Wander uncrowded beaches and native forests, swim with dolphins and visit historic sites – Bay of Islands, New Zealand offers a unique paradise. A few hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is home to over 140 beautiful islands, as well as countless bays and coves, many of them untouched and unspoilt.
New Zealand history comes alive
Some of New Zealand’s most important historical sites are here in the Bay of Islands. That’s because this was the first area to be settled by Europeans, following Captain Cook’s visit in 1769.
The tiny settlement of Waitangi is where New Zealand’s founding treaty was signed and the focus of official ceremonies on New Zealand’s national day. New Zealand’s national day is celebrated here on 6th February, the date of signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and Maori chiefs back in 1840. It is a relaxed summer public holiday and official ceremonies are held here at Waitangi.
The historic town of Russell was New Zealand’s first capital and has some lovely old colonial buildings, which are now cafes, restaurants and quirky shops. Although you can drive to Russell, the easiest way to visit is to catch the passenger ferry from Paihia which only takes 15 minutes.
Make sure you book a table for a meal at the famous Duke of Marlborough restaurant on the waterfront in Russell. It’s the only restaurant in the Bay of Islands to get a mention in the Kiwi Good Food guide and the oldest licenced tavern in New Zealand.
Kerikeri is the biggest town in the Bay of Islands and was also historically an important Maori and European settlement. It has both the oldest wooden structure in New Zealand (Kemp House) and the oldest stone building (the Stone House).
You can also visit Marsden Cross – the stone monument that marks the site of New Zealand’s first missionary settlement – at Oihi Bay.
Out on the water in the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is an aquatic playground for waterborne adventure activities. Explore the many bays and beaches around the Bay of Islands on a boat cruise from Paihia or Russell.
Take a boat to the iconic Hole in the Rock at Motukokako Island, a magnificent wave-carved geological feature. There’s also the majestic black rocks and plenty of opportunities to go diving or fishing.
The Bay of Islands is renowned for its big game fishing but there’s also swimming, surfing, kayaking and bird watching, or simply settle back for some relaxation on the beach, Kiwi-style, because the Bay of Islands weather is famously sunny.
Exploring more of Northland
Bay of Islands holidays make a perfect base for exploring the wider Northland region of New Zealand, with many popular day trips.
Enjoy an exciting beach drive on 90 mile beach, an official highway, and then have fun sliding down the giant sand dunes at nearby Te Paki.
Be awed by the woodland giants of Waipoua Forest, where the mighty Tane Mahuta is the biggest Kauri tree in New Zealand. This ancient tree is steeped in Maori legend and is 51.2 metres tall, 4.4m wide and thought to be 1,250-2,500 years old.
Just a bit further north, you can see the meeting of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea at stunning Cape Reinga.
You can rent a camper van from a company like Camper Champ and visit the exquisite silica sands of Rarawa Beach, where gentle waves lap the brilliant white beach on the Aupouri Peninsula. The isolated dune system shelters many beautiful birds and the beach campsite will be a very special stop on your Bay of Islands trip.
Combine your trip to the Bay of Islands with a city break in Auckland, and the incredible scenery of New Zealand’s South Island. Experience Maori culture and the unique geothermal landscape of Rotorua and have fun in the vibrant capital Wellington.
Have you been to the Bay of Islands? What were your favourite things to do there?
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