Things to Do in The Bay of Islands

New Zealand offers you the chance to visit some amazing coastal areas and beaches, most of which are used mainly for a stroll and a good view rather than the usual beach activities of sun-baking and swimming. It’s climate is generally on the cooler side for most of the year and the currents coming up from the south bring icy cold water that almost makes your toes turn to icicles.

In the far north of the North Island, however, there are some beaches and areas that are know to have a milder, sub-tropical climate during the summer months. Areas, where for a few days of a year, the water temperature is almost bearable and there is enough hours of sun to get a decent tan (with plenty of sunscreen of course, NZ is the worst effected country by that giant hole in the ozone layer).

Probably the most popular and well know of there areas is the beautiful Bay of Islands. Made up of 144 islands, it is located in the bay between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula. On the edges of the bay are a bunch of lovely little towns such as Paihia, Opua, Russell and Kerikeri. Each one is a great place to base yourself for trips out onto the bay and the surrounding area.

Throughout the year you will find an abundance of things to do in The Bay of Islands from wildlife spotting to water sports to walks. It offers something for everyone and every budget.

Take a Cruise

Bay of Islands

The best way to explore the islands and an absolutely must when your in the bay area is to take a cruise. The bay is so ridiculously scenic that you will be constantly pushing your gaping jaw closed! There are a bunch of different cruise companies that offer a range of different cruise types and from my experience shopping around, each one offered much the same as the other with a few slight various.  The most popular cruise offered is the Dolphin Cruise to Hole in the Rock. This half day catamaran tour leaves from both Paihia and Russell wharf’s and journeys out to the end of the Cape Brett Peninsula. It includes a trip through the Hole in the Rock on Motukokako Islands, the chance to see dolphins, whales and other marine life (not guaranteed) and a stop on Urupukapuka Island where you can take a hike to the top for amazing views, relax on the beach or hire a kayak.

Address: Along the main street of Paihia is where you will find all of the cruise operators.

Cost: Half day cruises are around $NZ100.00 per person but prices vary depending on the operator and type of tour.

Hours: Most operators have tours that run twice daily departing around 09:00 and 13:30.

Visit Russell


This very pretty small town is situated just across the bay from Paihai and is a very important place in New Zealand’s history. It was the country’s first sea port and the place of first European settlement. Many of the original historic buildings from this time remain while the streets still resemble the layout and names of this time. When you depart the passenger ferry at Russell wharf you are already right in the heart of town. There is a nice little beach where you will find lots of people relaxing, swimming in the warmer months and kayaking out into the bay. Lining the beach and in the block or so back from the beach is restaurants, cafes and small shops for you to explore and enjoy. And the  most notable building to check out is the Christ Church which is the oldest existing church in New Zealand.

Address: Russell is accessible by road, but the easiest way to get there is to catch the vehicle ferry from Opua (5 mins) or the passenger ferry from Paihai (up to 15 mins for the slowest service).

Cost: Car Ferry $NZ10.00 per vehicle | Passenger Ferry $NZ6.00 one way or $NZ10.00 return

Hours: Car Ferry first service 06:40, last service 21:50 | Passenger Ferry first service 07:00, last service 22:30 | Reduced services on both ferries in the winter months.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi Treaty Grounds Cultural Performance

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is where, in 1840, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi occurred between the Moari people and the Europeans. It is the most important historical site in New Zealand and a must do for any visitor to this area.

The first thing to do when you enter the grounds is check out when the next guided tour leaves and get yourself booked in. Then while your waiting go and check out the information video which tells the story of the treaty and the history surrounding it.

Most of the guided tours are led by guides who descend from signatories of the Treaty and each one brings with them personal stories passed down their families generations. During the 50 minute tour they tell you about the story of the Treaty and about some of the key people and events that took place to shape the nation.

They show you the carved Meeting House, the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe and the Treaty House. The tour ends at the carved Meeting House where you can watch the very interesting and entertaining New Zealand indigenous cultural performance which of course includes the famous Haka.

Address: Tau Henare Drive. Paihia

Cost: Ultimate Combo Ticket includes admission, guided tour and cultural performance. Internaitonal Adult $NZ40.00, NZ Resident Adult $NZ20.00, Child under 17 Free.

Hours: January and February 09:00-19:00 | March to December 09:00-17:00

More Information:

Waitangi to Haruru Falls Walk

Things to Do in the Bay of Islands - The Trusted Traveller

This walk starts across the road from the entrance to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and takes you through the sheltered forest along the Waitangi river ending at the township of Haruru Falls. Its about 6km long and will take you probably around 2.5 hours. After walking along the Waitangi Golf Course for the first part of the walk you reach the boardwalk section which provides an opportunity to pass through the interior of a mature mangrove forest home to crabs and water birds such as heron. The river widens after this offering nice views over the river. Keep an eye out for the diving kingfisher birds looking for food. As you approach the end of the walk you will hear the thundering Haruru Falls. Haruru, means ‘big noise’ and it is easy to understand why after heavy rain when the falls stretch from bank to bank. A great alternative or addition to this walk is to hire a kayak from Coastal Kayakers, located just before the Waitangi bridge, and paddle your way through the mangroves to Haruru Falls.

Address: Kayaks can be hired from Coastal Kayakers, Te Karuwha Parade, Waitangi

Cost: The walk is free. Kayaks can be hired from Coastal Kayakers for $NZ15.00 per hour, $NZ40.00 per half day or $NZ50.00 per day.

More Information:

Water Sports

Head out on a maxi yacht for a full day of sailing - Things to Do in The Bay of Islands - The Trusted Traveller
Head out on a maxi yacht for a full day of sailing (source)

The Bay of Islands is the perfect place to get involved in a few water sports. It’s incredibly scenic and vast so there are  lots of areas to explore. The most popular water sport in the area is kayaking. All along the beach as Pahia and Russel are places hiring out kayaks and companies offering guided tours. You don’t have to be an experienced kayaker either. It you’re after something a little more blood pumping you can hire a jetski or try para-sailing. There is also the opportunity to go diving to discover the underwater world in the bay. Finally you can take to the water on a maxi yacht for a full day of sailing and exploring with an experienced crew who will show you the ropes.

Address: Various locations around the Paihia and Russell.

Cost: Prices depend on the activity.

Over to you!

What’s top of your list of things to do in The Bay of Islands? Or have you been already, what did you love about it?

Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.

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4 thoughts on “Things to Do in The Bay of Islands”

  1. Dear Jen,
    So glad to have discovered your site. Your way of presenting information is great.

    Your post on the northland road trip is so beautiful.
    Now, I have just 4 days in North Island. Should I check out Piaha or Coromandel? What do you recommend?

    I think I’m going to follow your site for planning the further leg of my NZ trip.

    • Thanks Vinay.
      With 4 days I would recommend choosing just one, either Northland or Coromandel as they are quite far apart. Both are beautiful and there is probably a bit more to see in Northland than Coromandel.
      Don’t hesitate to email me if you have any follow up questions for planning your NZ trip.


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