Bay of Islands – Discover New Zealand’s Tropical Paradise
Bright green landscapes surrounded by sparkling seawater under a brilliant blue sky – doesn’t this sound like a dream? You’ve probably already seen such dreamlike pictures of New Zealand (Māori: Aotearoa) and long to experience these beautiful landscapes for yourself.
In this article, we’ll take you on a journey to the picture-perfect Bay of Islands. We’ll show you why exploring this breathtaking region is a must, as well as which adventures await you there. We propose that visiting the Bay of Islands be at the top of your bucket list!
The Bay of Islands, composed of 144 islands, is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, also known as Te Ika-a-Māui. You can reach the archipelago from Auckland in a three-hour drive. New Zealand’s northernmost tip, Cape Reinga, is a popular destination for many travelers landing in Auckland, and the Bay of Islands is a perfect stopover on the way. It’s common to spend one to three days on the east coast before continuing further north.
Fun fact: although most travel articles don’t talk about public restrooms, we have to mention that the Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa are well worth seeing on the way to the Bay of Islands. Designed by famous Viennese artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, they are adorned with irregular shapes and bright colors. It’s a very popular attraction, and a lot of tourists stop just to take pictures!
Paihia is the perfect starting point for your Bay of Islands adventure. There are many accommodations, restaurants, and stores, as well as countless possibilities to explore the nearby islands.
Do you want to relax? Then a boat trip is perfect for you. Do you prefer to go on adventures? Then, you can go exploring with a kayak.
Water activities aren’t your thing? How about a hike? You’ll love Paihia Lookout! Looking for an adrenaline rush? Admire the idyllic landscape from above while skydiving!
Does this sound like too much action? Would you rather treat yourself to some quiet time off? No problem! Relax on the beach and enjoy the beautiful weather and the calming sound of the waves. Whatever activity you end up choosing, you can always relax in the evening at Paihia’s waterfront. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to enjoy a stunning sunset in this idyllic setting!
Hole in the Rock
You’re probably wondering just what there is to see in the bay. The most famous sight is Piercy Island (Māori: Motu Kōkako), which has been nicknamed “Hole in the Rock” because of its distinct hole created by erosion.
This attraction can only be reached by boat, and small boats can even pass through the hole. Even just getting there is an incredible experience, during which you’ll pass by many green islands and sandy beaches. You might even get to see dolphins up close! No wonder the “Hole in the Rock” is a popular destination.
The small, charming town of Russell oozes with history, attracting many tourists.
This place is of great historic importance in New Zealand because it was the first place where Europeans settled. Okiato (Old Russell) was even designated as the capital in 1840! In Russell, you’ll get to discover many historic buildings, like the oldest church in New Zealand – Christ Church, built in 1835.
Just like in Paihia, you can walk along Russell’s beautiful beach promenade. Flagstaff Hill also offers a spectacular sight over the sea and the surrounding landscapes. As you can see, there are plenty of things to see in Russell! The best way to get there is by ferry boat, which runs regularly between Paihia and Russell and takes around 10 minutes.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Do you want to learn more about Aotearoa New Zealand’s history and the indigenous culture of the Māori? Waitangi is the perfect place to visit! The village is located close to Paihia and is often called the birthplace of New Zealand.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds’ Museum will take you on a trip to the past. There, you’ll learn plenty about the evolution of Aotearoa New Zealand and about the relationship between the Europeans and the Māori.
The main focus is the Treaty of Waitangi, a pivotal document in New Zealand’s history. The English version and a translated Māori version of the treaty (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) were first signed on February 6, 1840 by a representative of the British Crown and a number of Māori chiefs. February 6th is now a national holiday, Waitangi Day, meant to commemorate the signing of this treaty.
Besides learning about the history of New Zealand, you’ll have the opportunity to be immersed in Māori culture in Waitangi. The typical Māori meeting house alone is very impressive with unique engravings.
Are you more interested in nature than history and culture? Waitangi is also the perfect place for nature lovers! The hiking trail to Haruru Falls is very easy and popular.
On the way to the waterfall, take in the calming nature as you stroll through mangrove forests. Haruru is a Māori word meaning “noise” – very fitting, considering you can hear the waterfall from very far away!
Are you in the mood for this invigorating nature walk? The hiking trail starts not too far from Waitangi Treaty Grounds or you can also start walking right by the waterfall.
Another renowned town in the Bay of Islands is Kerikeri, famous for its orchards and wineries. The town will please both history buffs and nature lovers.
The mission station is home to two of the oldest buildings in New Zealand. The Stone Store, built in 1832, is the oldest stone building in the country and is now home to a museum and a store with rare products. The adjacent Kemp House is the oldest preserved building in New Zealand, built in 1822. These places are surrounded by a splendid garden where you can take a walk and have a picnic.
Near Kerikeri, you’ll also find Rainbow Falls (Māori: Waianiwaniwa). The falls can be reached quickly by foot from the parking lot. They’re worth seeing, especially in sunny weather when the reflection of the sunlight forms a rainbow.
Best Times to Travel
You want to visit the Bay of Islands but aren’t sure when to travel? Although it will depend mostly on your own preferences, we have some suggestions:
Since you’ll probably be spending lots of time outside, we recommend visiting during sunny weather. New Zealand’s summer stretches from December to February and is a great time to visit the Northland. Keep in mind that those months are the high season and prices may also be higher.
The climate in Northland is subtropical, and since some people don’t enjoy tropical summers, spring or autumn are also great options.
Did you learn more about which sights to see in the Bay of Islands? Whether you want to experience a real adventure or relax under the sun, you’re sure to love this trip.
With its unique scenic beauty and historic and cultural value, the islands are sure to win over your heart. If you’re a nature lover, you’ll fall in love with the long sandy beaches, breathtaking views, and idyllic hiking trails.
If you’re fascinated with Aotearoa New Zealand’s history and culture, the region offers a valuable glimpse into the past, as it was where Europeans and Māori met for the first time.
So, what are you waiting for? Travel to the Bay of Islands to enjoy the picturesque and impressive island landscape. Off you go!