 10pm. Click here for more information.
Haka Lodge – Hostel – Paihia – €
The Haka lodge is located on the beach and you can enjoy a beautiful view from the lounge. Haka Lodges are my favourite hostels in New Zealand. It’s a good place to meet people, but it’s not a party hotel, so the nights are quiet. They organise various activities to get to know people. The beds are firm and you have your own curtain, reading light, plug and storage space (which you can secure with a lock). Click here for more information.
Paihia Pacific Resort Hotel – Hotel – Paihia – €/€€
This affordable hotel, like the other accommodation in Paihia, is not far from the beach and the centre. All rooms come, among other things, with a private bathroom, TV, refrigerator, coffee maker, safe and kettle. Larger family rooms are available. You can also use the outdoor swimming pool, whirlpool and fitness centre. Breakfast is included in most rooms, but otherwise it is possible to book it on arrival. Click here for more information.
Blue Pacific Apartments – Appartementen – Paihia – €€€
This apartment complex offers luxury apartments on the waterfront of Paihia. It has direct access to the beach and the apartments have a beautiful view of the bay. All apartments have a full kitchen and BBQ and some even have a private hot tub on the balcony. The complex has rooms of various sizes, the largest can accommodate up to 6 people. Click here for more information.
The Duke of Marlborough – Hotel – Russell – €€
This 19th century hotel is located on Russell’s waterfront overlooking the bay. It is close to all there is to experience in Russell. The hotel has a lounge, restaurant, bar and garden bar. In the restaurant they serve delicious freshly caught fish, along with local wines. The rooms all have a private bathroom and some have a balcony with views over the bay (optional when booking). Click here for more information.
The Clendon – Hotel – Russell – €€€
This hotel is located on a beautiful piece of land surrounded by forests and with views over the bay. The hotel offers resort-style accommodation with luxurious rooms, an outdoor pool, BBQs and a dining room. All rooms have a private terrace with seating that overlooks the bay and garden. It depends on which room you book whether breakfast is included. All rooms have access to the shared lounge rooms and kitchens. This hotel is a 8 minutes drive away from Russell so they offer a shuttle service. There are many hiking and walking trails around this hotel, as well as beaches and vineyards. Click here for more information.
The Bay of islands is located in the northeast of New Zealand’s North Island, about 3 hours from Auckland. There are several buses going from Auckland to Paihia and Opua each day, from where you can take a ferry to Russell. If you prefer to fly, there is a small airport in Kerikeri that you can fly to from Auckland. From the airport it is a 20 minute drive to Paihia.
Cape Reinga & Ninety Mile Beach
Cape Reinga is the most northerly point of New Zealand, here you can see how the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. Close to Cape Reinga lays the Ninety Mile Beach, (which is actually 88 km long). There are many activities to do on this long beach including swimming, fishing, boogie boarding and driving as 90 Mile Beach is an official highway. Boogie boarding is a very popular activity and can be done from the Te Paki Sand Dunes. You can drive here yourself or you can join an organised tour.
Whangarei is the largest city in the north of the North Island and therefore a common stopover on the way to the Bay of Islands. There is a lot to do in Whangarei, you can for example climb Mount Parihaka, the highest point in the city or watch the boats sail by in Quayside. The Whangarei Falls are located above Whangarei, an hour’s drive from the Bay of Islands and is a nice stop, this waterfall is also referred to as the most photogenic waterfall in New Zealand.
Tutukaka is a coastal town with beautiful white beaches. You can take a boat from here to visit the Poor Knights Marine Reserve and there are diving and fishing tours. You can also surf on some of the beaches. Restaurants, cafes and accommodation can be found in Tutukaka and Ngunguru, which is nearby.
Poor knight Islands
The Poor Knight Islands are a dream for every diver, this is one of the best dive sites in the world. Everyone can go to these waters, whether you are a novice diver or someone who wants to do a deep, challenging dive, it is all possible here. Non-divers also get their money’s worth at Poor Knight Islands with activities such as kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, snorkelling or taking a boat trip. Read more about diving in New Zealand.
Trounson Kauri Park
The Trounson Kauri Park is a nature park with gigantic Kauri trees and several endangered animals, such as the brown Kiwi, Kereru (native pigeons), Pekapeka (bats) and Kauri snails. The walking route through the park takes about 40 minutes and with interactive panels and audio spots it is a very educational walk. If you would like to see the Kiwi bird, you have the best chance in the evening. Organised tours in the evenings will look for Kiwi birds. Read more about native birds in New Zealand here.
Twin Coast Cycle Trail
The Twin Coast Cycle Trail is a cycle route that runs from the Bay of Islands in the east to Hokianga Harbor in the west. This route includes coastal tracks, wetlands, native forests and fields. The route goes along bicycle paths, motorways and rural roads. There are historical and cultural sites to see along the way while enjoying the subtropical climate.
Urupukapuka Island is the largest island in the Bay of Islands. This island can be reached by taxi boat from Paihia and Russell. It is a wonderful place for hiking enthusiasts, because the entire island can be walked in one day. There are many beaches worth visiting or you can just soak up the sun while kayaking, swimming or snorkelling. It is not possible to stay overnight on the island, but there is a restaurant and a bar. This is a cheaper way to discover New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. Personally this is one of the nicest places I have hiked in New Zealand, read more about my other favourite hikes in New Zealand.